NIGHT DRIVING: Notes from a Prodigal Soul
NIGHT DRIVING: Notes from a Prodigal Soul. By Chad Bird. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2017. 148 pages. $16.99.
Spiritual autobiographies abound in Christian literature. Augustine’s Confessions may be the first of its kind, but they’ve continued unabated since. Chad Bird has contributed to the genre with Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Soul. I’m grateful he did.
In Night Driving, Bird drives the reader through the fields of his own idolatry and surveys the wreckage found there. Accompanying the reader on the ride is the familiar companion of Jesus Christ, who offers the only hope and salvation that exists in the world.
The overall trajectory of Bird’s life as detailed in the book is as follows. Chad Bird was a rising theological star in a small ecclesiastical pond. There was a precipitous fall from glory pocked with divorce, addiction, bitterness, enduring pride, and shame. This was followed by the pursuit of even more idols: fresh starts, anonymity, and selfishness, all the while shouting, “Where the hell are you, God?” (p. 41). The irony, of course, is that it was the idols who had turned their back on Bird and failed to deliver on their promises of glory. Eventually, God restored unto Bird the joy of His salvation.
There is an inherent difficulty in writing a book that bares the details of personal sin. If the author is not careful, the sin itself becomes glorified, and the narrative becomes one of a competition. Look at me! Look at how far I’ve come! Your sins don’t compare to mine! Chad Bird avoids this difficulty. There is no boasting in his sin. There is no implicit or explicit, “My depravity makes me more qualified to speak about grace than you.” Night Driving does not advocate for such things. In fact, it says, “We don’t glory in sin; we confess it” (p. 96).
Chad Bird confesses his sin. He also exposes the sneakiness of sin and pride and ambition. With the all-too-common twenty-twenty vision that hindsight affords, Bird reveals the troubles he wished he’d seen earlier. He also emphatically points the reader to the all-sufficient work of Jesus Christ who loves and redeems sinners by his death and resurrection.
My favorite chapter of the book is chapter seven “When Love Repents Us” (p. 99–111). This brief treatment on repentance exposes the many ways that our own sinful flesh twists repentance into our own work that we sinfully thrust before the Lord as an acceptable sacrifice for our sins. He excises from our minds the foolish standards we place on repentance; such as, “Are you sorry because you did it or because you got caught?” (p.101). I’ve heard this distinction preached positively from pulpits and spoken well of in Bible class. This is too bad. Such distinctions are not biblical. They detract from Christ and sound eerily similar to the “idle and endless discussions about whether we are sorry because we love God or because we fear punishment” that the Lutheran confessors so readily “dismiss.”
While the content of Night Driving is theologically heavy, Bird is a fine wordsmith, which makes Night Driving an easy read. At only 148 pages, an avid reader could consume the book in a single day. It only took me two.
Any objections regarding the book from me are the result of nit-picking. But I will nit-pick once. It is a pet-peeve of mine when people speak of “radical grace,” which happens on page sixty-five. Is there a non-radical kind of grace out there that I’m unaware of? The phrase is tautological; like saying “aromatic scent.” Grace, of course, is by nature radical.
I give Night Driving my full recommendation. For pastors, the book will open up homiletical possibilities as well as hone your approach to faithful pastoral care. To laity, this book will give you an insight into what it is your pastor is (or should be) proclaiming every week. And to all readers, this book will lead you to fix your eyes on Jesus.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, South Dakota.
 Apology of the Augsburg Confession. Article XII.29