A Review of Savanna Hartman’s “Fierce Hope”
Hope for the Hopeless
This is going to be a hard review for me to write. I don’t want to put another person down, you see. I feel that Christians hurting other Christians over their beliefs is just stupid. I want to be charitable, and I want to take a high road. As you can surmise, I didn’t find much to like about Savanna Hartman’s Fierce Hope. But I want to try and not knock the writer, but the writing. Why? I don’t want to become personal in my criticism, but focus on what’s on the page. On that front, in places, it’s just bad. It’s bad writing. And some of the book’s theology, in my mind, is a bit suspect. But I don’t want to put down Ms. Hartman. I think she’s young — from the book, from what I can recall, she was born sometime in either the late ’80s or early ’90s. Plus, her religious beliefs are far more evangelical that mine. That’s not a bad thing — so long as you’re not hurting people, and I don’t think that’s on Ms. Hartman’s radar. Maybe it’s a combination of her youthful inexperience and faith background, or maybe this just wasn’t a book for me. Thus, I write on tippy toes. If I say something that’s personally offensive against the author, let me know. It would be an unfortunate and inadvertent error.
I tried to like Fierce Hope. It has good reason to exist. It’s about war, terrorism, natural disasters, genocide — all of those things (and more) and how we can find hope in God through them. The subject matter is appropriate. And Hartman has done her research, based on the anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book. She’s talked to people and read books. However, a book such as this requires depth of thought out of all of that research. And there’s a problem. Hartman acknowledges in the final chapter that Fierce Hope only took weeks to write. There are references to the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting of this past summer as well as the truck massacre in France that occurred just months ago. While this definitely gives the book a sense of currency, it’s also a rush job. For the seriousness of the topic matter, topicality is less of a concern than depth. And I just didn’t think the book was particularly deep or insightful in most places. In fact, the best part of the book is a all too short piece where she talks to a former solider who actually experienced war, and gives us a bit of a first-hand account of what that experience might be like.
In fact, the book ends on an altar call of sorts. The book seems to have been written for unbelievers. That’s fine and well — Hartman is an evangelical, so that’s part of her faith and her faith journey. However, I found that that aspect of the book really got in the way of things. Each chapter has a least one Twitter tweet embedded within it, with the purpose of it being there so that readers can actually use it on Twitter. I suppose the point of this is to get people into the habit of sharing faith. I found it was kind of like an advertisement for the book, and Fierce Hope is constantly selling itself at you. This is the only tome I’ve read that actually breaks for commercials.
And then there’s just more bad writing. The author likens herself to a hip-hop artist and uses rhyming poetry in some parts of the book. That’s fine. If you know me on Medium, I’m a rhyming poet, too. I don’t know how good of a poet I am, and I do it pretty tongue in cheek and don’t take it too dead seriously. This poetry in the book, however, is dead serious. And it’s horrible. It’s unmetered. It’s lazy — one couplet uses the same word to rhyme, which is a bit of a stylistic no no for this sort of thing. It’s strictly amateur night at the open mic set. How bad is it? “Long before we were born, an enemy rose / He had all he could want, but it was pride that he chose.” Not the worst example in the book, but it’ll give you a feel for what you’re in for if you read this. My point is, there’s very little depth. There’s not much that makes you feel, aside from the urge to sometimes giggle. It all just seems very clever and that’s it.
And then there’s the theology. It’s horrible, and it’s mostly because it’s about Satan. Now, this might be me just being a liberal Christian that puts little stock in the concept of sin — which is a big deal for many evangelicals. However, the examples of Satan used in the book to prop up the assertion that he is the one responsible for war, death, genocide, etc., etc., is weak. For instance, Ezekiel 28: 13–17 is used to bolster the fact early on that Satan is responsible for the bad stuff. But that Bible passage is just an interpretation of who Satan was. Ezekiel 28 never comes out and literally names the “guardian cherub” in that passage as Satan. That’s just something that was read into by some theologians after the fact.
Similarly, the Adam and Eve story is used an awful lot in this book. Of course, the snake as Satan is pegged as the reason why we have war, genocide, terrorism, etc., etc. However, astute readers would know that the snake is never ever referred to as Satan in the Bible text. That’s just an interpretation that came later on. However, these interpretations are presented as Truth, and that’s where I have a big problem with the book’s theology. It’s like someone is reading the Bible as being the infallible Word of God and then reads into what that Word actually means as literal truth. It’s like taking an already warped view, and warping it even further. However, the author seems to believe that there are real supernatural deities at work in the world. This is where I don’t want to beat someone else over the head and be a bad Christian myself. But, no. Not all of us see the world that way. And I worry that the author might be leading new Christians down a garden path that isn’t an accurate way of seeing the Christ energy in this world and other ways of interpreting faith that may be as correct.
That said, there were aspects of the book that I liked. Even though the writing comes across as naive and inexperienced, I still liked the author’s tone of voice and most of her message that didn’t rest on sin and Jesus’s death being a blood sacrifice. There are some thoughtful things that are said in the book when Hartman exposes that she may not know everything, which is usually preceded by a list of things she doesn’t understand about God. That’s vulnerable and honest. I think if the book hadn’t been rushed into production to capitalize on some nasty recent world news, the thought may have been richer and deeper. Suffice to say, you take the good, you take the bad, and that’s Fierce Hope. It’s just a shame that the bad aspects more than outweigh the good. But I hope that’s not me being churlish because I don’t want to be one of those people. Still, I think you can pass on Fierce Hope and soundly sleep at night. I’m sure that with more time and thought, the author will have a more skillful book in her — which I hope is a positive thing to say. That’s the note I want to end on. There’s nothing more to say about Fierce Hope beyond that.
Savanna Hartman’s Fierce Hope: Why the Only Truth Worth Living for is Greater Than the Empty Promises of Our Chaotic World was published by Charisma House on October 11, 2016.
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Zachary Houle is a resident of Ottawa, Canada, and was the recipient of a $4,000 arts grant from the City of Ottawa for emerging artists. He has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, too. He also is a music critic, with music writing publishing credits in SPIN magazine and the Ottawa Citizen, among others. He is a member of First United Church in Ottawa, Canada, and has been so for the past two years. Houle is interested in anything having to do with deepening his newfound faith in God, so, if you’re an author, feel free to get in touch. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.