Sunday, April 13, 2014

Books on the Road to Damascus

I am a white male evangelical who repented.  I didn’t repent from being white or male, which I couldn’t help, and I understand from my science friends that it has to do with some genetic whoozawitz.  I still retain much that is evangelical, although my evangelical friends might disagree.   My repentance has not as much to do with being white or Christian, but it has much to do with the books I read.

It was a book that caused me to think that giving up everything I had and surrendering my life in service to the poor was a good idea.  It was a book that showed me that normal charity just wasn’t enough. It was a book that taught me that compassion to those not like us is the best way to live. It was a book that taught me that the Bible wasn’t written to the middle class evangelicals, but to outliers of society, and the best way to understand THAT book was to read it from their perspective. 

Clearly the lesson here is: Books are dangerous.  At least if you want to keep your life intact.

Obviously, not every book is dangerous.  I think reading Terry Pratchett is generally safe.  Or The Purpose Driven Life.  Or Jesus Calling.  I’m not saying that these books can’t  be inspirational or entertaining or even powerful.  But they can never be dangerous.  They aren’t the kind of books that take your life by the throat, choke out your last breath, toss you to the ground and say, “Now get up and walk.”  

There are books that speak to my privileged state as a white, relatively well-off, conservative evangelical  and says, “You know that this is not all there is to Jesus.”

Below are some books that belong to the “challenge the narrow-minded Christian” genre.  These are books that talk about how the author went through a process of paradigm shift and invites us to make that same change, to see the world in a different way than we did originally.  To see the world in a way closer to how Jesus saw it and sees it.  Yes, these books are all written by white male evangelicals.  But like the movie Knocked Up, these are books about male religious “slobs” who come to mature in powerful ways because a Lover taught them new ways to love.

Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere
Jack was a pastor of a moderate evangelical church who believed that the charismatic was of the devil and needed to be stopped.  This book details his journey to become a charismatic himself, not because of doctrine or theology (although that comes into play), but through the work of God.   It’s a well-told story, and Jack shows that his exclusionist theology was cutting off God’s work in his life.

The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey
Phillip grew up with a Sunday School Jesus like many people, but when he really started examining the gospels, he found that the real Jesus was quite a bit different than the one taught in churches.  This is an open, informal examination of the gospels, explaining what Phillip learned by going directly to Jesus and learning from him.

Unexpected News: Reading the Bible Through Third World Eyes by Robert McAfee Brown
When Robert started living as a church worker in Latin America, he thought he was the expert on the Bible.  What he soon realized is that he had a lot to learn.  The Bible wasn’t written to middle class Americans, but to the rural poor, and if we are going to learn what the Bible says, we have to learn how the poor read it.

The Unkingdom of God by Mark Van Steenwyk
Mark grew up as a patriotic American evangelical, and saw nothing wrong with that.  It took Mark to learn, not only that the American way of leadership wasn’t necessarily the best one, but how to transform himself into a servant, as Jesus would want him to be.

Radical Faith by John Driver
Many of us were taught the basic lessons of church history by our church or seminary.  This is usually the story of our denomination or of Christendom’s triumph over the West.  But the heart of the church has been the outcast and rejected movements.  Driver examines many of these movements, planting a seed for a new way to look at the heart of the church over the last two thousand years.

Long Live the Riff Raff: Jesus’ Social Revolution by Steven Kimes
It’s a little tacky to suggest one’s own book, but here it is.  I grew up as a non-Christian in a wealthy part of the U.S. and when I spent time in India, I was shocked to see real poverty.  When I came back to the Bible after my experience, I found that Jesus’ teaching had a lot to say about social issues that I was never taught in the church.  This book is a summary of what I learned from Jesus about social structures and how to turn them upside down.

It is amazing how many of these books are simply Christian men being re-converted by Jesus.  Not converted by the church, by theology or by an excellent teacher.  Rather, in following Jesus, Jesus stopped us on our own road to Damascus and told us we were going the wrong way. 

I am sure that we all have things we need to learn from Jesus.  I pray that we would all be willing to keep being ready to repent, to be converted to be more like Jesus. 


  1. Steve, I appreciate your reflections. It sounds to me like you had a similar experience in India to what I had in Latin America. It turned my world and my faith upside down. I also wrote a book with stories about my journey: "Meditations on the Beatitudes: Lessons from the Margins." I found that writing those reflections was one of the most therapeutic things I have done. . . . Now if I could really live out my new found radical faith in this middle class jungle . . .

  2. Your book sounds great. Maybe I'll check it out :)