Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Book Review

Lots of books are labeled “game changers.” It’s a favorite adjective to boost sales. Few books live up to the description. When you think about it, what can a single book actually do?

Sure, there are those titles that are game changers for individuals. But if the “game” we’re referencing is bigger than a single person — be it a cultural attitude, a common practice, or the trajectory of a nation — how many books really change a whole game?

For me, even the list of individual game changers is small.

11/22/63 is my favorite work of pop fiction. I wasn’t the same person when I finished reading it as I was when I started. The Bible has changed the course of my life more than once. Youth Ministry 3.0 and Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker changed the way I ministered to students. The Philokalia and The Imitation of Christ are works that were personally impactful.

There are so few books that live up to the promised outcome.

  • To be a game changing book, it has to be relevant now and relevant later. (see The Bible, The Imitation of Christ, The Philokalia)
  • It has to be specific about the game it is attempting to change. (Youth Ministry 3.0, for instance)
  • It has to pave a path forward for the changing to occur (Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker)
  • It doesn’t hurt if it’s fun to read (11/22/63)

I hope you don’t think I’m blowing smoke when I say that Learning to Speak God from Scratch has the opportunity to be the kind of book that really does change things — for you as an individual and for us a community of people who are trying to communicate better with one another about life’s most important things.



It is likely to be timely for all time. People have been attempting to adequately “speak God” since the dawn of language. Our thirst for meaning, connection, and transcendence is not likely to expire. What this book advances is relevant now and will continue to be so.

It is very specific in what it is attempting to change, that is, how we “speak God.” A convincing case is made that this is something we must prioritize and practice. My favorite pages are in the first third of the book where the author builds this argument. It is indisputable and inspirational — we have work to do.

It paves a path, with the bulk of the book devoted to tackling some tough words and suggesting we struggle alongside those words until we arrive at a better way to say what it is we’re trying to say.

And, yes, this is a fun book to read. It’s not difficult to read, but it is substantive. It is story and seminar, prose and process. It is a well-crafted work which is not hard to pick up. This book is not a chore. Rather, it is a treat.

It is a gift.

Which should come as no surprise, given the author. I’ve waited all this time to get around to mentioning him for one reason. Any woman or man’s name could be on the front cover and the title would reel readers in. But this book is not what it is without the author who gave birth to it. I suppose this is true of any book, yet this one holds that truth in a higher regard.

No one has lived the tension of this thesis — what does it mean in a world that is worn out from religious cliche to speak God in more meaningful ways — than Jonathan Merritt. He has worked in mega churches and written for The Atlantic. He speaks effortlessly behind pulpits and on podcasts. He holds friendships with believers and skeptics. He lives and works and ministers in New York City, but he’s from the south. He lives this tension day in and day out. He’s not just an expert writer, he’s an expert with lived experience.

There are few people I watch more closely on social media, and he is always fair, always thoughtful, and always helpful. His deep insight and careful analysis always make me better.

His new book is no exception.

Will Learning to Speak God from Scratch change the whole wide world? Perhaps not. And, just to be clear, I’ve seen no such claim in any of the promotional materials I’ve run across. Yet while it may not “change the game” in it’s entirety, it could aid us in discussing the game. And I know of nothing that is more needed in our culture today. As we communicate better about things that matter, I do believe the world changes. The way we think changes. The way we relate changes.

It all starts with language, and this book gives us redemptive language to that end.

Whether you are a Christian who wrestles with how to communicate what you believe or a skeptic who is hungry for a deeper conversation about spiritual things, this book is a worthwhile investment of your time.

After I press “post” on this blog, I’ll be heading to Amazon to give it a five-star review. And you should race me over there to purchase your copy.