Book Write-Up: The Atonement, by Beverly Lewis

Beverly Lewis.  The Atonement.  Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

Lucy Flaud, an Amish woman in her twenties, is doing a lot of community service work to atone for something she did in the past.  She is trying to appease God and her father as well as forget her grief.  Her father Christian, meanwhile, has been attending a grief counseling group at a nearby church, and he thinks that the group could help Lucy.  At the group, Christian meets a non-Amish man named Dale.  Dale later meets Lucy and offers her spiritual advice, while also assisting Lucy as she attempts to help a struggling single mother get on her feet.  Christian wonders what Dale’s intentions are towards Lucy, and Christian is perplexed that Lucy has been attracted to men from outside of the community rather than Amish men.  There is also Tobe, an Amish man who has not yet settled down.  People think this is because Tobe is too picky.  Actually, it is because Tobe is carrying a torch for Lucy.  But Tobe and his family are about to move.

It was when I got to the final third of the book that it came alive to me.  In the first third, I was trying to figure out what was going on and getting used to the characters and the setting.  Reading the second third was a similar experience to reading the first third, but there were some good parts, particularly concerning the single woman trying to get on her feet.  In one scene, after Lucy and Dale help the woman, Lucy asks what God thinks about that.  Dale responds that God was not just observing their act, but was actually behind it!  In the final third of the book, mysteries explicitly get resolved: What is Lucy trying to atone for?  Why has Christian been attending a grief support group?  Lucy receives a fresh picture of God’s love, as she hears a story from an elderly couple about a Christian man’s unconditional love.  Lucy also reconciles with her father and learns about his own feet of clay.

The final third of the book was probably the clearest, whereas the first two thirds struck me as rather scattered.  There were distractions in the book, as we experience the lives of other characters.  Perhaps Beverly Lewis should have done a better job focusing, and yet the scattered nature of the book did offer some realism: lots of things go on in life.  Plus, there was an endearing tangential scene between Lucy and one of her sisters, Lettie, as Lettie was upset that Lucy did not pay much attention to her.  That aspect of the book was rather underdeveloped, yet it was an endearing scene.

My reaction to the story about the Christian man’s unconditional love towards the lady who became his wife was mixed.  The man was like a savior figure, whereas she was someone who was losing her way.  I saw that as rather one-sided.  Lewis seemed to attempt to compensate for this imbalance, somewhat, by presenting the husband as saying that he benefited from the relationship, too, since he was lonely.  Still, the story perhaps could have been better had it not had as much of a damsel-in-distress theme.  Maybe the woman could have contributed to the story and offered her own wisdom to Lucy.

A question in my mind as I read this book is how much of the religion in the book reflects Amish religion, and how much reflects evangelical Christianity.  Is God’s unconditional love something that the Amish stress, or is that more of an evangelical concept?  I suspect the latter, but I am open to correction.  The book did depict other aspects of Amish religion: Lucy confessing her sins to the bishop and the bishop evaluating the authenticity of her repentance; and an aversion to Amish people marrying people from non-Amish churches.

In my opinion, the book could have done more in addressing why people should do good works.  Lucy was running herself ragged doing good works to atone for some sin and to appease a God she saw as harsh, and that was obviously wrong.  But did she continue to do good works after her spiritual healing, and, if so, why?  The book did not really explore that.  It did address the topic of having a proper motivation for good works, on some level: Lucy sees the good that she is accomplishing for others, and Dale’s insight teaches her to see her service as working with God rather than trying to appease God.  Still, the book’s failure to present her as doing good works after her spiritual healing does make the book incomplete.

I give this book 3.5 stars.  I was going through the motions of reading it until the final third of the book.  Yet, the book had good scenes and made good points.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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