Tuesday, March 18, 2014

‘Beyond the Masquerade’ (Book Review)

“Authenticity” is a buzzword within Christiandom. We know that non-believers are attracted to honesty and genuineness, and repelled by phoniness, pretense, and hypocrisy, traits that, unfortunately, are too often associated with those identifying publicly as Christian. To combat this, we can find a number of devotional studies, books, and the like designed to encourage Christians (generally women and teens) to live a more open and honest life. One such book is Nancy Eichman’s Beyond the Masquerade: Being Genuine in an Artificial World (Gospel Advocate, 2013), apparently of no relation to the similarly-focused and similarly-titled Beyond the Masquerade: Unveiling the Authentic You by Juli Slattery (Focus on the Family, 2007). An excerpt of Eichman’s book was recently included Christian Woman magazine (Jan./Feb. 2014), so I bought a copy to see what she had to add to the conversation.

Overall I’d give Beyond the Masquerade a low passing grade. Eichman’s strengths lie in her ability to point out some key problems that plague Christianity: snobbery, people-pleasing behavior, deceitfulness, and keeping secrets. She also offers practical, albeit somewhat unoriginal, advice on how to become more Christ-like, pursuing authenticity in speech, prayer, charitable giving habits, and hospitality. The chapters are short and conclude with questions to facilitate discussion in a Bible class, study, or small group. I got a strong sense that it would be best used for teaching young women and new believers.

Beyond the Masquerade has some downsides though. It has a rough beginning that might cause readers to give up on it too early. I almost did. In addition, Eichman’s eagerness to include biblical examples at times gets the best of her. She had plenty of examples of deceit at her disposal, but resorted to an unfair treatment of Tamar (Genesis 38) to make her point. Ignoring Judah’s admission that his daughter-in-law was “more righteous than I,” Eichman reinterprets the story, not in Tamar’s favor, and commits a puzzling anachronism by applying Mosaic Law (Leviticus 22:13, Deuteronomy 25:5-10) to a significantly earlier Canaanite society without proving that those customs were practiced in the same way God expected of the post-exodus Israelite tribes. This sort of carelessness when drawing examples from biblical stories is highly contagious. I foresee disastrous results if Eichman’s biblical interpretation skills are used as a model for those new in the faith. So, yes, please consider Beyond the Masquerade for an upcoming Bible study, but proceed with caution.