Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Books! Check 'Em Out!

Lately, I haven't been able to sleep.  Most nights I lay down only to stare at the dark ceiling, a million thoughts running through my head at a million miles per hour.  It's pretty frustrating.  I finally fall asleep somewhere around one or two o'clock every morning, but I'm tired all day and can't think as clearly.  Some good points are that I've been able to catch up on some long overdue phone calls.  I've had a lot of good conversations that remind me that God has blessed me beyond what I deserve in my friends and family.

Don't worry, I'll get to those questions  from Psalm 78 soon enough, but I need a little more time to better shape my thoughts.  For now, I'd like to write about a few books I'm currently reading.  The first is The Reason for God by Tim Keller.  He is the pastor of a presbyterian church in New York city, a tremendous preacher, and an equally talented writer.  The book is really philosophical, but completely accessible.  He is able to write about complicated things in layman's terms, which makes it a lot easier to follow.  And, in my opinion, that much more useful for the church.  But his book isn't meant to be "Christian", at least in the sense of just being for christians.  Instead, it is a book for skeptics, addressing the most common objections that he has encountered during his time in New York City.  

I'm not very far into the book, just a few chapters, but it is amazing.  Thanks go out to my friend who gave it to me this summer while I was in Laramie.  He really reminds me of C.S. Lewis, which makes sense since Keller himself says that there isn't a chapter he's written or sermon he's preached that doesn't borrow from Lewis.  I hope this book finds its way into the hands of many honest skeptics.  People who really care about truth and are willing to question and test their own beliefs, not just secular fundamentalists.  After all, we're all religious when it comes to our most basic and foundational beliefs, right?

Normally, I'm skeptical of these types of books because christians tend to use them as ammunition against their neighbors and classmates without really understanding what they read.  I think that in order to worship God rightly, we need to understand him, or at least the little that he has revealed to us in his word.  Or better put--begin to understand.  He is complicated and beautiful enough that even an eternity of revelation won't exhaust our thirst and hunger to know him.  But I'm not elitist about the academic aspect of christianity either, though  I used to be.  Fortunately, as time has gone on, I've learned that I'm not nearly as smart as I once thought, and that it isn't nearly as important to God as I had originally thought.  Loading your Gospel Gun with skeptic-atheist-agnostic killing silver bullets isn't what God is after, but he does want you to learn about him.  That's why I recommend Keller's book, and would recommend it to any truth-seeking, honest person I know.

Also, I'm reading N.T. Wright's Simply Christian.  Like Keller's book, it's written for those outside of the faith, and more particularly, those who know nothing about Biblical Christianity.  No christianese.  No alter calls.  His premise reminds me of how I tell people why I became a christian and not a Jew, Buddhist, or Muslim--when I read the Bible, the world started to make sense.  Evil.  Sin.  The complexity of nature.  The fact that even the 'purest' of us think the most unimaginable thoughts.  The entire human experience was explained.  And not like a "Get Saved!" baptist handbook, but like a collection of books from different genres and time periods that make a 3-d image of life.  Where it came from, where it's going, why it sucks, how it will be fixed, and what that means now.  Not just for me, but for the whole world.

Wright starts the book by reminding us that everyone is born with a longing for justice, and that we live as if we'd just woken up from a vivid dream.  We can't remember what exactly the dream was, but it's effect and message remain with us nonetheless.  In that way, every person has the knowledge of the Creator, even if they don't remember how they got it.  

N.T. Wright has some unorthodox beliefs regarding the specifics of salvation, and is a proponent of the New Perspective on Paul (maybe even the first?), but as far as I can tell, the book is neutral and unaffected by these beliefs.  As Wright says in the introduction, he means the book to be a basic guide, not to what christians believe, but to the questions that all humans should ask about their existence, and how the Bible addresses all those questions.  It's great so far, and I would recommend it as well. 

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