Book Review: Present Evil, Active God (Jered Gritters)

I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher via NetGalley.

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The issue of evil is a huge topic, but particularly so when it comes to religion and God. In Present God, Active Evil, Jered Gritters takes on the challenge of exploring the subject of evil; its roots, its effects, human attempts to solve it, its purpose, and most importantly, the role of God in all of this. With a runtime of just 7 hours and 11 minutes – or 222 pages in the paperback – the author packs in a lot of information into each section.

About the author

Jered Gritters teaches New Testament and church history at Pacific Bible College in Medford, Oregon. He earned his master of divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary and has also taught for ten years at the high school level. When he’s not researching theology, he loves hiking and camping in the mountains with his wife and two children.

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Why does God allow evil?

Can we truly believe God is active and good amidst such rampant evil? Are there satisfying answers as to why our creator has allowed so much evil to flourish?

Present Evil, Active God

It’s a question (or a set of questions) that is (or are), and will continue to be, a major source of debate and argument.

Did God create evil?
Is He ignoring suffering?
Is He inflicting it?
What is the point of evil?
Is evil inevitable?
Is there a solution?

I would love to say that having read this book, I have the answers to all of these questions… but I don’t.

Nevertheless, Gritters presents some interesting and insightful arguments. He lays out an excellent deep dive into topics such as communism, fascism, Russia, and China, along with a thorough analysis of Genesis, creation, and the fall of Adam and Eve. His detailed exploration of the sermon on the mount and substitutionary atonement gave me much food for thought.

Jesus saves

Too Much Jargon

It was a difficult book to follow, particularly in the first 15% or so. Gritters opted to jump in with some heavy theological concepts that were wildly beyond my current understanding. I found it impossible to keep up and I quickly felt dejected and confused. I think this was exacerbated by the fact I was listening to the audiobook version, so it wasn’t practical to keep skipping back to re-listen. If I’d had the paperback, I probably would have found it easier to follow. However, I’m still not sure I would have fully understood, as I felt the content was academically and spiritually complex, and I didn’t have the background knowledge as a foundation.

Trying to keep up…

Evil and the World

Once I reached around the 20% mark, I found the book slowed down to a more manageable pace and the language became easier to understand. This is where the author looks at Genesis and the fall of Adam and Eve, followed by an in-depth look at communism in Russia and China. Gritters discusses many historical figures, including Lenin, Mao, Hitler, Tolstoy, Gandhi, and MLK Jr. I could follow this quite clearly. I think this was because there was a clear train of thought that didn’t dip jump around too much. The logic was easier to follow as the theme was more condensed and focused for each section. The author uses these subjects to illustrate human folly in the attempted eradication of evil, along with tyranny and forced compliance.

Whilst I found this section fascinating (albeit horrific and heart-breaking), I did feel that Gritters lingered too long on the point, going to great lengths to explain the full history of each situation. It’s thorough, but I think he could have reduced some of the extraneous details, as I started to feel like he was repeating himself after a while.

Hmm…

The Ending

On the contrary, I found the ending of the book quite rushed. The author returns to scripture and biblical references, but I didn’t find the conclusion “satisfying”. I didn’t expect to walk away with a complete and total understanding of the issue of evil, but if you asked me to sum up the conclusion in a few words, I really don’t think I could.

The flow of the book seemed to lead up to at least the posing of the strongest theological theory, but for me, it fizzled out. Having started with such sharp focus on specific theological standpoints, I was surprised by the vagueness of the conclusion. Maybe this speaks to my lack of understanding about complex theology, but I can only offer my experience of reading the book.

I remain confused…

In Summary

Present Evil, Active God is an interesting and insightful book. However, I can’t say that I am notably more theologically educated as a result of reading it. There were snippets that I think made excellent points, but I think there was too much focus on complex theological terminology at the beginning, and too little emphasis on concluding the points made in a satisfactory way. I think I would have gained more from this book further down the line when my knowledge of theology is more advanced than it is now.

In my opinion, I would recommend the paperback version more than the audiobook, as I think this format would be better suited to the heavy and complex thought-processes we are asked to follow. I rated this book 3 stars on Goodreads.

If you have read this book, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Maybe you have an opinion on the issue of evil as it relates to God? I’d love to hear from you.

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