This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Andres: Windows to truth

Someone asked me what books have shaped my thinking or best represent the way I see reality. This got me thinking about how these books are like glimpses through windows that help me see the way the world works — and how the stories I watch and read enrich those truths in ways the sources cannot.

Carmen Andres

There are many books that give me glimpses into the nature of reality, but it was fun to whittle the list down to a few at whose windows I’ve lingered.

In understanding the influence of culture on ourselves and faith, the top book on my list so far is James K.A. Smith’s How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, a reflection on Taylor’s A Secular Age that explores how the rise of secularism has influenced our experience and faith.

Another book right on its heels is The Skeptical Believer: Telling Stories to Your Inner Atheist by Daniel Taylor, which explores faith in the modern age of skepticism and the power of narratives and stories in forming faith.

A good segue from a more general discussion of faith in culture to the relevance of the Christian story in the modern world is Jeff Cook’s Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing In, in which he lays out a compelling case for God’s existence and Christianity as a persuasive understanding of reality. I also often find myself revisiting N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian, sometimes compared to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, for his presentation of Christianity as a convincing reality and view of human experience.

For shaping my understanding of the gospel’s relevance in an age heavily influenced by the Enlightenment, I deep­ly appreciate Wright’s movement of the gospel from a set of theological principles to a Person within the whole narrative of Scripture. Scot McKnight’s work — like Jesus Creed and The King Jesus Gospel — also helped me grasp a more holistic and fresh understanding of the first-century good news of Jesus.

In my quest to explore the church as a community of people living out the Good News, Donald B. Kraybill’s The Upside- Down Kingdom, Joseph Hellerman’s When the Church Was a Family and David Fitch’s Faithful Presence have been valuable. These books underscore that the church has never been a place we go but something we are — a people in whom, as Dallas Willard puts it, God “is tangibly manifest to everyone on Earth who wants to find him.” And speaking of Willard, his work — especially The Divine Conspiracy and Renovation of the Heart — grants vast vistas in understanding how the with-God life works, both individually and as a community.

While these and other books have provided large-paned windows through which to understand reality and meaning, good stories enrich the depth and experience of their truths.

“Facts are not truths until they are placed in a story,” says Donald Taylor. “That is, abstract truths do not operate as truth until they are put to work within a larger story. They are potential truths, as musical notations on paper are only potential music.”

So it is, then, that the Fast and Furious films’ grafted-together, table-gathering family provides me with a resonating image that echoes the kind of family Hellerman gets at. Or, in another example from film, I find that Interstellar’s exploration of how love bucks our culture’s permeating materialism helps me internalize Cook’s premise that we need rescue “by something beyond nature that not only has the power but also has the will to breathe into us a bigger kind of life.”

Windows to truth and good stories to enrich them — may our new year be filled with them.

Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.

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