A pastor walks out of the church and into the woods, in pursuit of the God he's lost. Readers of Tony Jones's new book will embark on a meditative journey about losing faith and then rediscovering identity in the wilderness.
Millions of Americans, disillusioned with organized religion, yearn for meaning and transcendence in their lives, and many of them are finding that in nature. When pastor and theologian Tony Jones, Ph.D., had his crisis of faith, brought on by personal trauma and broken relationships, he sought solace in the outdoors — paddling a canoe, hunting with his dog, butchering deer. He walked out of the church and into the woods, leaving the orderly pews and numbered hymns for chaotic and untamed spaces. And he re-discovered God — a God who brings peace in the midst of storms, a God who lives in the community of our fellow creatures, a God who’s acquainted with death. This is the God of wild places.
In The God of Wild Places, Tony mines his own experiences, recent research in evolutionary psychology, and ancient wisdom from various spiritual and philosophical traditions to fashion lessons about solitude, the predator-prey relationship, the importance of place, risk, failure, and death, and the chaotic presence of God. Tony’s guidance in The God of Wild Places promises to introduce a generation of Americans to the transcendence available only in untamed spaces; his writing draws on wisdom from Christianity to Buddhism, Kant to Cioran, Jim Harrison to Annie Dillard. This is a journey of loss and discovery through forests and fields, lakes and streams, from knowing to unknowing, from finding to losing — from life to death, and then back to life.
Tony Jones, M.Div., PhD, is an outdoorsman, theologian, professor, former pastor, and award-winning writer. He’s written a dozen books, including The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life, hosts the Reverend Hunter Podcast, teaches writing classes, mentors novice hunters, and guides canoe trips in the Boundary Waters. He holds degrees from Dartmouth College, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Princeton Theological Seminary. He is co-project leader on a 2023-2026 Templeton Foundation-funded study, “Making Meaning in a Post-Religious America." Tony is married, has three children and two dogs, and lives in Edina, Minnesota.
Chapter One: Vestments
Chapter Two: Peace
Chapter Three: Place
Chapter Four: Companions
Chapter Five: Predator
Chapter Six: Failure
Chapter Seven: Risk
Chapter Eight: Meat
About the Author
“I have read a lot of books in my life, but never one like this. Wherever you are on the food chain--a passionate hunter like Tony or a cauliflower steak eater like me--this captivating memoir will take you places you might never have gone on your own: into the elemental mysteries of life, death, creatureliness, and divinity with someone who has turned from the orderliness of religion to find salvation in the God of the Wild. I'm glad I went.”
Decades ago, a wise man told me that the best writing is honest writing. The God of Wild Places is exactly that, honest writing—beautifully honest. So pure, so true—reading it was like breathing the fresh, crisp air of Tony Jones’s cherished wildlands. It is at once a theological history lesson and an autobiography, a rare work that inspires, teaches, and entertains. I loved it!
Tony Jones speaks into the harsh reality of an increasingly churchless world and how the Creator can be found in unexpected ways in the glorious, wild creation. By giving us a glimpse of his own journey toward a more holistic and deeper faith, Jones is sharing his own experience of seeing God as bigger than our encultured expectations. As one who has also found peace and connection with the Divine among the wild places, I resonate with Tony’s contemplations in this beautifully written memoir. I love this book as I am sure many others will.
I love this book. I love its honesty, its tenderness, its craft, its settings, its quests and questions, and the profound mysteries toward which it bows. It takes you places you need to go.
In this unflinching memoir supported by theological reflection, Tony Jones lays bare his personal wounds and the injuries of humanity caused by a lack of deep natural connection. While groomed for a clerical career, he found more salvation in the woods with his trusted hunting dog at his side. 'Hunting has always been for survival,' he writes, adding to this fundamental human experience crucial spiritual and emotional dimensions. Jones' transcendent depictions of the various habitats of his prey — ducks, turkeys, deer, and elk who roam vast mountains, lakes, and woods — are like arrows targeting the divine sublime. He endures harrowing episodes and massive losses, always restoring himself in wild places. Ultimately, the lessons from his story of transformation offer an inspiring corrective to the corrosive consumerism and crude competition of modern life in America.
Tony Jones walked away from church and out into the woods, and his thoughtful reflections on that soulful transition are compelling, engaging, and full of the kind of transcendent faith that this world needs now, more than ever.
In The God of Wild Places, Tony Jones introspectively details his own spiritual journey that took him from his own ordination as a pastor to leaving religion behind. Like millions of Americans, Jones went on a quest to find a resting place for his soul only to discover it in the wilderness of God's creation. Those who feel spiritually anxious and religiously adrift will find solace and encouragement in Tony's words.
This is the story I have been waiting for Tony Jones to tell the world, in the way that only he can: an unvarnished and intimate look at his own life, his failings, his longings, and his pursuit of God. Funny, smart, and courageous, now he debates his toughest character yet—himself—and finds the God who has followed him to all his wild places. Tony may have left organized religion, but he's still preaching, and church folks should listen to him.
Although Tony’s belief is still deep, his new point of view is making clearer his faith—his belief in family, in nature, and in himself. Never have I read a book that goes so deeply and personally into the act of hunting and meat as a healing and profound revelation. As a backpacker and canoeist, I very much connected with Tony’s new point of view of celebrating reverence in the wilds.
Tony Jones’s memoir, The God of Wild Places, is a vivid narrative that sits the reader in his canoe, sharing his journey of reflection and wonder. Jones’s search reminds me of Max from the classic story, Where the Wild Things Are, another journey of self discovery in a boat, in which the reader learns when to roar and when to be silent. We need such adventures to renew our perspectives, calm our fears, and remind us that life-learning requires role models like Tony and Max. If we read carefully, they show us the way home!
Discomfort and risk have been nearly eliminated from our modern lives. In The God of Wild Places, Tony Jones challenges us to understand the deep spiritual benefits of having a greater connection to nature and the physical and emotional risks inherent in a life in the wilderness. And he reintroduces us to the spiritual act of eating wild things—something our society lost long ago.
The way Tony Jones writes about God makes me want to walk out into the woods looking for my own religious experience. In this memoir, Tony does the thing that is sometimes the hardest for writers to execute, but is crucial for the reader to relate: he drops his ego and lets you really see him. His story is painful and beautiful, and had this city girl wishing for a weekend in the wilderness.
Tony Jones's book, centered in his experiences of hunting, is challenging. Especially for someone who has developed a deep, intimate relationship with deer. But I kept reading because I felt compelled to understand. Told with vulnerability and straightforward honesty, Jones weaves a theology of predation into his experiences of both the numinous presence in and between all things and the reciprocity of relationship that can be experienced in the act of hunting. His book helped me to weave some threads of my own journey as a gatherer into a more broad and more spiritual story of aliveness.
“Tony has managed to weave together into one beautiful but foreboding tapestry, the surprisingly unpredictable nature of life in the suburbs, with the unexpected but predictable cycles of nature in the wild places. I found myself leaning in toward the page and then beyond, into the counterintuitive teaching that has always been at the heart of the wisdom of the ages. I loved it!”
7/31/23, Publishers Weekly: The print and digital issues feature the book in their "Mind-Body-Spirit Books Call for Action" feature on religion books forthcoming in 2024. Link: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/religion/article/92874-mind-body-spirit-titles-call-for-action.html
Includes 11 photographs; hand-drawn map of the upper Midwest (tracking the author’s adventures) in frontmatter.
11/8/23, Publishers Weekly: This book was featured in the “Scholars Chart Religious Changes” article.