Book Review: O2: Breathing New Life into Faith

o2Title: O2: Breathing New Life into Faith
Author: Richard Dahlstrom
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers

What is a sustainable faith? What does one really look like?

Those are the questions driving Richard Dahlstrom’s book, O2: Breathing New Life into Faith. In this book, Dahlstrom, the pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, describes a sustainable faith as one that models breathing with both “inhaling” and “exhaling” disciplines.

As we “inhale,” we read and the Bible; spend time in silence and solitude as Jesus modeled; pray; enjoy creation as God intends us to; and we practice the art of Sabbath rest. We “exhale” as we are transformed by our journey toward holiness. We spread hope to others, as we serve them, practice radical hospitality and live generously.

The Good

What Dahlstrom is calling for is a life that testifies to Jesus’ words, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:24-27).

Intellectual pursuit is folly if it does not bear fruit in our lives. Conversely, endless action without actually enjoying God is also folly. It’s nothing more than hopeless works-based religion.

We hear and we do—The two are never to be separated. And I really appreciated Dahlstrom’s commitment to keeping these aspects balanced in the book, and avoiding the sadly all-too-common errors that creep in when one is emphasized at the expense of the other.

The Great

Perhaps what I’m most grateful for is Dahlstrom’s heavy emphasis on repentance in chapter 4. As he articulates his understanding of the kingdom of God, Dahlstrom doesn’t let readers get away from the fact that the kingdom will not be brought about “through our own zeal and efforts, as we apply the principles of God’s reign to the power structures of the day” (p. 65). It won’t be brought about through legislated morality or overthrowing the government. It won’t be brought about through social activism that “treats God as superfluous to the formation of a world of peace with justice” (p. 66).

It’s not up to us.

“Such thinking skips to the end of the story too quickly and bypasses the centrality of Jesus’ life and ethics, as if somehow declaring that we want the world to be a just and peaceful place constitutes faithfulness… Bumper stickers and rallies are nothing more than sentiment. Biblical disicpleship entails personal, costly obedience. The former feels good—the latter is effective” (p. 66). The first step to having a comprehensive view of the kingdom of God, one that is both inwardly and outwardly transformative is to embrace repentance (pp. 74-75).

And repentance is always costly.

The Not-So-Great

While I greatly appreciated several aspects of O2, there were a couple of things that just rubbed me the wrong way.

First, there’s a bit of a “you can be too heavenly minded to be any earthly good” attitude running through it at times, as though looking to the promises of heaven can hinder missions or “missional” action within your culture. On the contrary, looking to the promises of heaven encourages radical acts of obedience—because you want to see people meet Jesus! It’s actually a result of the “inhaling” disciplines that bear fruit in the “exhaling” ones.

Secondly, the section addressing intercession creates a mystery with intercessory prayer that doesn’t really need to be there (see pp. 165-167). Using the example of Moses intercession on behalf of Israel in Exodus 32:14, as an encounter that “confounds Calvinists and other forms of determinists…” I’m not so sure it’s really that confounding, at least not any more confounding than what we’re told about Jesus as we speak interceding on our behalf as He sits a the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34). Could this not then be Moses serving as a type of Christ as he intercedes for God’s wayward people in the face of intended judgment verses decreed action? But as Dahlstrom rightly says, that rabbit trail is best left for another time…

The Wrap-up

Overall, did I enjoy O2? Yes. It’s actually a very enjoyable book and much of its content is extremely helpful. Would I recommend it? The strengths of the book definitely outweigh the weaknesses. While I don’t know that it would be my first choice, O2 is a book I would be comfortable recommending.


Want to read other takes on this book? Follow the rest of the O2 blog tour at Litfuse’s tour page.