Shayne Looper: Books I wish someone would write
I recently saw an article about books that someone should write. Christian leaders had been interviewed about the kind of books they would like to read and, while I admit I found most of their suggestions uninteresting, I found the idea inspiring. So here are a few books I wish someone would write.
The first would be, Rugged Hermeneutics: The Impact of Individualism on Biblical Interpretation. Hermeneutics is the science (some would say the art) of understanding the meaning of a text according to universal principles: interpret literally, when appropriate; interpret contextually; interpret historically, etc.
But behind the principles of hermeneutics lies a worldview that shapes their use. In America that worldview is intensely individualistic. This has led American Christians to see Jesus as personal savior while remaining blind to the Bible’s strong emphasis on the corporate people of God. Religion in America is largely a “private matter.” Even when we pray, “Our Father, which art in heaven,” we are too often thinking, “My Father in heaven ... give me my daily bread, forgive my trespasses and lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.”
I’d call the second book I wish someone would write, The Death of the King and the Birth of the Kingdom: Where the Atonement and the Kingdom Intersect. The king and the kingdom have too often been divorced in biblical theology. It’s common for preachers and Bible teachers to talk about why Christ had to die in order for individuals (see book one) to go to heaven, but why did Christ have to die in order for the kingdom of God to be established?
In general, liberal Christians find it easier to talk about the kingdom of God than about the atonement of Christ, while conservative Christians wax eloquently about the atonement but stutter when it comes to talking about the kingdom. Yet the Bible teaches both, and they are profoundly interrelated. Without Christ’s death there is no kingdom. Without the kingdom, Christ’s death is trivialized as the entrance fee through the pearly gates.
Because we lack a kingdom perspective, we fail to understand the relation of Christ’s cross to God’s larger purpose for creation. It is also why St. Paul’s language about the need for God to be reconciled to humans has proved so difficult for some scholars to grasp. They claim that he really meant that humans need to be reconciled to God. Something similar has happened with the biblical word “propitiation,” and for the same reason. Why would a loving God need to be propitiated?
One reason these scholars turn from the common meaning of the biblical words is that they are trying to fit them into a context where salvation has everything to do with getting into heaven and nothing to do with God’s kingdom coming on earth. Seen from the former perspective, everything depends on whether humans accept God. Seen from the latter, the decisive thing is whether God accepts humans — is reconciled to them – because they come to his kingdom as those who are joined to Christ (or are “in Christ,” as St. Paul likes to put it).
Another book I wish someone would write is, The Great Omission: A Manual for Teaching Them to Obey. Before any reader writes to inform me that Dallas Willard has already written that book, I hasten to say I know that, I’ve read it, and my copy has underlining on almost every page.
I love Willard’s insights and heartily recommend his book, but the one I have in mind is a little different. It would be a manual for church leaders who are searching for practical ways to teach people to obey Jesus’s commands. How can churches create a culture in which obedience to Jesus is considered realistic and doable? What would that church’s structure look like? How can the various generations in the church be inspired and instructed to live Jesus-shaped lives?
Those are three books I’m dying to read. I’d also like to read How the Cleveland Cavaliers Won the NBA Championship, but I’ll stick to non-fiction this time around. Perhaps some reader would like to set her or his hand to the task? Do so, by all means; and I wish you Godspeed.
— Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Michigan. Read more at shaynelooper.com.