November 19, 2012

The Encounter by Stephen Arterburn

How do you tear down a wall you've been building most of your life? 
One brick at a time
-from The Encounter by Stephen Arterburn

I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book by Book Sneeze but all opinions expressed in this review are 100% mine. I was not compensated in any other way.

The Encounter by Stephen Arterburn is a novel that chronicles the journey of wealthy businessman, Jonathan Rush, as he travels to his hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska in search of his biological mother who gave him up for adoption at age 4. Suffering from severe anger that is destroying his relationships, Jonathan is urged by his pastor to make this journey in hopes that he can find closure and healing.

I am a huge fan of Stephen Arterburn; I listen to his radio program, New Life Live, often and I am familiar with his self-help books. I was surprised to find that he had written a novel and eager to read. Much like his other work, Arterburn did not disappoint in this genre. While this book is relatively short (167 pages), not a page is wasted; it is well paced and concise. There is rarely a dull moment as readers follow Jonathan's search for the identity of his biological mother with the help of a local news reporter, Erica.

What I enjoyed most about this novel is that, while the story is inspirational and the author encourages the reader to pursue healing and forgiveness as modeled by Jesus, it is not so heavily saturated in Christian rhetoric that it is intimidating for non-Christian readers. This turns a great story into an even more powerful tool that can be used to generate dialogue between Christians and non-Christians alike. Jonathan, actually feels very non-committal in his faith despite his efforts to appease his pastor to make sense of his past. I find that Arterburn's technique of meeting the reader where they might be rather than blasting them with condescending inspirational fluff is much more effective in changing their heart through the story. People of all walks of life are better able to relate to Jonathan because he isn't the perfect model Christian and he has the same doubts and concerns many readers may also face. This realism is critical to making an impact and I really admire Arterburn for developing a character so capable of transformation rather than already transformed.

Besides the powerful themes and inspirational message, Stephen Arterburn offers a well-written and exciting story. The characters are likable and realistic, the plot is continuously pressing forward at a steady pace with unexpected twists and realistic outcomes; these help create a book that the reader won't want to put down (I read it in one sitting!). The only minor complaint I have is that I found the character development to be too brief; while I enjoyed all of the main characters, I felt kind of thrown into Jonathan and would have enjoyed more in-depth development of what had gotten him to his breaking point. This may have proven more helpful in connecting with him more quickly. I also don't think I saw Jonathan as full of anger as Arterburn intended until Jonathan had an outburst. These complaints did not really affect how I felt overall about the story, but it may have made me care about or connect with the protagonist more.

The Encounter is an enjoyable and entertaining story that brings to life Christian ideas through the actions of the characters more than simply through their words. This novel will challenge the reader to look inwardly to see if their own life is being stifled by not living the way Jesus models. It will also encourage the reader to reconsider conflict and negative feelings through the lens of the person who is the source of their problem. Most importantly, this book is capable of bridging a gap between Christians, skeptics and non-believers because of its presentation in a non-condemning way. I really hope Steve Arterburn writes more fiction; I am always impressed by the talent he has encouraging people toward healing.

Bottom Line: This is a great book for anyone to read and it's short enough that you have no excuse! Even if you're not a big fiction fan, I recommend this book because it will entertain you, inspire you and really make you think! A great read for Thanksgiving week! ★★★★/5

I review for BookSneeze®

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