Midweek imagination exercise: Ignore for a moment the fact that we all know that Lee Strobel already wrote a book called The Case for Christ. Pretend with me that, as the rest of the world seems to believe, we don't exist. And by we, of course, I mean the educated, young evangelicals who read both books by Lee Strobel and the New York Times Book Review.
But we are here, aren’t we? Cogito ergo sum, etc. Yes? Then did you see the article from this past Sunday’s Times' Book Review which featured Karen Armstrong’s new book The Case for God. I know, I know, we believe Christ is God so it kind of feels this title's been used already, but let us give the books author Ms. Armstrong, former nun turned popular historian, a chance.
The truth is, Armstrong speaks for us. She elucidates a kind of pre-modern belief in which science has not yet meddled, the Enlightenment has not happened and story and mystery reign in all matters faith. You’re familiar with his kind of belief if you’ve ever read Aquinas or Augustine. This is before we got all tangled up in trying to factually prove why God exists, before the incessant desire to compare the apples and oranges of Genesis and The Origin of Species; back when we just, you know, believed. The essence of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen…all of that.
I guess it’s encouraging for those of us who have long ago stumbled upon a belief that needs not be empirically proven to see an author express our thoughts so eloquently, but it may also leave us thinking, Wait a minute, I’ve felt this way for a long time. Why don’t I get to speak?
Well, you’re in luck. I’ll tell you what to do. Write a better book. Tell a better story. As the reviewer Ross Douthat points out, Armstrong’s book tends toward liberal theology. But there are those of us who are liberal, politically, but conservative theologically. It has, after all, baffled me for years that that paradox exists: in order to maintain a conservative political stance, one must read the Bible liberally. If you wish to read the Bible conservatively, you will end up politically liberal.
We may be liberal, but we are not liberal theologians. We read the Bible as it was meant to be read which includes, very prominently, the mystery that it is encaptured therein. The Bible is, indeed, a pre-modern work, and simultaneously a post-everything narrative as it tells of the story of what was, what is and what is to come (as the saying goes). We limit it when we try to synthesize it into our modern scientific method. We begin to understand it, however, when we realize that its writers got something we modern readers fail to; the Gospel, the good news of Jesus’ message is that our salvation comes in the form of a story that is both factual and above the need to be empirically proven. It is a narrative that works to save. This is pre-modern, and completely relevant.
I'm grateful that Ross Douthat and The New York Times (an entity which, apparently, doesn't believe in God) so eloquently engaged Armstrong's book. And I'm delighted by Douthat's conclusion: "Apophatic religion may be the most rigorous way to go in search of an elusive God. But for most believers, it will remain a poor substitute for the idea that God has come in search of us."
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