Editors note: This blog post was originally published February 5, 2016 on this website
Film is one of my love languages.
You want to get close to me? You want to know the inner workings of my heart? Sit through Die Hard, The Notebook, or Star Wars with me. You’ll get a full range of emotions.
Not all great ideas can be told on a screen, though. Most of them are buried deep between the pages of a book. For those of us who don’t read often, this sometimes comes as a surprise.
I’m reading one book a week this year to find those stories, and let me tell you, it’s already begun to wreck me.
Below I’ve listed five books I tackled in January. I share a quote that rocked my world, the author’s intent for the book, and what I learned from it.
Each one has already made 2016 the most radical and impactful year on my character. I hope they influence you in some way, too.
1) BLUE LIKE JAZZ by Donald Miller
“I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.
After that I liked jazz music.
Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself.”
Miller spent his twenty-somethings living in Portland, Oregon. Blue Like Jazz is intended to document his nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality as he studies at a liberal arts university and wanders about the Pacific Northwest.
The book resonates with me in both narrative and context. I lived in Portland for nearly a decade before moving away for college. I also, similar to Miller, didn’t like God because God never seemed to resolve. As I read Blue Like Jazz, the streets he names and the people he meets are familiar to me. I know them intimately. So when he wrestles with equally familiar and intimate frustrations in those places, I connect.
Blue Like Jazz isn’t two dimensional. It’s an uncensored and raw experience that left me angry and joyful at its conclusion. I love spirituality more because I watch Miller love it, too.
2) WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT GOD by Rob Bell
“For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren’t opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it’s alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren’t opposites, they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners.”
Rob Bell is well known for controversial ideas about spirituality. Many people I know won’t even pick up his books. For this exact reason, I do. And I believe my response is Bell’s intent. This book is designed for people who want their faith wrecked.
Bell’s praise for science is fluidly weaved through this book . It is used as a means of explaining how a belief in something such as a seven-day creation or an evolutionary creation can lead to a more intimate relationship with our creator.
Bell doesn’t make any sweeping theological statements in this book. Instead he suggests everything Christians believe about God might be wrong. Or at least half-assed. He asks if we are wrong, what are you going to do about it?
I still wrestle with a lot of theology. I always will. But this book helps me turn my doubt into worship. It gives me peace through assurance that my desire to live fully in the present doesn’t negate anything spirituality promises long-term.
Bell’s conclusion is a call to a normal life of love that does not dwell on what is to come but dwells on how we live today. Relationships are now, not later. What comes later is a bonus, not what we work towards.
3) LOVE WINS by Rob Bell
“Eternal life doesn’t start when we die. It starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death. It’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death.”
Love Wins is essentially an extension of the previous book I reviewed. But this one actually makes sweeping theological statements. It’s not full of questions and stories. Its full of declarations that make you think, “I love it!” and mutter, “WTF!?” I believe this book exists to upset and facilitate more conversation stirred by worshipful doubt.
Heaven and hell are the two new topics delivered in this edition. Building off of the “we talk about God wrong” thesis, Bell challenges our words and our imagery for the two. What echoed in the hollow spaces of my heart was the concept of thinking too much about hell. It exists now and it exists later. We’re supposed to take both seriously. But we don’t. We worry more about hell later and not hell now. The few that worry more about hell now don’t think much about hell later. They’re too busy pursuing heaven on earth.
After sifting through ideas about universalism, eternity, and destiny in Love Wins, I was impacted most by what influenced me in Bell’s earlier work. I’m called to a normal life of love that dwells most on the present, and dwells lightly on later. And I’m going to do exactly that. No matter the cost.
4) GOD AND THE GAY CHRISTIAN by Matthew Vines
“With most sins, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the damage they cause. Adultery violates a commitment to your spouse. Lust objectifies others. Gossip degrades people. But committed same-sex relationships didn’t fit this pattern. Not only were they not harmful to anyone, they were characterized by positive motives and traits instead, like faithfulness, commitment, mutual love, and self-sacrifice.”
Matthew Vines does a splendid job of combining personal testimony with a thoroughly researched case for biblical support of same-sex relationships. His intentions are clear as he provides a unique argument (forged from nearly three years of research) meant to add context to scripture used against same-sex relationships.
Never have I believed same-sex relationships were wrong (sorry, Mom). But as a straight Christian male, by default I’ve bought into the “hate the sin, love the sinner” mentality. I’m currently caught in the midst of wanting to believe the scriptural values my parents taught me, wanting to believe the scriptural values American Christian culture has taught me, and fighting against my current beliefs that I perceive in scripture.
Vines’ book has provided the missing dialogue that allows me to wrestle more intimately with the conversation regarding same-sex relationships. He believes in the weight of truth in scripture, believes in the validity of its words, and yet concludes in a radically different way. I respect and need his boldness and dedication as I tackle all sorts of theology.
5) LOVE DOES by Bob Goff
“I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them.”
Love Does doesn’t take too many words to explain. Similar to Blue Like Jazz, Goff documents his thoughts on spirituality. But unlike the other three books I listed, he doesn’t spend much time on theology. He spends all of his time on stories about love expressed in his life. Love is something he lives. Love is something he does. He intends for readers to experience that, and then figure out how to do it themselves.
I finished Goff’s book overwhelmed. Over the course of a month my faith was destroyed and built up more times than I could count. Then Love Does told me to take what I’ve learned, go easy on the thinking, and start living out what was learned. Because of Goff I am joyful and satisfied with how I’m living out my faith and who I'm living it out with on a daily basis. Those types of feelings are priceless.