Tag Archive for: cynicism

Two Books by Two Friends

27 Aug Andrew Byers
August 27, 2013

Confessing to someone that you are daydreaming about writing a book is a vulnerable thing. People might think you are silly or presumptuous. And then when you actually do write a book, you feel quite awkward telling your friends about it (well, maybe not all authors feel this way).

I have just finished reading two books by two of my friends, and I want to do my part as a fellow author stumbling along in this book-writing thing to let you know about their projects.

Both books are excellent. Both are born out of deep, profound frustration with the church trumped only by a deep, profound love for the church. I will be interacting with the material a bit later. For now, I’ll just point them out.

Matt Orth‘s book is genre-bending. Seriously—I am not sure how to label his Questions of a Curious Nature: The Incredible Interviews of Annabelle Farrow. It is part fairy-tale, part action-adventure narrative, and %100 an exposé of the church in the contemporary American context. It is an exercise in prophetic and pastoral imagination, something akin to Lewis’ Screwtape Letters in terms of creativity and revelatory wisdom.

Jonathan Martin has just written Prototype. His entire premise is that Jesus has come to show us a new way to be human—he is our prototype, the firstborn from the dead, the Lord of a New Creation. As loved as he is by God, so also are we. Reading this book made me want to be a better pastor, a better husband, a better friend, a better dad—not because Jonathan slams his readers with accusations that we are not being crazy enough or radical enough to please God. Rather, Jonathan calls us to embrace our pathetic brokenness and daringly believe in God’s crazy and radical love for the broken.

More later. But for now, just know these books are out there. They have both challenged and inspired how I view and treat the church. And, I have to say, both are exemplary works of hopeful realism. They are honest and raw about the state of the church today—their critiques are not cynical jabs but prophetic calls for the Bride of Christ to be who we have been saved to become.

Disillusionment, Cynicism, & Christian Eschatology

25 Nov Andrew Byers
November 25, 2012

More and more I am recognizing that my book on cynicism (see the icon in to the right)  is ultimately a pastoral exercise in applying Christian eschatology to our daily reality.

Cynicism arises from disillusionment.  When the rug gets jerked form beneath our feet and we find ourselves breathless staring up at the ceiling, wondering what hit us, only to remember, oh yeah, it was REALITY that hit.  Idealism cannot thrive in an ex-Eden world. But cynicism is just as untenable in a world into which Christ has come, from which He has ascended, and to which He will return.

Eschatology is why cynicism is not valid… at least not for Christians.

If there is an open hole in the ground of this earth—the empty tomb of Jesus—then something cataclysmic has taken place.  The resurrection of the dead, implied in a few places in the OT (Isa 25, Dan 12, Ezek 37) and discussed more openly in the literature of Early Judaism, has been jump-started into our present sphere by the “first fruits” (1 Cor 15) of Christ’s own resurrection.  The New Age to Come (this is language found in Early Judaism and throughout the NT) has lurched backward from the future into our current time, overlapping with the Present Evil Age.

In Faith Without Illusions, I cite George Eldon Ladd near the end. Here is a wonderful quote I just reread this afternoon:

Christ’s resurrection is not an isolated event; it is in fact an eschatological occurrence which has been transplanted into the midst of history. We are living already on the heavenward side of the first stage of the resurrection. This puts a whole new light on the whole human predicament. [1]

You can click on the About the Blog section for more on “hopeful realism,” the perspective alternative to cynicism and idealism I am calling for in the book. Ultimately, hopeful realism is both eschatological (“hopeful”—appreciating the work of God in the overlap of the Ages and anticipating Christ’s return) and cosmological (“realism”—recognizing the full brunt of fallenness that has plagued our world and our own hearts so disastrously).

The Kingdom is in our midst… and still yet to come.

 

George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1959) 44.

Faith Without Illusions, Dutch-Style

31 Oct Andrew Byers
October 31, 2012

I discovered a few months ago that my book on cynicism, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint, was in the process of being translated… into Dutch.

FWI has not had much of a readership since its release in the Spring of 2011.  This has been hard on the ego, but really good for the soul.

Somehow, a Christian journalist from the Netherlands caught wind of the book, liked it, and pulled of some impressive work behind Dutch and American scenes to bring the book to life in his own country.

This journalist is now a friend of mine, and I am excited about visiting with him over the weekend.  I think the behind-the-scenes story goes something like this: this new friend found my article “We Need More Boring Christians” at RelevantMagazine.com and traced the links to my blog and the book.  He eventually found an English copy of FWI, read it, found it helpful, and set up a Skype interview with me last Spring.  His magazine (CV Koers) has featured some of the material from the book and from that interview in a new re-launch of sorts.  At some point, the Dutch publishing house Jongbloed (Youngblood) got into the picture.  I contacted InterVarsity Press to see if they were on board with all this.  Turns out the wheels were already rolling on that end as well.

And so the book is released this week in The Netherlands.  I have lived in two different countries since the book’s release in English, and no where has interest in FWI been stronger than in this country I have never lived in.  All I can say, is that the whole thing is just bemusing, interesting, ironic, exciting… and fun.

Now, I have had no real involvement in this entire process.  And I am an amateur author, with no idea how these author-ish things work.

I found out the title last night:

Leve de Saaie Christenen! Hoopvul Realistisch

Guess what it means?

(Long) Live the Boring Christians! Hopeful Realism

Authors do not get to choose their titles… at least not amateur authors with low readership.  And when it comes to a translation, I have to trust the folks on the ground, so to speak.  They know what they are doing more than I do.  What is interesting about this new title is that it capitalizes heavily on the second chapter of my book and on that Relevant piece I wrote.  What is also interesting is that Busby and I have toyed around with another book idea for which “Long Live the Boring Christians” would be a rather apt title.

This appearance of my book in a new language and a new culture provides me a personal vantage point for understanding “reception history,” something I am studying as a PhD candidate in New Testament.  Written works have a history of how they are received.  Those energetic proponents of the material in FWI are keen on bringing it to their own cultural niche, and they received that material in ways Americans or Indians or Bolivians or Italians would not.  Certain elements are more accentuated and feel more urgent.  Others may seem less significant.

When you write something and it gets published, it is eerily and joyfully out of your hands and into the hands of others.  Ultimately, it is in the hands of God, so may it be done to that book according to His will.

 

And long live boring Christians… in The Netherlands and elsewhere.

 

When a Dead Man Interrupts your Cynical Conversation (from Lk 24)

08 Apr Andy
April 8, 2012

[The meditation below is adapted from the last chapter of my book, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint]

 

Holy Week is not necessarily a “happy week.”  The truth is, many of us are disillusioned.  Prayers tossed skyward have been met with no reply.  Our eyes have scanned the horizon for an immaterial rescue.  Celebrating with the church calendar can be an embittering exercise for those disenchanted with the church or with its Lord.

Such disillusionment is actually quite fitting for Holy Week.  On Good Friday, we recall those hours when the Lord of the church tossed his own unacknowledged prayers skyward and found the same horizons empty of deliverance.  Sharp disappointment is embedded within the Gospel passion narratives.  It is perhaps most personalized in St. Luke’s account of a conversation along the Emmaus road.

The Evangelist does not tell us why they are heading there… just how they are heading there.  Demoralized and deflated, the two disciples are trudging along a rocky road leading away from Jerusalem.

Away from Jerusalem.

Away from the noise of mobs demanding blood.  Away from the sight of cruciform posts with dangling bodies.  This may well be the most cynical conversation in the New Testament.

“What are you two talking about?”

An interruption.  The traveler had been edging closer to them as they walked.  These travelers are in no mood for an eavesdropper.  “They stood still, looing sad” (Lk 24:17).  One of the disciples, Cleopas, decides to speak.  It is not a very chatty response: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know what has happened?”

“Fill me in.”

They tell the man about Jesus of Nazareth.  He had been an impressive fellow, doing and saying stuff like no one else.  Died not more than three days ago.  “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

We had hoped.

“I might add something,” the disciple volunteered, “something odd.  Some women we know were making wild claims just before we left town, claims about seeing angels and not being able to find his body.  Not sure what that’s all about.”

Missing corpse? Yeah, whatever. We had hoped.

“Where are you two headed?”

“Emmaus.”

“Mind if I join you?”

This new conversation partner changes the tone.  For someone who has not been following the news in Jerusalem, he has much to say.  The mourning disciples realize they do not want to bid him farewell.  They are thankful for his interruption.  He sticks around for supper. Then they see him. They see him.

We hope.  Faintly, at times.  But we hope.

The disillusionment of that first Holy Week was met with the abrupt explosion of Resurrection.  To prepare for Easter, let’s be ready to have our cynical conversations interrupted by a man once dead.  And if a dead man imposes himself on our disillusioned dialogue, you know something is happening.  When the Messiah vacates his tomb, something is stirring.  Something new and wild.  Something against the establishment.  Death’s establishment.  At the voice of the resurrected Lord, the cosmic superstructure of evil detects a virus in the system.  A wrench has been tossed into sin’s machinery.  The foundations start to pop with fissures.  It’s time to plug up the leak, to contain the fire, to reseal any open tombs.  Time for chaos to panic.  Time for Satan to go berserk.  Resurrection is God shaking his clenched fist in death’s face.  Resurrection is God whispering death threats in death’s ears.

The open tomb of Jesus is a hole in the system that cannot be patched, defying the persistence of all that makes us cynical.  The re-creating King has climbed up out of his grave.  Keep an eye on that horizon.  He is out there, loose, at large, roaming free—and returning at dawn.

Conan O’Brien: “I hate cynicism”

10 Mar Andy
March 10, 2012

To all the folks who read (and made comments, to which I will soon reply) on my former post, I say thank you.  My sober reflections on Faith Without Illusions (my book on cynicism within and toward the church) has been quite difficult for me… but also motivating.  The more I consider the book’s content the more convinced I am of its pertinence.  I am trying to think of better way of getting the message out on the book’s one year anniversary.

(Photo from Wikipedia

So my latest idea is that I should ask Conan O’Brien to endorse it.  He would be keen, don’t you think?

I am not a late night TV watcher, but a good friend pointed me to the video clip below.  It’s where Conan bid farewell to “The Tonight Show” a couple of years back.  At the end he says this about cynicism:

To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I’ll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere (Source: The Huffington Post)

So if anyone knows Conan, send me his address so I can mail him a copy!

Here’s the clip…

O’Brien’s Farewell to The Tonight Show

1-Year Anniversary of Faith Without Illusions (part 1)

08 Mar Andy
March 8, 2012

A year ago I ripped open a cardboard box stamped with “InterVarsity Press.”  There is just nothing like it, seeing your first book.  From Word doc on a screen to a thing in your hand.  Text once pixelated now reified (I really like the word “reify”).  Ripping open the box to find freshly minted copies of longsuffering labor is accompanied by all sorts of hopes (and fears).  How will God use this material?  What fruit with the book bear in the life of the church?  Who will be personally changed from flipping the pages?  And how will the book be used beyond my control?   When your book is actually in your hands as a thing, it is also out of your hands as a piece of public art.

The 1-year anniversary of the book’s release date has come.  Faith Without Illusions is a year old.  Reflections on the occasion begin with this post.  More will follow.

(Soberly) Assessing the Reception

I am going to do my best to assess the book’s reception with a good sense of humor.  I begin pointing out that FWI has maintained a 5-star review even after a year (okay, there are only four people who reviewed, one being a colleague who may still not have read it).  And I should also add that book sales tripled this past week on Amazon (I went from 1 copies to 3 in seven days).  I could see that two folks from Portland bought the book.  That’s Don Miller territory, so thanks, folks, whoever you are!

On a more positive note, FWI has been rather highly reviewed on a number of blogs.  I am just so grateful to these folks for spending the time reading and posting their reflections:

Scot McKnight (Jesus Creed)

Joel Willits (Eaungelion)

Joel Watts (Unsettled Christianity)

David Flowers (The Centrality & Supremacy of Christ)

The Making of Men

Also, the book was reviewed very nicely at the Englewood Review of Books.  Two Sunday School classes at my church in Birmingham were kind enough to let me speak on the book’s topics.   I know a handful of friends and a few family members have read the book (most of whom liked it).  Thanks to Kyle B., Ralph B., Sarah H., Linda W., Mark Y., Katherine J. and Bob W.: their encouragement means all the more now on the 1-year anniversary.

I have to say, though, that it is really hard not to feel the dull ache of disillusionment when your book addressing disillusionment seems to be suffering a year later from a failure to launch.  Don’t worry—I have all the more reason to resist being cynical since FWI is written to counter cynicism (still, it is really hard).  Yeah, I know that this sort of self-assessment would be inadvisable according to the marketing handbooks.  But to honor the cynic-saints out there, a rosy spin on things exacerbates cynicism.

Some of my humbling moments as an “author” have been rather comical.   Like my first (and only) public “book-signing.”  It was at a local Christian bookshop in Pelham, Alabama.  The owner had received a pre-release copy and found the book helpful.  Graciously, he decided to offer free copies as an Easter gift.  One lady stood by my desk all aglow, as if I were beaming on her from my hallowed position as an accomplished author.  She spoke with me knowingly, as if she had established some deep connection with me through my writing.  It was nice, you know?  Nice to feel as though you were finally an author and accomplished to boot.  Then as I was signing her book she said something and I realized what was happening.

She thought I was David Platt.

I hated to disappoint her, but at least the book was free.

Another comical moment was realizing my book came out in the midst of all the hype over Rob Bell’s bestseller Love Wins.  (Okay, maybe this coincidence is less funny).

A Lesson: There is More to Being an Author than being a Writer

I think a writer is not the same as an author these days.  What I mean is, I have been learning that writing stuff, even if somehow you manage to write really good stuff, may actually be a secondary or even tertiary skillset for an author.  Writers write stuff.  But an author writes and then nurtures her product, needles it into a readership, makes media contacts, posts with savvy strategies for increasing their blog traffic, and she tenaciously seeks speaking engagements.

I have learned that I am a better writer than an author.  I get squeamish about all the other stuff.  It even feels weird to hyperlink the image of FWI above to Amazon (but note that I did it anyway).

I have given out a lot of free and heavily discounted copies of the book (yeah, I am a poor businessman).  Many of them went to some rather influential folks out there.  I am quite sure most of those copies have gone unread.  (Probably didn’t help that in the note within the front cover I told them not to feel any pressure to read the thing, knowing how busy they were).

An IVP marketing manager tried to help me see these behind the scenes realities to being an author.  She was very gracious.  I think IVP operates with more commercial scruples than most Christian publishing houses.  And I guess they sort of knew what they were getting into with me, daringly signing on an un-platformed writer (as opposed to a platformed author).  Of course, maybe it would have helped I had not boarded a flight for Europe 5 months after the release date, but it is not like the Inbox was hopping with speaking requests.

I love to speak and teach.  I love it.  Preaching has become fundamental to who I am.  Woe is me if I do not preach.  But for years I received emails and letters from authors who wanted to speak to my own congregation or student groups.  In my view, their request disqualified them as a potential speaker.

But what if you have a message you believe to be urgent for the church?  How do you get it across without compromising the call to humility?  I know Godly authors.  They can make the media contacts and offer their services as guest speakers without conflicts of conscience.  How do they do that?  The prophets lifted their voices in the public square… how did they wrestle with the temptations to make their message more “marketable”?

Asking for Help

I think I need to ask for help.  If Faith Without Illusions is just another example of the mediocre fare, then I have no interest in getting the word out.  But I have never been more convinced of the urgency of the book’s message.  So… any ideas?  Anyone want to help me think of a (scrupulous) plan for how to celebrate (not bemoan!) the book’s 1-year anniversary?  Any other “writers” out there struggling with the vocation of “author”?  I would love the feedback….

The Future of the Church: Cynic-Saints?

05 Mar Andy
March 5, 2012

Gospel Centered Discipleship asked me to write something about how we disciple cynics.  In working on the piece (“Discipling the Disillusioned”), I was struck with the urgency of that task.  If young (and not-so-young) folks are leaving the church due to their frustrations and disillusionment, then the future of the church lies in our capacity to reach them.  And they are out there, hovering out on the margins.  Maybe you… maybe me… the disillusioned souls who get branded (often self-branded) as cynics.

So how do we reach them?  Click on the link if you want to read on….

(And spend some time on the site.  GCD has some excellent stuff!)

The Heartbeat of “Hopeful Realism”: Already… but not yet / Coming… and now is

19 Jan Andy
January 19, 2012

The namesake of this blog is taken from a phrase my wife supplied as she carefully read through drafts for Faith Without Illusions.  Hopeful Realism is a perspective that holds rosy idealism and shallow optimism as incompatible in an ex-Eden world (hence, “Realism”).  But the perspective is “hopeful” because it holds that cynicism is incompatible with a pre-Parousia world.  That Jesus will make all things new drains cynicism of its legitimacy.

The Resurrection is the premise for a hopeful realist.  That Christ punctured a hole in Death’s impenetrable ramparts and then walked through it signals that something freakishly amazing is underway—the system (of evil) has a virus.  Not only is our world ex-Eden and pre-Parousia, but invaded by the powers of New Creation.  The hopeful realist has ground for hope not only because of Jesus’ forthcoming return, but because mysterious Resurrection powers at work even now, enlivening (cynic-)saints for divine service and seeping into darkened souls whose eyes are on the verge of opening wide.

So eschatology is critical for understanding idealism, realism and cynicism as perspectives in the life of faith.  If the idealists’ eschatological shout can be reduced to “now,” and the cynics’ eschatological cry reduced to “never,” the hopeful realists can claim “already… and not yet.”  I was reading the Greek text of John’s Gospel the other day and realized that the Johannine take on this can be rendered, “coming… and now is” (see Jn 4:23, 5:25).

The great challenge of the hopeful realist is to conjoin mourning with rejoicing.  We groan with creation (Romans 8:18-25) in longing for the day (the Day) when all things are made new.  We also rejoice that glimpses persist hinting that the newness is already underway.  Groaning and celebrating simultaneously—these are the honest joint disciplines for the hopeful realist in a world out of kilter, yet assured a new life.

Faith Without Illusions at Euangelion

09 Jan Andy
January 9, 2012

I check the biblioblog Euangelion at least a few times each week.  I had met Joel Willitts before, so I decided to sheepishly ask if he would consider taking a look at my book on cynicism for a possible review (giving him the freedom to review it badly if necessary, of course!).  He posted his comments earlier today, and you can click the link to Patheos (which hosts the blog) to check it out.

 

I really appreciate Joel’s emphasis on my conviction that cynical, jaded, and disillusioned Christians may be the most suited demographic to bring reform to the church in the West… if they forsake their  cynicism.

The folks God so often enlisted in His program to reform Israel were not idealists reeking with cheery optimism and full of trite platitudes for the downtrodden.  The prophets, sages, and tragic-poets of Israel were often trodden down themselves by the very people they were called to love and embrace.  But God’s call on them demanded a movement away from a disengaged cynicism.  The modern-day cynic-saint  is someone who discards their idealism but not in exchange for an embittered vocation of deconstructing the messed up people of God.  They embrace a realism that will be grim at times, but ever hopeful of a breaking dawn….

 

Karl Barth and ‘Hopeful Realism’

18 Oct Andy
October 18, 2011

I am reading Church Dogmatics VI.1, sections 57-59, and I just had a moment.  Okay, I have all sorts of great moments in reading Barth so far, but something that stood out this morning is the comment below.  The reason it struck me is because the hopeful orientation of the Christian to the incoming (and currently in-breaking) power of the new age of salvation is unstoppable, providing for us the disposition of hopeful realism rather than idealism (an illusory denial of the death and injustice of our ex-Eden world) or cynicism (the embittered embrace of current reality without hope in a future reality).  This re-ordering of our disposition is the premise and challenge of my work in  Faith Without Illusions.  Here is Barth saying something that sounds very similar (and with greater clout!)….

“…perhaps [the Christian] is most clearly distinguished from the non-Christian by the fact that, directed to the great hope, and without any illusions, he does not fail and is never weary to live daily in these little hopes.  But this necessarily means that he is daily willing and ready for the small and provisional and imperfect service of God which the immediate future will demand of him because a great and final and perfect being in the service of God is the future of the world and all men, and therefore his future also.”  [1]

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics; ed. G.W. Bromiley, T.F. Torrance (vol IV.1, The Doctrine of Reconciliation; tr. George W. Bromiley; London: T & T Clark International, 2004), 121-22.

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