Best Sellers & Scripture

26 02 2010

Those two words don’t often go hand-in-hand: best seller & Bible. Unless, of course, someone is quoting that the Bible IS the ultimate best seller. Which it is. But I’m not.

About a year ago, I heard reference to A.J. Jacob’s The Year of Living Biblically. I put it on my list of “books to read” on my iGoogle homepage. A year later, it is still the only book on the that list – not because I’m not ambitious, but because I don’t iGoogle. Seriously, who needs iGoogle when Gmail does the same stuff?  Anyway, a year later, it fell into my lap (the book, of course, not iGoogle!).

Basic reflections: I could have told you exactly what would happen before I picked up this book. See, there’s only 2 ways for it to end: either he becomes a believer / follower or he doesn’t. And guess what? If it’s on the best seller list, I can guarantee I know how it ends.

He did everything right to create a best seller: He took religion (Judaism and Christianity both) just seriously enough to engage even the ardently faithful, but irreverently enough to keep it light. He did his research thoroughly, maintaining fairness to each side of the issues. He touched upon all the key debates, without any firm commitments to any of them. In fact, he laid bare his liberal, agnostic perspective, kept an open mind, and ultimately discovered “spirituality”. His words:

In a sense, they were right to worry. You can’t immerse yourself in religion for 12 months and emerge unaffected. At least I couldn’t. Put it this way: If my former self and my current self met for coffee, they’d get along okay, but they’d both probably walk out of the Starbucks shaking their heads and saying to themselves, “That guy is kinda delusional.”

But in the end, the spirituality he comes up with is nothing more than a post-modern sense of the divine. Is it true? Partially. But it misses the point completely. He admitted he learned to be thankful, that seemed to be one of his best experiences. However, even he confessed that it was thanks directed toward no one – that when he did try to direct the thanks toward some god, it felt even better / more meaningful.

I was hoping to find something useful for Christians in it, much like I Sold my Soul on eBay. But I didn’t. There’s no perceptive insight into Christianity. Yes, there’s an outsider looking in, but he just admires, shrugs his shoulders, and turns away. We can find no reflection of ourselves in him.

What we do find is a perfect reflection of American culture today. There’s a yearning for something deeper, an acceptance of “spirituality”, but a turning away from religious tradition.

The results would have been the same if he’d tried Buddhism.


February: Faith, hope, and love

1 02 2010

Woot! Got to celebrate – today marks the beginning of Soul Theology’s second month. Sure, I had a one week lapse, but I made it and feel like I’m beginning to get an idea where this is headed. It’s not much, but celebrating the little milestones is an excellent motivator.

I recently read Ellen Charry‘s article found in Essentials of Christian Theology, compiled by Placher.

This short article explicates a model of Christian living from the book of 1 Corinthians. “Christianity is more than a set of beliefs and more than a set of practices. It is a window on the world that comes from beyond the world and reaches beyond the world as we know it. Christianity cannot be understood or lived out apart from a community” (264).

She talks about the “wisdom of the cross” as standing over and against earthly wisdom. Also, the “mind of Christ” is living for God and others. Then she goes on to the details of “sex, idolatry, and table manners”. Finally, love and spiritual gifts.

After this, she summarizes reasons we have a hard time truly trusting God: it is unnatural, an enormous undertaking, and others may laugh at us. She succinctly summarizes, “Christians . . . live from faith rather than fear, hope rather than despair, love rather than ambition.” (280)

I think her concluding sentence reveals an excellent exposition on “faith, hope and love”. Somehow, by viewing the entire book in light of that phrase, she discovers what that faith, hope, and love stand in opposition to: worldly values and wisdom. May we all live without fear, despair, and ambition.

Discovering George MacDonald

16 01 2010

A friend recently suggested I read George MacDonald. Now, since this is a friend I deeply respect and readily listen to, I picked up a used copy of one of his books. Apparently, C.S.Lewis, the modern St. Paul to Evangelicals, said of MacDonald, “I never wrote a book in which I did not quote George MacDonald.” That’s pretty high praise for a well-established professor and writer.

So, I read. Take Middle Earth and plop it down amidst the common setting of Scotland. Read of rough fishermen with coarse language rather than elves swift or Narnian fauns. See the broad sweep of history condensed to one moment in a simple life. See the divine in the mundane.

Everything that makes a story great weaves through his novels with the ease of a practiced hand.

This reminds me that I owe a bright new thread in my literary pursuits to the recommendation of a friend. Indeed, she has never steered me wrong in her recommendations, giving generally better suggestions than most people I know. Of course, that’s true not only of books, but of life.

The people that know what books we would enjoy also know how to speak to our souls in other ways.