Nouwen: Life of the Beloved – A Review

The Nouwen book is light on theology, low on Christianity, heavy on kindness. Overall, I really liked it because of, and not in spite of, those things. I agree, personally, with what he says in the epilogue.

“I feel a deep rooted resistance to proving anything to anybody. I don’t want to say: ‘I will show you that you need God to live a full life.’ I can only say: ‘For me, God is the one who calls me the Beloved, and I have a desire to express to others how I try to become more fully who I already am.’”

I know a lot of Christians that would declare that cowardly and un-Christian but I doubt most of them live a life half as dedicated to God as this priest and that’s one of the best ways to spread the word of God in my opinion – leading by example. This is also why I don’t think it matters if he’s yammering on about Jesus specifically. He’s obviously Christian by job description and so this book is great to me because all the promotion of the faith is done through modeling its love and application without the theological quagmire.

So it’s about what one is interested in reading. My theologian friend Holly recommended this book saying something like, “It’s a nice amount of spiritual in good places.”

Jamie says:

“All of the “teachings” of the book can be put to great use by someone with no religious beliefs at all. So, in the end, it’s just another book about loving your neighbor. Telling us, once again, it’s in the giving, not the taking, that we find happiness, and maybe even god. But this could be any god.
I’m not complaining. It’s a nice, light read, and I found myself re-reading a good portion of it, due to its insights. But if you are looking for a book to give to your atheist or secular friend to describe the spiritual life, Keller does a better job convincing us that the only true god out there is the triune god. Nouwen’s god is us.”


Agreed. But I like this side of Christianity. It gets less air time and should get more in my opinion. Nouwen’s God is rooted in community and human interaction, which I love because it’s all we truly know. And I love the kindness he encourages not just for others, but for us especially.

Jamie liked the blessings chapter. Me too! But I had a thing for the brokenness discussion. Holding our flaws under the light of belovedness or in more secular terms “an umbrella of self love and acceptance” is good stuff that people need to hear. And the spiritual nature of the book, to me anyway, helps that advice sound less like psychobabble and more like a sacred act.

All in all, a gentle and sweet book that is easy to read and to recommend. Not a conversion book at all. More a connection book. This makes it, in my opinion, a perfect secular or theist read.


  1. love Nouwen! His books are always a good read, haven’t read a bad one yet.

    Yet I find many in evangelical circles not liking him because he seems too “secular” or as you put it “light on theology, low on Christianity, heavy on kindness.” like that’s a bad thing… I don’t understand those whose every other word must be Jesus, God or a Bible quote. Often times I find them the least Christian!

    Nouwen is spectacular and this books is a good one. For me, his Prodigal Son and Way of the Heart are his best.

  2. I would like to officially “tip my hat to Jesus”. I owe him at least that for leading the thought provoking life that has been attributed to him. In the end, I don’t think one needs a god or even a guide (other than ourselves) to lead decent lives — lives filled with bestowing blessings on one another and taking care of the broken places in each other’s spirit. All one needs is empathy and compassion. And where, besides god, can one learn those things? Literature. Family. The arts. The logic behind civilization is that we find our better selves when we serve the whole. It is experienced through experience. It’s a hypothesis that has been tested and shown to be effective. Does this hypothesis come from Jesus or from Buddha? From Mohamed or from Jehovah? From Hammurabi or Gumby? Yes. And from ourselves.

  3. I’m honored you took my suggestion and I’m glad you enjoyed its insights! In proposing and modelling the life of God-with-us, it offers us God close at hand, a God who is near by.

    But some people don’t think that that nearby God is strong enough or big enough for the problems that they face in the world. This nearby God, the one who grounds our self-love and supports and celebrates our kindness to others with us, is perhaps just not authorizing enough for some. Not in charge enough.

    What is funny about that need for a strong, powerful force in the world, keeping justice upright, is that most Jews at the first century thought the same thing. They wanted justice to be coming decisively. They wanted a law that made sense. And what came instead was Manger Jesus, Enemy of the State Jesus, Loaves and Fishes, Love One Another Jesus.

    I’m not saying that God is not powerful. What I guess I’m saying that love is a lot more forceful than most people give it credit to be. It is extremely misunderstood, produced like any other commodity and sold at market price depending on the holiday season. Love in Nouwen’s world is a sacred act with consequences, albeit slow. But forceful. Like glacial some days. Like single starfish back into an ocean other days. But it is the change that changes from the inside out.

    And yes, like Jamie says, it can be used by those who have no God. But I would say that love is recognizable because of the endurance of Christian love through the centuries, initiated by Jesus. Christianity does not have a corner market on love and compassion, yes I know. And much of what gets circulated as Christian love isn’t a kind of love I want much of. But if you want to talk about compassion for our sick and broken neighbors and selves, you will have to tip your hat to Jesus as some stage.

    As for whether or not you have to believe in God to act on this love? I don’t think so. But I would be interested to hear the logic that non-religious people use for why we love the way we do.

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