One of the consequences of being born in a Christian family is that I do not remember a time before Jesus. Jesus was like an older brother: he was part of the family before I was. I don’t remember when Jesus went from being “the way” to being “my way.”
I can remember no time in my life before Jesus was the core of my identity.
And yet, around the time that I graduated from High School and started in University, I began to realize that Christianity wasn’t working for me. “Every move I make, I make in you Jesus”? Nah, nope. “Such joy, such unspeakable joy”? Honestly, no. Not close. My life was a mess and a persistent frustration. I remember telling friends, with some mixture of desperation and cynicism, that it seemed to me that none of the songs we were singing in church were true. Cynicism, because I was swamped by doubt. Desperation, because I wanted my central story - the story of a loving saviour, of sinners ransomed, and death defeated - to be more than merely beautiful.
I wanted it to be true.
It wasn’t so much philosophical doubt that was wrecking me (though I had my share of brain-based panic too). The problem was more immediate and practical. The problem was My Life, and just how… indistinguishable it seemed from the lives of those around me. I grew up expecting, and deeply desiring, that I would “have life, and have it to the full!” (John 10:10). I found myself always disappointed. Despite my commitment to Youth Group, and my best efforts to constrain myself, and do what I was told, I remained “ineffective & unproductive” (2 Peter 1:8). I was not close to “perfect & complete” (James 1:2-4) and worse, I felt like I was never making any progress. I never wavered in my commitment to Christianity. “I’m still a believer, but I don’t know why.” In many ways that very commitment was discouraging. Stubbornness, or inertia, would permit me to “stick it out” - for a lifetime, if need be - even if faith failed to make me a blessing, or make me new. I had expected to be “equipped for works of service” and to “mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13) but even if I never grew, it seemed, I was content to muscle through failure and stasis on will alone. Jesus’ words about knowing a false prophet “by their fruit” (Matthew 7:16) were too painful for me to really consider deeply. Why wasn’t I producing fruit in keeping with repentance? Why was my own internal life so desolate?
And then I read The Divine Conspiracy
Yet, in the gloom, a light glimmers and glows. We have received an invitation. We are invited to make a pilgrimage - into the heart and life of God. The invitation has long been on public record. You can hardly look anywhere across the human scene and not encounter it. It is literally “blowing in the wind.” A door of welcome seems open to everyone without exception. No person or circumstance other than our own decision can keep us away. “Whosoever will may come.” (pg. 11)
Christians still hear Jesus say, “Whoever hears these words of mine and does them is like those intelligent people who build their houses upon rock,” standing firm against every pressure of life (Matthew 7:24-25). How life-giving it would be if their understanding of the gospel allowed them, simply to reply, “I will do them! I will find out how to devote my life to it! This is the best life strategy I ever heard of!” and then go off to their fellowship and its teachers, and into their daily life, to learn how to live in his kingdom as Jesus indicated was best. (pg xvi)
I tell you - the feeling of light and hope when I first read this book felt like throwing open the curtains in a dark room. There was so much light, it seemed to me that one wall had been entirely ripped off of the house.
Here’s the part of the Book Club Announcement where it all crystallizes: “the book changed my life, and I want to share the experience of having one wall ripped off of my house with all of you!” But that isn’t really what I meant to say - that isn’t really why I want to do a book club.
I don’t think there is any book that has influenced my thinking more than The Divine Conspiracy (fine! Any book other than the Bible, you pedantic jerk) but I am not entirely sure that I have read all of it. I’ve read a lot of it! But it's hard. It’s a thick book, and dense. It’s helpful to have someone to discuss with.
That’s why I want to start a Book Club.
Well, that’s half.
The other half is that… I suspect that I didn’t renounce my faith because of people, because of my community. There were times when I was ready to ball up my Sunday School diploma and chuck that thing in the garbage. In those times, without even intending to, and in ways that had nothing to do with faith, and in ways that I probably resented, my closest friends - Liam, Kevin, David, Stephen, Mark, Matthew, Peter - anchored me. The books mattered... a bit. The friendships were utterly indispensable.
I’ve invited you to this book club because you’re my friend. I want to read and study with you, but more - I want to be a part of your life. I want you to be a part of my life. I hope that Book Club can be an anchor that allows us to expand into… like… Need a Place to Stay Club. Smoked Meat Club. Long Walk to Sort it Out Club. Hot Tub Sitting-In Club. Got Dumped & Now Lonely Club. Poker and Cigars Club. Deeply Unemployed Club. Donut Club.
Books for Book Club
Unapologetic by Francis Spufford
The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans