Sunday, June 18, 2006

'One Step Closer' by Christian Scharen

I just finished reading One Step Closer. I have followed the story of this book on Christian Scharen’s blog over the past year and it was good to finally read the book. Curiously, I got it at the Children’s Spirituality Conference and this isn’t a book about children at all but it was there and it was half-price at the Baker table so I got it even though I’ve read plenty of U2 books – not as many as Beatle books but certainly more than I need to.

And that’s my primary issue with One Step Closer – for those of us who have read a lot about U2 there isn’t a whole lot that is new in this book. The theological insights are fine and the U2 connections are pretty much right on target but I didn’t read much that I hadn’t either read before or thought before. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For people who are just starting to get interested in U2, especially the connection between them and Christianity, this is a fine introduction. I have already suggested it to my two youngest daughters. The obvious comparison point is Steve Stockman’s Walk On but the books really come at the topic differently – Stockman starts with U2 and Scharen starts with Christian doctrine and then makes the U2 connection. (Raewynne Whiteley and Beth Maynard’s Get Up Off Your Knees, another excellent book, is less systematic but also covers some of the same ground.)

The book is written in an easy-to-read conversational manner, goes quickly and does a nice job, both theologically and musically. I really liked Scharen’s introduction to hope and his take on the difference between hope and optimism. Nicely done.

The important thing here is that Scharen isn’t trying to layer something on top of the music that isn’t already there. He picks out things that were put in carefully by the band and he illuminates them with theology. I enjoyed it. So if you’re a Christian and a U2 fan you will probably want to read this book because this is about the stuff you like to think about. If you’re just getting into U2 One Step Closer is a good place to start because it will help you see what this band is really all about.


Nathan said...

"The important thing here is that Scharen isn’t trying to layer something on top of the music that isn’t already there."

I sortof agree. I think his "theology of the cross" vs. "theology of glory" stuff, at times, dominates the book. I personally don't think that U2's spirituality needs an "other" template in which to work; rather, it can speak for itself. I'd like to read a book that explores the theology *in* the songs, letting it be the template for the discussion.

But, I also agree with the rest of your thoughts about how this book could be useful for someone who hasn't read all the other stuff.

Speaking of which, I recently finished Killing Bono, which I think you, of all people, have GOT to read! It's my favorite of all the U2 books for sure, right behind Bono In Conversation.

Bob K said...

Thanks, Nathan. I agree that the "theology of the cross", etc. does add a template on which he evaluates U2's work. And I'm not sure that the band would support this organizational structure.

Would you agree that Stockman's Walk On is more like what you suggest, letting the songs so the talking?

Thanks also for the note regarding Killing Bono. I'll keep my eyes open for it. I'd better not buy it this week because I have too many things I have to write and read this summer as it is!

Nathan said...

Walk On comes closer to it, for sure. And, I haven't yet read Religious Nuts, Political Fanatics, but from what I can tell it would be the best in this regard.

This summer, treat yourself to Killing Bono, it's a fun, quick read! :)


c said...

thanks for the review on this book. i have read the "get up off your knees" book and stockman's book. while i'm not coming at it from the same place as you, i am still interested in the spiritual side. however, i'm definitely one who is wary when songs are over-interpreted.

and i agree wholeheartedly with nathan - "killing bono" is a must-read. the fact that it was written by a guy who grew up with bono gives you fresh insight. i loved bono even more when i finished it than i did when i had started it.

Beth said...

Second all that on "Killing Bono."

I agree that "One Step" is not a book for people who know the U2 literature at all well, but to be fair we ought to point out that it isn't trying to be.

I do recommend "RNPF" (which also has its down sides tho, as does GUOYK while I'm at it) -- very creative and limber readings of some of the band's work, but probably the least accessible to people who haven't had some academic Christian training. However, it also reads through a template (from Bruggemann) -- but the template is used in a gentler way and can account for a wider swath of U2's oeuvre than the "theology of the cross" template is able to.

But overall I just don't think we need any more introductions to this topic. As I wrote to a friend recently, I want a narrow-market book on U2 by an intellectually fluid and creative person who is completely professionally qualified at PhD level in one of the following, and of at least second-tier complementary level in a second one of the following, with knowledge of the basic literature in a third one of the following:

--historical theology [I currently would prefer a pre-Reformation specialty, or a Wesley-era England specialty with a historical comparative focus, but I'll be flexible ;-)]
--popular culture critical studies
--music and/or theatre

Is this asking too much?

Nathan said...

Beth, YOU could write that book! :)

Beth said...

Nathan, that's very sweet of you, but I'm a generalist, barely at "knowledge of the basic literature" level in every field I've named.
... except U2 I guess ;-)

bethany said...

Beth - keep an eye on my friend Rebecca Kuehl. She's writing her MA thesis (in rhetoric) on U2 and Bono as social actors.