About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

On Christian Paperbacks

Since doing my theology degree many moons ago, I’ve developed what I can only admit is a distaste for certain Christian paperbacks. I try not to be snobbish, knowing that if God can speak through blossoming shrubs or dead dogs, God can certainly speak to me through people whose theological presuppositions and experiences are different from my own. But I do have my prejudices, and I’m far more likely to pick up and read something by, say, Richard Bauckham or Tom Wright than I am by T. D. Jakes or Benny Hinn – or even Mark Driscoll or Shaine Claiborne. I make assumptions about the kind of literature that’s likely to edify or challenge me. The works of Bauckham and my namesake are more likely to strengthen or challenge my faith, I reason, even when I disagree with them. But I doubt I’d read Hinn or Driscoll with the same charity. Besides, there’s only so many books one can read, anyway, so why waste time (notice the judgement there) reading these books when others are likely to be more useful?

Having written all this, I should also confess that there are some books I read very occasionally because they reflect the roots of my coming-to-faith.

I’ve read – and mostly enjoyed – the first twelve Left Behind books because the church in which I came to faith taught the Rapture. I still love reading Chick tracts (here’s my favourite) – not because I agree with the theology peddled in them, but because they, as a medium, resonate with my ecclesial roots. And I often re-read the Christian biographies I devoured as a teenager – books such as Melody Green’s No Compromise (about Keith Green), Nicky Cruz’s Run, Baby, Run, and David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade. Indeed, No Compromise, or perhaps Keith Green’s life itself, continues to challenge me.

A few weeks ago, I picked up a book by the aforementioned David Wilkerson: Hungry for More of Jesus: The Way of Intimacy with Christ. I figured this (£1.00!) book might be a useful read for me, given that (a) I’m going through something of a dry, intimacy-free patch with God at the moment, and (b) I have some kind of respect for Wilkerson, a respect borne of reading about his exploits in New York City. But I have to say, I’m two chapters in and I’m wondering if the rest of the book’s worth reading. Why? The second chapter of Hungry interprets the book of Ruth in such a way that it offends my scholarly sensibilities (yes, I do have some) by taking far too many liberties with the text. I can see how Wilkerson’s approach would go down well in certain local church contexts, or even as part of the rhetoric of preaching; his overall point in the second chapter is surely sound. But it’s not the destination that bothers me; it’s the route.

A few days ago, a friend and I were talking about Christian paperbacks. I said that these days, I’m hesitant about reading Christian paperbacks because I’m not sure what I get from them. She suggested that maybe reading Christian paperbacks is difficult for someone who’s been trained to think in certain ways – and she, a trained and practising educational psychologist, admitted that she finds reading pop-psychology books frustrating. I appreciate the parallel.

Of course, this might be a case of my being snobbish: How dare I refuse to learn from someone who hasn’t articulated himself using the language of the academy? (Surely this works both ways. I could retort: ‘Well, how dare you assume that some who usually articulates himself using the language of the academy has nothing to teach the so-called ordinary person in the pew?’) But I don’t think it’s a refusal to learn on my part. It’s simply that the medium doesn’t resonate with me (at least, not these days), so that whatever good Wilkerson is saying (and he is saying good things) is buried beneath communicative forms with which I (now?) find it hard to identify. Employing a limited analogy, and assuming that musical form is neutral, I could argue that most people would find it hard to worship singing hymns death-metal style (perhaps that should be ‘grunting’ or ‘growling’ hymns rather than ‘singing’) simply because it’s not a style that resonates with many churchgoers. The form of our communication, the words we use and the style in which they’re dressed, surely does matter.

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