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.