Steve McSwain, wants to let us in on an amazing secret: you can know God. The problem is it shouldn’t be much of a secret and many who think they know how (including the author at one point in his life even as a Baptist pastor) and can know God don’t know what Enoch knew. Enoch is that character in the beginning chapters of Genesis about whom all we know is that “He walked with God and was no more.” Enoch for McSwain is a model for what it means to know God: we all can walk with God and overcome death.
While on one level McSwain’s book has the sound and focus of something quite esoteric oddly mystical, most of his book sounds like the revivalist and pietist faith in which I was raised in the Evangelical Covenant church. The difference being that while I’ve always been fascinated by Enoch, few if any of my teachers in the faith talked about him. However, McSwain’s emphasis on knowing God as being in a relationship with God and one that overcomes one’s fear of death, all sound very familiar.
In this I think The Enoch Factor is a great artifact of how Baptist and Evangelical congregations and leaders have in the past 20 to 30 years failed to pass on the central aspects of their tradition, teaching instead a legalistic, and doctrinaire religiosity replacing relationship with God for knowledge about God. McSwain’s experience both being raised a Baptist and being a Baptist pastor were until his “conversion” recounted in the book, was such a walk of faith. One mediated by rules, doctrines and authority figures (in McSwain’s case his father who was a Baptist pastor and missionary). Oddly enough McSwain’s account of the faith of his childhood and career as a pastor prior to his faith crisis, was the stereotype of Baptists I grew up with in the Evangelical Covenant Church: Baptist had only the forms of faith and relationship with God but not the substance.
McSwain in the Enoch Factor has some real wisdom. Unfortunately in our context and the way in which McSwain writes it can appear to be a new discovery. McSwain does attempt to connect up the wisdom he has found in the art of knowing God with a long tradition within the history of the Church. However, his sense that this wisdom and art is all but lost in our time leads to some exaggeration that in my view makes him a poor spiritual guide. The value of the Enoch factor is more as an example of how even in the midst of the failure of American Christianity in our time, God reaches out and in the midst of a desolate spiritual landscape, can enliven a soul. I however recommend taking McSwain with a grain of salt, there are better guides to the Spiritual life out there both in our time and in the past. If one can’t find one in your immediate context read for yourself Cynthia Bourgeault, Richard Foster, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Brother Lawrence, Julian of Norwich, St. Catherine of Siena, St John of Cross, St Augustine, and the Desert Fathers and Mothers(and that’s a quick list off the top of my head, dig around and you’ll find more.)
Steve McSain on the Web:
On The Huffington Post
McSwain’s You Tube channel