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Review: Thin Place: Glimpses Up There from Down Here

Minister uses down-to-earth, ‘aha!’ moments as he ponders a deeper understanding of God

Thin Place: Glimpses Up There from Down Here” is an engaging book written as stand-alone vignettes loosely tied together. It appears to be designed as an anam cara, or “spiritual friend” to help the reader navigate the deeper questions of life. 

Duncan Campbell. Thin Place: Glimpses Up There from Down Here. Long Beach, N.Y.: Palette Press, 2016. 212 pages.

Duncan Campbell. Thin Place: Glimpses Up There from Down Here. Long Beach, N.Y.: Palette Press, 2016. 212 pages.

Author Duncan Campbell, student life minister for the New Braunfels Church of Christ in Texas, uses the old Celtic concept of thin places — places where the veil separating heaven and earth was so thin one could experience a deeper spiritual mystery — to describe events and experiences in one’s life where a deeper understanding of God and his will could be discovered. (Someone unfamiliar with the concept might call it a spiritual “aha!” moment.) 

“Thin Place” represents Campbell’s desire to embrace the mystery found in big questions about “design, purpose, and destiny.” 

He begins this task well. His descriptions of Waffle House short-order cooks, popular movies and childhood memories quickly pull you in, inviting you to sit for a spell and visit. His style is rather homey — almost as if these are not words on a page but a conversation over a cup of coffee. 

Admirably, Duncan avoids glib answers and platitudes. He attempts to lead readers to discover their own answers. He points to the importance of meaningful presence in the journey, writing, “Is an answer what we really need? A fact? A statistic? A truth? No. We need someone to be with us. Someone who knows. Who’s been there.”

I enjoyed his down-to-earth humor. Although there is an undercurrent of the heartbreak and sadness of growing up between divorced parents, I couldn’t help but smile at Duncan’s childlike reasoning when contrasting households.

There are a few weaknesses to the book. In some places he goes too long. Chapter 14 addresses the important issue of contemporary idolatry, but he could have gotten to his point in half the time. It was as if he wanted to list all the possibilities available. (His treatment of Al Gore and the “god of the environment” just felt like one illustration too many.) 

I also was uncomfortable with Duncan’s treatment of the “name of Jesus.” This seems to be a throwback to 1990’s deliverance theology. He places emphasis upon saying the name “Jesus” as a means by which one can overcome “aggressive spiritual attack.” He references Philippians 2:10-11, calling the name of Jesus the name above every name.

Darryl Willis

Darryl Willis | In Print

There are two problems with this view of the Philippians text. First, “the name of Jesus” is better understood as “the name that belongs to Jesus.” That name is “Lord.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word “Lord” was used as a euphemism for the covenant name of God (YHWH). 

The second problem is an apparent magical view of Jesus’ name. Duncan attempts to avoid the problem with a disclaimer, but it falls flat. One wonders if the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19) would agree with him. 

Spiritual warfare is not about verbalizing names. I suggest God defeats satanic power through unselfish lives devoted to loving him and loving people, whether the name “Jesus” is ever said out loud in an effort to ward off what we perceive as a satanic attack. 

As with most books, “Thin Place” demonstrates strengths and weaknesses. The strength of the book is its narrative approach. Rather than a dry lecture on spiritual disciplines and mystery, Campbell engages us with storytelling. His voice is not stilted and theoretical; it is fresh and inviting. It should be popular among young adults who enjoy reading devotional-style literature. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 7.

Darryl Willis is education director for Eastern European Mission, a nonprofit associated with Churches of Christ. Find links to more of his writing at darrylwillis.wordpress.com.

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