The Year of Living Biblically

I just finished “The Year of Living Biblically” by A. J. Jacobs.  It’s outstanding stuff.  Not only is it an entertaining read, but it’s got really profound implications for those of who are Christians.  A few of these implications are theological, but mostly this should be required reading in terms of evangelism.

The writer is fairly up front about his agenda.  He begins wanting to expose the idea that nobody can follow all of the bible literally.  To prove this point he takes one year of his life and spends this year attempts to follow the bible.  While doing this, he visits all sorts of communities who are attempting to follow the bible literally as well.

He does the mandatory trip to visit the Amish.  And he hangs out with a variety of Ultra Orthodox Jews.  He visits snake handlers.  He journeys to Israel.  And spends some time among the surviving Samiritans.  (Did you know that there were surviving Samaritians?  I didn’t.)

There is some interesting facts in the middle of all this.  But more than this his treatment is incredibly even handed and fair.  He meditates on both the beauty of the snake handlers’ faith and the wierdness of what they do.  He spends some time at Pat Robertson’s church and he chats with Tony Compola. 

Despite the idea that he starts with an agenda he’s incredibly fair and even handed.  He’s as nuanced in his discussions as these sorts of books could possibly be.  He treats the left and the right with parity.  And he mantains an openness.

There are places where modern life seems to force him to be silly.  He stones somebody with tiny pebbles.  But even this turns into an opportunity for insightful reflection.

The relevance to evangelism is in his transformation.  Over the course of his “biblical year” he does not commit himself to either Judaism or Christianity.    But he begins a journey.  He develops a healthy respect for ideas he probably once would have considered wacky. (Perhaps he still considers them wacky: but now he respectfully finds them wacky)  And he finds that he loves to pray.

I know that it’s true of my own journey that when I was placed in a worshipful environment (the church) I got what was going on in a way that I never would have if you’d just described it to me.  When I began to pray, mostly out of desperation, it worked.  It didn’t make sense that it worked.  I probably never would have gotten to a place that logically it made sense to pray. 

I have heard it said (maybe in some cheesy kids movie) that sometimes you have to believe in order to see.

My own experiences and this book bare out this idea.

I think what all this means is that we need to work hard at helping people have the experience of our faith that speaks to us.  Perhaps we need to tone back our talking about our faith and starting turning up the doing.  This is scarier in some ways: deep down we all know that there is something wierd about worship services, the ways we pray, etc.  We expose ourselves when we step past the stage of just talking about our faith.  But of course, we have to do it.

Even if none of these motivations resonant with you, pick up the book.  It’s a good entertaining read.  It’s also got lots of interesting exploration of stuff I had no idea was in the bible.

This post was submitted to Randy Elrod’s Watercooler Wednesdays.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

3 thoughts on “The Year of Living Biblically”

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m so glad you wrote about this book because I was just talking to somebody about it last week, who had heard about it but knew nothing outside of the premise. Thanks for the review. Now I really want to read it!


  2. Just got back from the Saddleback worship conference where we heard Rick Warren speaking via video. He said that we aren’t commissioned to just know the Word, but to do it. We aren’t to teach people about it, but show them how to live it. Your book review also seems to go along these lines.


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