There is a down side to being a book reviewer. “Time’s winged chariots” are rarely allow me the privilege of merely enjoying a book. I need to get it finished. I need to post a review. I need to share that review on Amazon and Goodreads. I need to assure the publisher that I am worth their efforts to supply me with the goods.
In days past, there was a world where time could sometimes stand still while I dug deeper and deeper into the books at hand. There were always more to read and stacks of unreads, but there was a time carved out for the book in front of me, a conversation with the author, and a slipping away from the constraints of time and time’s tyrannies.
That idyllic memory aside, I must highlight a few reads from recent weeks and months from InterVarsity Press.
Just this morning, I finished reading Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age by Alan Noble. (Published by IVP.)
One of my favorite things about IVP books is that so many of them are aimed at middle-level serious readers. Some, alas way too many, Christian books are fluff. I despise their large print, double spacing between lines, and easy, sweetened, and calorie free content. On the other hand, there are tomes and monographs where Christian scholars and academics toss boulders back and forth, laden with footnotes, foreign sources, and theological underpinnings that leave me quaking on the sidelines. Many of IVP’s titles are academic, scholarly, serious, and yet very readable by laymen and non-academic folk. They are challenging, but accessible. This book is one such case.
Do I need to argue the case that we live in a “distracted age”? I have no assurance that you will even finish reading this blog post (in spite of its brilliance) because it is so easy to click to something else. Digital things, the cyber world, and gadgets have compounded the distractions in a world already inhabited by machines, schedules, and pressures that prevent us from engaging ourselves with our Creator, His Creation, and our fellow men and women. Even in sitting still long enough each morning for a week or two to listen to Alan Noble’s case, I found myself wanting the easy list of bullet points. “Write the chapters, Alan, and then give me a list of 5 simple things to do.” Although Noble gave plenty of suggestions and exhortations, he did not give me the Cliff’s Notes version of applications.
In what should not surprise us, one of the key emphases of his book was on worship. Without slipping over between the trenches of the worship wars, I will summarize his arguments by saying that he calls for us to have real, participatory worship that is not geared toward imitating the world. He also calls us to observe the creation. I own five acres of God’s earth. Of course, I am really only a steward of it, but even with land, I am all too prone to slip right past the wonders and awe of God’s creation that surrounds me.
One final note: For at least the 10th time (maybe 20th time or more), I find an author who borrows heavily from Christian philosopher Charles Taylor’s work A Secular Age. Glad I have that book; wish I could get serious about reading it.
A few weeks ago, I read In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World by Jake Meador.
Both Meador and Noble are young authors and thinkers. Their youth has not prevented them from thinking of some issues and concerns that call for wisdom and discernment. Meador’s book is a call for community. His discussion of the “fractured world” is not all that different from Noble’s discussion of a “distracted age.” My problem with community and connectedness is that it sounds like something that was just fine back in the days of slower moving automobiles, party-line telephones, and long established neighborhoods. But the fact that that world changed doesn’t mean that we as people have changed. Christians are often as rootless and clueless as the worldlings next door.
We are also often as lonely and fractured as those outside of Christ. There is always that nagging concern that we are getting more and more things, and that the things we are getting are better and better, and yet, we are more isolated, more unconnected, more fractured than ever.
Just make this easy on yourself: Get both of these books and read them one after the other. The hard part will be making the life-style changes and implementing a different outlook. These are not two old men remembering the good old days. These are young Christian men with young children who are seeking to find those practices rooted in Scripture and tradition that will enrich our lives.
On the other hand, Eugene Peterson was an old man and is now home with God. The term paralleling with “fractured world” and “distracted age” that shows up in his book is “instant society.” A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society has been reprinted in a finely done hardback “Commemorative Edition” by IVP.
I first read this book several years ago and was delighted to see it reprinted. Re-reading it was a joy as well. Peterson’s book is actually a running commentary on the Psalms of Ascent, those being Psalms 120 through 134. He presents each psalm through a discussion of its meaning and application. This is not an in-depth Bible study, nor is it a quick devotional. Once again, it fulfills that middling operation. Each discussion is filled with typical bits of Peterson’s allusions to literature, personal anecdotes, and insights into the meanings of the passages.
The amazing thing is that the remarkable title comes from an unlikely source–Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche wrote, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” As Peterson notes with a chuckle, no doubt, Nietzsche was probably turning over in his grave to see his very used being used by a Christian pastor and author and being read by Christians for over forty years now.