Thinking Out Loud

January 17, 2013

Review: Tyler Blanski – When Donkeys Talk

Donkeys Say the Darndest Things

When Donkeys Talk - Tyler BlanskiNormally I choose the books publishers send here, so when an advance copy of Tyler Blanski’s When Donkeys Talk arrived from Zondervan in the mail unsolicited, even though I was aware of his blog and have linked to a couple of  his articles, I set it aside. However curiosity got the better of me and I started reading, and then I did something I have never done: When I got to the last page, I turned back to chapter one and started reading it all over again.

There is something infectious about this  book. I want to say that Tyler Blanski is the new Donald Miller, but that would raise questions about the whereabouts of the old Donald Miller. Suffice it to say there are many similarities. Technically, this is not Blanski’s first book; he has a previous title which I’ve seen and recall is mostly poetry, and one other title beyond that. But this title with a major Christian publisher establishes him as a breakout author to watch.

How do I summarize this book? It’s about exploring the world of Biblical imagery and narrative where donkeys can talk* in a world dominated by science and logic and reason that donkeys cannot speak. Blanski may claim to be a humble 29-year-old house painter from Minneapolis, but there’s no hiding his academic labors in medieval studies, and so he looks at Christianity through the lens of how people in ancient times understood science and how they understood and practiced faith.

But he does this in the context of stories of interactions with his friends and acquaintances, many of whom are on a different plane when it comes to belief and God.  As a result, each chapter of the book has a different spiritual temperature, and each varies in its allusion to Biblical chapters and verses.

The characters in Blanski’s personal stories  constitute the Miller-esque element; I feel I know these people. And how can a book which seems so casual — almost random — in its approach to faith also be such a valuable snapshot of church history? Somehow he pulls it off.

The book also contains several references to Christmas, which left me wondering why Zondervan held this back for a January 22nd release. There are some thoughts here that I hope to remember to use as a resource when December rolls around.

The full title is, When Donkeys Talk: A Quest to Rediscover the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity. I would argue that the use of ‘rediscover’ here might precludes what I could consider this book’s best application: As an introduction to Christians and Christianity for seekers, skeptics and scientists, especially those in the under-40 demographic.

*See the story of Balaam in Numbers 22.

>>>Win a copy of When Donkeys Talk! Leave an inspired comment (!) about an experience you’ve had where a donkey spoke to you, or something similar (like “Why I’d really like to win this book”) followed by (US) or (Can), and our friends at Zondervan will send out a copy to one Canadian and one American winner from comments we select on Monday!  

UPDATE 1/22/13 — Picking a Canadian winner was easy, so Kristy, we’ll be contacting you for your address!  Katrina, you’re our U.S. winner, and no, it wasn’t a “names that start with K” thing.  Both of you should receive an email from me to get your mailing address, so look for it as it filled with words evocative of spam. Like really, if I got an email that said “Congratulations you’re a winner!” I’d probably trash it.


  1. Your review made me put it in my Amazon wish list. Thanks!

    Comment by Bob Rogers — January 17, 2013 @ 10:29 am

    • Oh dear! You used the A-word. This blog is a loyal supporter of Christian bookstores.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — January 17, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

      • Yes, but how else can I get it on my Kindle?

        Comment by Bob Rogers — January 18, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

  2. I’m not eligible, but I have family who are both by location and demographics so (US). Sue

    Comment by suesconsideredtrifles — January 17, 2013 @ 11:08 am

  3. Growing up on a farm….if you listen, you can certainly hear.
    I am going to read this book, it would be wonderful to win a copy.
    Thank you.

    Comment by mj — January 17, 2013 @ 11:55 am

  4. The plants, birds, stars, why not have them talk? They might know more than you! Also, it would be a cool book to share with some colleagues of mine. (US)

    Comment by Katrina Handy — January 17, 2013 @ 7:18 pm

  5. I haven’t heard a donkey speak, but in the loudness that is inevitable when surrounded by an MRI machine that is pounding away (indeed it is so loud that patients are given ear plugs to wear during the procedure) while taking images of my brain, I heard “Be still and know, that I am God. I am the Lord, who healeth thee.” The irony, of course, is that you have to be perfectly still in an MRI machine in order to get a good image. And while the doctors had told me to be still so they could figure out what was in my brain, it was the word of God (which had been written on my heart) was louder than the pounding of the MRI machine all around me, which was the loudest sound – speaking to me from within my heart. Ultimately, it wasn’t going to be an MRI machine that could heal me – it would be God. I’m glad I listened when he spoke through the loud distraction of medical technology. (Can)

    Comment by Kristy Taylor — January 18, 2013 @ 8:53 am

  6. While I would certainly like to think that there was some some crazy “ass” that God spoke through and moved me in such a deep way, unfortunately my life is not always that exciting. When I think about the nature of the Biblical story though, I realize that my metaphorical donkey was one of the most unlikely populations that God could speak through, atheists. One of the two times that I have heard God’s voice clearly was after a high school student in the same grade as me, an atheist, died. God clearly said that “she was taken care of”. Now having reflected on that I’m not 100% sure what that means, but I know for a fact that it was comforting in that moment. Outside of her death, God has used the book I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith through an Atheist’s Eyes as a devotional time for me. God certainly has a sense of humor, talking through those who I would least expect. (U.S.)

    Comment by Josh Privitt — January 18, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

    • He talks about his “crazy ass theory” in the book. That language will probably limit sales in some conservative bookstores, but they tend not to carry book by 20-something writers they’ve never heard of anyway. It does make you wonder though if the original title for the book might have been, When Asses Talk.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — January 18, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

      • Agree Paul, but then again Tyler isn’t really one that sticks to the traditional norms of Christianity either. His last book showed that for sure.

        Comment by Josh Privitt — January 18, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

  7. I can’t say I’ve been spoken to by a donkey but God did speak to me once, very audibly, and He said, “Ask and it will be given onto you”. Not sure what my greatest need was at that time but I sure would like to hear His audible voice again amid all the noise and distractions of everyday life. Blessings.

    Comment by Isabel — January 18, 2013 @ 5:21 pm

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