Joseph Loconte, now an Associate Professor at The King’s College in New York City, is probably best known for his writing on public policy. However, in his latest book, The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt, Loconte turns his attention to a key passage in the gospels. He uses the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and the mysterious man they met there, to discuss our current cultural situation. He believes that the two followers of Jesus on the Emmaus road can stand in for us, full of skepticism and doubt.
The Searchers is an interesting book; Loconte draws from literature, popular movies, history, and philosophy to “show how this biblical drama is an integral part of our own story, ” according to the back cover. It is a quick read, but does not fall prey to the most annoying literary trend in Christian publishing, which is publishing books that do not use complete paragraphs.
For all of Loconte’s skill, however, this book has some troubling parts that reflect a larger problem with the way evangelicals discuss other religions, particularly Judaism and Islam. In retelling the story of the risen Christ’s encounter with two disappointed disciples, Loconte’s treatment of the first century Judaism that Jesus lived in is astoundingly uncharitable. Even worse, the discussion of modern Islam contains this line: “They seem to delight in savagery and murder” (63).
Religion and legalism are not synonyms, and yet Loconte defines religion as “the Will to Power concealed by the language of faith” (64). He says that religion killed Jesus (51), the Pharisees and religious leaders practiced “pretend religion” (52), and, finally, “the point that must not be missed is that the Bible is utterly realistic about the poison of religion” (68). Given that the system of laws that the Pharisees followed was at least partially derived from the Old Testament (Loconte even implicitly criticizes the tradition that only the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur), the power centered around the priestly system was apparently instated by God.
Loconte’s account of first-century Judaism gets weirder when he retells the story of Jesus explaining the Scriptures to the two men. He writes, “Up until now, the Scripture has been a book of rituals, rules, warnings, and judgments” (155). But if we look at the actual text in Luke 24, that’s not what the gospel implies. Jesus retold the story of the redemption of Israel, the long saga of Moses and the Prophets, in such a way that the Scriptures were opened before them. He made the story center around himself. That in no way suggests that before Jesus had opened their eyes and made their hearts burn, they simply viewed the Hebrew Bible as a list of rituals and warnings; Jesus’ criticism of them centers on their inability to believe the Messianic promises, not on the legalistic way they read the Bible. That kind of summary mischaracterizes Israelite and early Jewish views of Scripture. Furthermore, Loconte’s suggestion that “their identity as Jews – as members of a ‘chosen nation’ – has kept them from confronting their broken identities before God” (172) is also an odd characterization.
The Searchers has some other problematic parts - most notably the author’s harsh view of Islam - but overall the book is interesting. Loconte’s main points about living as a Christian in a post-Christian world are good and well-argued.
I got this book for free from Booksneeze, Thomas Nelson’s book review program, in exchange for this review. I didn’t have to write a positive review.
- chasingtailfeathers said: “…utterly uncharitable opinions on Islam” - that makes it worth a deeper look.
- finchsbookclub likes this
- thepoorinspirit said: The disfigured caricature of Second Temple Judaism is unfortunately quite prevalent in evangelical/mainstream Christianity. Sad how that presupposition forms modern Christian theology.
- the-waiting-the-rejoicing likes this
- youngthatiam likes this
- thepoorinspirit likes this
- invisibleforeigner posted this