Book Review: I Am Not But I Know I Am

I Am Not But I Know I Am: Welcome to the Story of God By Louie Giglio, Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2012, 176 pp, $13.99 paperback / $9.99 ebook.

I Am Not But I Know I AmIf you don’t know who Louie Giglio is, you haven’t been paying attention. Not only is he pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta and founder of the Passion Movement, but on January 8, it was announced that he would deliver the benediction at President Obama’s second inauguration in recognition of his work to stop human trafficking. Two days later, he withdrew under intense criticism for preaching (nearly two decades ago) what the Bible says about homosexuality. I had mixed feelings about both his initial acceptance of the invitation and his subsequent withdrawal, but neither made me question his motivations or his love for the Lord. Similarly, I experienced mixed feelings while reading I Am Not But I Know I Am: Welcome to the Story of God, the paperback release of his 2005 title, but nothing that would make me question his passion for Jesus and his desire to make his name known.

The book’s quirky title is, of course, based on Moses’ encounter with the burning bush, where God revealed his name as I AM. From this, Giglio builds a thesis that, “God’s name is I have always been and always will be God, and my name is I have never been and never will be God. My name is I am not.” The rest of the book is concerned with how this idea should assuage our feelings of stress and meaningless. Giglio assures his readers that relegating each of us to the status of an I am not is not an insult, but a recognition of our proper place in God’s creation. This then frees us to be everything we are meant to be by relying on everything that he is:

“This book is about looking up to see that there’s a Story that was going on long before you arrived on planet earth and that will go on long after you’re gone. … Abandoning the tiny story of me and embracing the forever Story of Jesus will allow our little lives to be filled with the wonder of God as we live for the unending applause of His name. And joining our small stories to His will give us what we all want most in life, anyway: the assurance that our brief moments on earth will count for something in a Story that never ends.”

With chapter titles like “Start,” “Waking,” and “Became,” and personal stories peppered among biblical narratives and explanations, I Am Not But I Know I Am is somewhat reminiscent of books by authors such as Rob Bell and Donald Miller. The style is conversational and the tone is more like a friend telling a story than a pastor, teacher, or leader expounding truth. The decision to do this was intentional:

“I could have opted to write this book as a treatise, a legal document to be debated and defended, or an exhaustive scriptural study. Instead, I chose to tell a story, attempting to unpack this seemingly perplexing little title with narrative accounts and colorful pictures, inviting you into an already in motion epic account of a glorious and gracious God.”

The big difference, however, between this book and those of Bell or Miller is that Giglio uses the device to communicate real, absolute biblical truth. The stories from his life serve a purpose and illustrate the book’s main points. They are not the book’s main points themselves. He is not saying, “This is what’s true for me,” but rather, “This is how God’s truth has been evidenced in my life.” The book might be contemporary in style, but it is orthodox in content.

That being said, the format of the book was the most glaring weakness for me. Perhaps the light, personal, post-modern story-telling of Bell and Miller is not a suitable device for communicating deep absolute truths. Or maybe Giglio isn’t a good enough writer to pull it off (though I doubt that’s the case). Or it might just be a matter of personal preference (I love reading treatises and scriptural studies). Regardless of the reason, I found myself frequently wishing that the book was written in a different way, even as I was agreeing with what was being said. The style that was light and inviting in the beginning of the book seemed juvenile as the book went on. The majority of the good material is in the beginning few chapters and the final one. The book is only 176 pages, but it really could have been shorter without losing any essential content.

My other complaint was with Giglio’s interaction with the Bible. Most of the time he paraphrased and put his own words in the place of those actually recorded in Scripture (I guess in keeping with the style of writing he chose to use). While there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with doing that, I imagine that someone unfamiliar with the biblical text (which seems to be his intended audience) wouldn’t necessarily know when he was reading the actual words of God and when he was reading Giglio’s interpretation of them. Giglio also builds several points around the English translation of verses rather than the verses themselves. He notes that I Am is actually I Be in Hebrew and then focuses on English words like beheld, became, etc. The theme of the book is a great truth that can easily be built upon real verses that mean the same in every language. I understand his desire to write a book accessible to lay people rather than an “exhaustive scriptural study,” but I wish he would have let the foundation for the entirety of the book be the word of God and not the quirky construction of English words.

Despite these two weaknesses, the book as a whole serves the purpose that Giglio intended. It is a good introduction to the Christian faith, especially for seekers and new believers. It clearly presents the gospel, from the effect of sin (“Sin doesn’t make us bad; sin makes us dead. And dead people can’t travel even one inch toward God.”) to the effect of the cross (“The Cross of Christ is the place where trust in God is born, lighting the way through the valley of the shadow of death.”), all the while emphasizing our inability to move ourselves to God and God’s willingness to move toward us with grace. And while the book might not contain much new information for a seasoned believer, it nevertheless provides a refresher course in an area where most all of us struggle: the need to submit our will to God’s will and remember that it’s all about him and not about me.

While I would recommend that someone capable of reading meatier material do so, the milk provided here is preferable to many of the other books that target a young, post-modern audience.

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Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.

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