Fully Alive: Tending to the Soul in Turbulent Times – Elizabeth Oldfield

Fully Alive: Tending to the Soul in Turbulent Times by Elizabeth Oldfield
Published by Baker Publishing Group, Brazos Press on May 28, 2024
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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In a world experiencing turbulent change, we need people who are resilient, kind, open, generous, and brave. How do we become those people?

In Fully Alive, popular podcaster Elizabeth Oldfield uses the seven deadly sins as a framework to explore questions such as:

· How can I move from sloth to attention in order to make the most of my short life and stop getting distracted by trivialities?
· Is it possible to move from wrath to peacemaking? How do I become a depolarizing person in an age of outrage, tribalism, and division?
· What might it look like to move from gluttony to awe, finding transcendence in expansive, life-giving ways--not in a tub of ice cream or a bottle of wine?
· How can I move from pride to connection, overcoming the disconnection that keeps me from intimacy, community, and ultimately the divine?

Oldfield shows why, in a world heavy on judgment, she still finds the concept of sin liberating--and how, to her surprise, she keeps finding in her Christian faith ways to feel fully alive. Deeply serious yet amusingly relatable, this book helps us develop spiritual strength for when things fall apart.

In this thoughtful book, Elizabeth Oldfield explores how the Seven Deadly Sins and Christianity as a whole help to explain the human condition. She writes that even though postmodern, secular cultures have lost the concept of sin, there is still no better way to understand “the human propensity to f— things up.” She encourages her readers to consider how well Christianity speaks to so many different life issues, and throughout the chapters on each of the Seven Deadly Sins, Oldfield highlights how their opposing virtues lead to a fuller, more meaningful life. Oldfield is mindful of how foreign so many of her beliefs will feel to secular readers, but she primarily directs this book to them, encouraging them to consider ways that the ancient resources within her faith can help people endure through polarization, turbulence, and an uncertain future.

I appreciated Oldfield’s thought-provoking reflections, vulnerable personal stories, and illustrations from eclectic sources. Her writing style is unique and interesting, as she combines a scholarly approach with a chatty, personable writing voice. However, instead of primarily serving as an exploration of the seven deadly sins, this book is more of a collection of personal essays. At times, I felt that this went too far, such as in the chapter about pride. There, Oldfield launches into a long story about her experiences developing a communal home with another family, and she ties this to a message about how pride should lead us from individualism to community. This is interesting, but I felt that her highly particular example distracted from the bigger picture. I wanted more about the often subtle, multi-faceted role of pride in people’s lives, and less about how living in shared housing helps ease the author’s climate anxiety.

Oldfield directs this book to people outside the church who are skeptical about God and the church, and as a lifelong Christian, I am not in the position to assess how her intended audience will respond to the book. However, I do think that Oldfield sometimes watered down the claims of Christianity for her audience. She mentions this concern at the end, saying that she doesn’t want to present Christianity as something to strip down for parts, but elements of this book seem to suggest that you should pick and choose whatever elements of Christianity are convenient to your lifestyle, fit with your politics, and make your life better. I understand how this can be an inroad for a skeptic to more fully consider faith, and it’s a hard line to walk, but it meant that I had more issues with this book than I’d hoped.

Fully Alive: Tending to the Soul in Turbulent Times is a unique, heartfelt book that Elizabeth Oldfield filled with her personal thoughts and experiences, along with key themes about how the Christian faith helps people deal with the human condition and the strain of modern life. I enjoyed this, but the book’s description does not adequately represent the content. This sounds like a relatively typical Christian living book, but it’s not, and that ought to be clearer in the marketing. Skeptics who are curious about the resources within traditional faiths and virtue systems won’t necessarily recognize that this is for them, and because Oldfield writes from a framework of trying to make Christianity seem plausible to others, readers who already share her faith will find different elements off-putting or irrelevant to them. Nonetheless, this is a unique book with a lot of powerful things to say to a niche audience.