by Dale Black
Bethany House (2010). Paperback, 192 pages.
I wasn’t sure where a book like this might go. I’ve read a few personal accounts of people’s spiritual experiences, and at times been concerned that the person had allowed their personal experience to redefine their theology – and their suggestions for other people’s theology. Subjective experiences are limited in what they can mean for everyone or anyone else.
Dale Black is aware of this risk. His first words express his long term concerns that he not misappropriate his experience as have some others who’ve used their experiences or stories as a means to attention or an attempt at fame. Black’s decision, instead, to try and live out his experience privately for forty years means that this book is interested more in the question of what to do now. While the book does describe his experience, it does so in the context of what was happening in his life and recovery outside of the spiritual experience itself. I think the book perhaps plays down Black’s long term commitment to missions and Christian service – though I would have liked to hear more about where God has taken him. The story which frames the book is wonderful, but I do wish there was a bit more depth of reflection around the questions of God’s sovereign hand.
Saying that, I mean to suggest that the book is simply written, and so has the flavour of many of the simple Christian biographies and autobiographies that I’ve read. This book does not really contain the reflections of a theologian or philosopher; rather this is a factual account of a person’s experiences and thoughts. The Christian thinking in the book is direct that way, and often the accounts of Black’s interactions about Jesus and the Christian faith have that air of radical simplicity about them.
This is the kind of book that a skeptical non-Christian may find a bit frustrating should they try to engage with it. You can hear them demanding: “All this wonderful spiritual experience and transformation and it turns into asking people if they know Jesus?!! That’s it?!!” In response some conservative Christians might just reiterate the evangelistic question, some reflective Christians may engage in conversations of depth from that point, and some mature Christians will just nod with a slight smile.
I would have liked a little more in terms of depth and reflectiveness, but knowing myself the experience of God’s hand day to day, I could feel the way that Black has experienced God’s hand guiding and providing as matter of practical daily reality. Sometimes I’m not sure I could actually say much more about it myself. I know what was, and what now is . . . and really that’s all we can say.
Dale Black says it faithfully. His vision was not about a bunch of secret spiritual insights, but was instead a powerful redirection to the God who gives insight. Dale is clearly a man more interested in walking with God than talking aimlessly about him, and that keeps this kind of account from wandering into the sort of speculations that can lead people astray, chasing experiences instead of the one who gives them.
I do think something that would have made the work significantly more compelling would have been numerous photos from over the years. Pictures of his physical state after the crash and through recovery, of newspaper headlines or articles from the time, or even of the monument or aircraft would nail down any questions of credibility and for the skeptic who does engage . . . perhaps that would be good?
Thanks Dale, for hearing God, for seeking his kingdom work first, and for being open to sharing your story. I was through it in two eager sittings, and was touched by it’s sincerity and simplicity. May you fly for him again and again.