"I have read a lot of books in my life, but never one like this... 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." —Barbara Brown Taylor, New York Times bestselling author of Leaving Church and Learning to Walk in the Dark
A pastor walks out of the church and into the woods, in pursuit of the God he's lost.
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.
When he walked out of the church and into the woods, he left the orderly pews and numbered hymns for chaotic spaces and untamed wilderness. 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
Tony Jones’s meditative memoir The God of Wild Places is about leaving the ministry but remaining alive to spirituality through outdoor adventures in Minnesota and further afield.... The God of Wild Places is a pensive, personalized primer to developing a nature-based theology.
These collected essays celebrate the joy and serenity found in nature, especially in the wild vistas of northern Minnesota and North Dakota. Jones' eloquent offerings contemplate states of being (peace, failure), aspects of daily living (marriage, companions), and explorations of intangibles (faith, God). Each themed chapter comes across like an especially engaging sermon. There's an introductory thrilling or amusing anecdote, some autobiographical tie-in, a quote from a contemporary author, conservationist, or religious scripture, an engagement with secular reality, and a strong encouragement for self-examination. Jones comes by his passionate entreaties naturally. He grew up in the Christian church and was an ordained minister with his own congregation for over a decade. As his religious belief and self-image began to crumble, he found first escape and then solace in the outdoors. Today a self-described outdoors person, theologian, and nature writer, Jones offers thoughtful observations, rich inner conversation, and insightful spiritual musings. Whether outdoor enthusiasts or not, readers will find much to ponder.
In this book, theologian and outdoorsman Jones embarks on a transformative journey, poignantly exploring loss, reflection, rejuvenation, and spiritual discovery. His narrative intricately weaves together personal experiences, highlighting the profound connection between humanity and the natural world—particularly the relationship between humans, dogs, and hunting. He offers a candid portrayal of his own religious and spiritual evolution; he spent formative years in the church, became a minister, and later grappled with the collapse of his ministry and marriage. This introspective book delves into how he learned to accept failure as a catalyst for growth and navigate his changing understanding of God. He skillfully shows how the divine can speak through traditional mediums (e.g., sermons) but also through nature—a shift underscored by his own immersion in the wilderness. Drawing on classic philosophy, the book emphasizes the overwhelming yet grounding nature of the wild, where humans confront their fragility. The book includes notes and bibliography. A compelling, thematically rich, and deeply personal book, for readers exploring spirituality, personal growth, and the intricate relationship between faith and the natural world.
"The God of Wild Places will be a blessing to those of us — agnostic, heretic, and faithful alike — who reflect on what we are truly seeking when we are afield. I very much look forward to sitting down with a copy of Tony’s book."
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.
This title was mentioned in Publishers Weekly’s “Spring 2024 Adult Preview: Religion & Spirituality” feature.
11/8/23, Publishers Weekly: This book was featured in the “Scholars Chart Religious Changes” article.