A week ago I visited the Good News Centre again – and to absolutely no one’s surprise, Jo was forced (again) to fit a small library in the back of the car.
Nine books for about £7. Here’s a short summary, with an observation to follow.
A Second, Second Book Haul
We might be three Reformed theologians, conservative evangelical and male, but there are blessings to be gained from reading outside one’s comfort zone. Mother Julian is a good example.
Abraham delves into the theoretical dimensions of missiology, whereas Summerton’s Fishers of Men tells the tale of the Fishers, a 19th Century family of missionaries who cultivated new strategies to save some by any means.
Two historically oriented texts – one dedicated to the Christian’s spiritual inheritance and the various ways in which believers have cultivated piety & prayer over the centuries; the other dedicated to the Nicene creed.
The question of gender, sexuality and faith continues to grow in importance. We’ll eventually address the subject in greater detail, but for now a text like this appears invaluable.
Two Other, Very Different Books
Both made an impact – but I didn’t take them home with me, and for one very specific reason. They’re utterly, completely, totally, wholly, hilariously irrelevant.
I snapped some pictures whilst still in the shop.
Folley published A Time To Jump in 2001 – a biography of Jonathan Edwards (no relation to the Princeton theologian). Edwards was a British triple jumper and a professing Christian. The inside cover declares how “at the core of Edwards’ life has been his Christian faith”. Six years later, he announced that he’d lost his faith: “When you think about it rationally, it does seem incredibly improbable that there is a God”.
Neal published MySpace for Moms and Dads in 2007 – just as MySpace was reaching the peak of its popularity. At the time, the social media site enjoyed around 25 million regular users. However, that’s when things changed. By Jan 2009, its user base had suffered a 20% loss; by Oct 2009, that number was 40%; by Oct 2010, we’re talking nearer 70%. By contrast: Facebook opened to the public in 2006 and exceeded MySpace’s peak user base within just two years. It now boasts nearly 1.71 billion users.
These two titles stuck out like a sore thumb. Yes, I enjoyed browsing the library for second-hand gems; and yes, I’m pleased with the books I took home. But these two peculiar books present to us a cautionary tale – one we should heed.
Don't React; Redeem
Folley reacted to Jonathan Edwards – adored by an early-00s UK Church, desperate for some form of public representation. (We did the same with Cliff Richard in the 60s and we continue to do it today, e.g. “Did you know that [C-list celebrity] is a Christian? No really, it’s absolutely 100% true!”) That Edwards later abandoned his faith only serves to embarrass our need for public vindication, an embarrassment now immortalised in Folley’s Time to Jump. Neal, likewise, reacted to the popularity of MySpace – an embryonic expression of digital community but one we now know to have been a mere surrogate for Facebook. Neal’s advice was no doubt sound but it’s now almost entirely moot, eclipsed by a bigger, more complex beast. Written in 2006; published in 2007; made obsolete less than a year later.
Whatever Kairos moment the authors hoped to market, providence made elusive.
Again, TLD is exactly the same. God has placed us here, in this place, at this time. He has redeemed us here, for this place, for this time.
When we speak, some of what we say will (by his grace) stand the test of time – as if God’s turned us into foghorns, speaking into & over our Kairos moment and beyond it, so as to bless future generations. Augustine’s City of God remains as relevant today, for example, as it did when he wrote it in advance of the Visigoth sacking of Rome. Calvin’s Institutes describe the same spiritual realities today as when the average life expectancy stood at about 40 years old.
This is what Christian writers must strive towards – because the alternative is MySpace for Moms & Dads. The alternative is reacting to the Kairos but never speaking into it, always chasing after the present moment.
When Paul tells us to ‘make the most of the time’, he’s quick to remind us that the days are also evil. Indeed the phrase, ‘make the most of the time’, is a poor translation. It better reads as: redeem the time! Literally, buy it back. Purchase it. He’s not describing an industrious work ethic or some slavish approach to whatever’s most present or demanding. He’s implying – much like in Col 1:24 – that we are Christ’s ambassadors, representing and fulfilling what is true of his Kingdom, and so we begin what Jesus will one day finish. We must redeem every Kairos moment. We must buy it back. We must purchase it and refashion it. Make it new, as a sign of the newness that is to come.
What then? Should we never write about present events? Should we abandon all insight and commentary? Surely not. It is right to speak.
But we must also remember that when Peter describes the one who would speak, he says he must do so as if God himself were speaking [2 Pet 3]. The prophetic voice is a weighty one. To react to the Kairos is to be killed by it. We must instead redeem it. Pray for discernment. Look for matters of import. Wait for God to speak. Feel for the pulse of life before jumping in, whether out of enthusiasm or a need to be heard.
Whatever the reason, let’s remember how “rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” [Prov 12:18]