Saturday, November 10, 2007

Book Review: People in Glass Houses

10972_fTanya Levin’s People in Glass Houses is a penetrating, often witty, account of the author’s spiritual journey inside Hillsong as a child, and outside of Hillsong as an adult. Levin draws on personal experience and research that she has undertaken in recent times to present a compelling analysis of what is going on, not only in Hillsong, but in Pentecostal and Christian fundamentalism more generally.

Levin grew up in the Assemblies of God church now known as Hillsong. Hillsong is probably the most visible Pentecostal church in Australia with its music being listened to and sung in churches across the nation. But, according to Levin, all is not what it seems on the surface. The book is a series of anecdotes from her own experience, observations she has made, research she has done, and material from interviews with those in and outside the church.

It is difficult, of course, for people outside of Hillsong to evaluate how accurate Levin’s portrayal is. But an enormous amount of what she describes resonates with other sources on pentecostalism and Christian fundamentalism. She names names and recognises her own "warts" as she shares her story.

People in Glass Houses was controversial even before it got published. In February 2007, The Bulletin reported on the dropping of this book by Allen & Unwin whose lawyers suddenly reversed their previous approval of the book. According to the report, Levin’s publisher had decided that there was too high a possibility that Hillsong would sue for defamation. And Hillsong have told Levin she is not welcome on the premises of Hillsong anymore. There are also those who defend Hillsong and its activities.

Clearly, People in Glass Houses is one person’s view. Some people insist that Levin has an axe to grind. Others who have had experience with Hillsong support what she says. But it is a view that should be heard. Judgments about Levin’s motives should at least be reserved until after reading her book. In my view, a good deal of what she says is not surprising given what I know about Pentecostal theology and the people I know who subscribe to it. Levin also names and documents sources where they are needed.

People in Glass Houses is an engaging, thought-provoking, fascinating expose of the darker side of Hillsong and ’Word of Faith’ Pentecostal fundamentalism.

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