This was my one “heavy” book on this year’s Lenten reading list — a series of moderately scholarly essays by various evangelical writers and thinkers exploring whether there’s a place for Christian apologetics in a postmodern society.
Dry though it may be, the question interests me. This Lent I’ve been reading a fair bit about other religions — Islam, Buddhism, and even a little Judaism — as well as reading at least two books that were both, in their own way, works of Christian apologetics. I am the kind of pluralstic Christian who believes there is truth in all religions and I can learn something from all of them, while still quietly thinking Christianity offers the straightest and truest path to God. Those beliefs, resting uneasily next to each other, leave me a little out of place both in the evangelical church and in the postmodern secular world.
One thing I find as I read through my LentBooks is that I keep making links and connections between them. In The Year of Living Biblically, there’s a point where Jacobs starts to study the New Testament and wonders if he can get anything meaningful out of it if he doesn’t believe in the divinity of Christ. He asks several Christians, from whom he gets, predictably, different answers, but he concludes there are probably some valuable things he can learn from Jesus’ teachings even if he doesn’t accept the whole theological package.
I guess that’s kind of where I’m at with reading books on Buddhism, such as Hardcore Zen. I don’t believe in (or even understand really) the teachings of Zen Buddhism, especially the whole idea that “self” is an illusion, which Brad Warner is very big on as a cornerstone of his worldview. But I keep wishing I could learn to be more “zen” (small-Z zen, perhaps?) in my approach to life — that I could learn more about stillness, mindfulness, meditation, acceptance of reality as it is. Can I benefit and learn from those things without accepting the teachings upon which they are based? Are there things I, as a Christian, can learn from Buddhism that will enhance my own spiritual practice and my everyday life?
That’s the question I brought to my reading of Hardcore Zen and its sequel. This was not, however, the question that Brad Warner set out to answer, so there was a little bit of a disconnect between us. Even so, I found this to be a good explanation of a lot of basic Zen concepts. Brad Warner is a little bit too much with the “I’m such a bad boy” routine, but then I thought that about Shaine Claiborne too, and I loved his book.
Former punk rocker Warner strips Zen philosophy down to the basics: the ultimate reality is what you’re experiencing right now. Deal with it. I doubt I’ll ever understand or agree with half the Zen concepts he introduces (especially in the sequel, Sit Down and Shut Up, which is really his commentary on a particular Zen text) but I can get into the fact that where I am now is where I need to be. Right here; right now. For getting that much Zen across to this hardcore Christian, Brad Warner gets a thumbs-up from me.
Like N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian, Chris Blake’s Searching for a God to Love is one writer’s attempt to explain what Christianity means to him and to try to make it attractive to doubters and seekers — or to “unbelieving believers,” as Blake calls them. Also like Wright, Blake deviates from the trail blazed by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity and approaches the Christian story not so much as a series of logical propositions to be proved, as a possible answer to some of humanity’s deepest needs. Blake focuses particularly on the need to be loved and to belong which we all feel, and argues that God as revealed in Jesus can fully meet that need.
Unlike Wright, Blake is not presenting the same kind of thoughtful-but-slightly-dry analysis. Reading Searching for a God to Love is less like listening to a sermon and more like reading someone’s scrapbook. The book is full of random quotes and anecdotes that have obviously made an impact on the author, all of which he weaves together as part of the tapestry he’s creating. The book’s not disorganized, but it does have an informal, conversational style that invites the reader in to browse.