Parnell, Jonathan. Never Settle for Normal: The Proven Path to Significance and Happiness. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah. 151 pp. $14.99.
We were created to live with God and for God, to know him and make him known. Every one of us exists for that reason, no matter our personalities, vocations, birthplaces, ethnicities, or anything else. God made all of us on purpose to live with him wherever he might happen to put us and live for him in whatever he might call us to do. This is ultimately what life is for, and God is the one in whom life is ultimately found.
Deep down, every single one of us knows this. Even if we don’t realize that God is the one we were made for, we all realize that we were made for more than this life. We all long for bodies that never get sick or die, even as we get sick and die. We all want love and respect that never end, even as we know that relationships always end. We all want to make a difference in the world, even as we continually experience frustration with our efforts. As Ecclesiastes 3:11 puts it, we all have a sense of eternity in our hearts that stands in stark contrast to the brokenness we typically experience.
The disconnect between what we were made for and what we experience happens because of our sin. God made us to know him and make him known but instead try and find purpose and life apart from God. This results in what the Bible calls exile, ending up in a place we don’t want to be doing what we don’t want to do. Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, their son Cain wanders the earth after murdering his brother, and the kingdoms of Israel are captured and hauled off to Assyria and Babylon after rejecting God. Those experiences inform the experiences of all human beings, as we struggle to find home, to find purpose and life despite our sin.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to get used to this situation, to settle for “normal.” Pastor Jonathan Parnell wrote this book to help us bridge the disconnect between why God made us and what we typically experience. The “normal” he references isn’t the everyday activities or ordinary jobs we get used to, but the cultural mindset to which we so easily adapt. This mindset pretends God doesn’t exist, ultimate reality is elusive if not imaginary, and the only way we will ever find transcendence is to make it up ourselves.
Parnell doesn’t want us to settle for this “normal,” so he clarifies how we can turn back to God and find life. The first few chapters examine some of our culture’s assumed ideas about God, life, and how human beings can matter, clearing away these “normal” ideas so we can begin to appreciate truth. He then explains the gospel story, including chapters on creation, sin, Jesus Christ, the cross, the resurrection, the kingdom, and what it means to be “born again.” He mixes insights from authors like C. S. Lewis and Augustine with contemporary illustrations to demonstrate why the “normal” will never satisfy, but God will. The book ends with a study guide to help readers go through this material with others.
While this work is aimed at seekers and skeptics, anyone struggling with their place in this world or their life before God, even long-time believers, will benefit from this reminder. We were made for more than this. God offers us more than this in Christ. Our deepest longings point to a wonderful reality, a reality that God wants every one of us to experience by grace through faith.