This may sound odd coming from someone who writes and thinks about Christianity as much as I do, but I rarely read Christian books. I don’t even visit Christian sights and blogs anymore. Most of what’s out there is just the same thing over and over or people arguing with each other. So its not usually worth my time. The one current author who is, in my opinion, a huge exception to this is John Eldredge. It’s not because I agree with everything he writes or think he’s the best writer ever (I don’t and he’s good, but not that good). It’s because he has this compelling view of Christianity and God and humanity and what is going on and what it’s all about that really resonates with my own understanding.
Because of this perspective, Eldredge is one of the few writers out there who can see and communicate how all of those things: Christianity, God, humanity, meaning and purpose – all work together. I think that the key is that his perspective is so firmly embedded in both the physical and the spiritual worlds and he doesn’t try to twist one to make it fit the other as most writers do. So he comfortably and un-apologetically uses movies and music and all the things we love to illustrate what love and faith and courage and struggle actually look like. He’s not afraid to tangle with the messy reality of the real world like so many Christian leaders are and he takes flack for that. And he does it without ever compromising the spiritual truths he is trying to explain. At any rate, I really enjoy most of his work. (If I could get every person to read one Christian book in their lives it would be his book Waking the Dead.)
The reason I am bringing this up is because Mr. Eldredge has a new book coming out called Beautiful Outlaw. From the product description:
Reading the Gospels without knowing the personality of Jesus is like watching television with the sound turned off. The result is a dry, two dimensional person doing strange, undecipherable things.
In BEAUTIFUL OUTLAW, John Eldredge removes the religious varnish to help readers discover stunning new insights into the humanity of Jesus. He was accused of breaking the law, keeping bad company, heavy drinking. Of being the devil himself. He was so compelling and dangerous they had to kill him. But others loved him passionately. He had a sense of humor. His generosity was scandalous. His anger made enemies tremble. He’d say the most outrageous things. He was definitely not the Jesus of the stained glass.
The book is due out October 12 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.
Now, I am a fan of Eldredge and normally that would be enough for me to be happy to see the book coming out but it wouldn’t be enough for me to write a blog post about it. The reason I am particularly interested in this book and I hope it does very well is because of an odd connection that came up between my book, The Upside Down World and Beautiful Outlaw. For those who haven’t read it, The Upside Down World is an ecclectic (read odd) assortment of essays, poems, art, notes, spiritual memoir, stories and what not. It contains a couple of essays from this blog, but mostly the material in it had been written over the course of many years. I did have to clean up and finish a lot of what went into the book, but the basic material was created before the book was even an idea. However, when I was nearly done preparing the book for print publication, I felt strongly lead to write a short story called “What to Do When You Wake Up In Hell” to include in the book. It’s one of the things in the book that I’m most pleased with, actually.
“What to Do When You Wake Up In Hell” is the imaginative telling of a disciple asking the resurrected Jesus what it was like to be dead. In it, I describe what I imagine might be the internal dialogue of both the disciple and Jesus to illuminate what each person’s experience has been and how each of them thinks about what has happened. (You will have to buy the book and read it to get the detail; I can’t begin to do the story justice here.) So, the day after I finished writing this section and had just re-read it and decided that I was pleased with how it came out, I happened to find a months old, unopened newsletter from Ransomed Heart, Eldredge’s ministry. I opened it up and read about this upcoming book Beautiful Outlaw which I had not heard about before. The letter contained an excerpt from the book and in that excerpt, I could see that Eldredge was doing exactly what I had just done with my short story. He’s putting flesh and bones and reality back into stories that we all know, but which have lost much of their power to over-use, shallow reading, the bible’s oddly flat descriptions and so on. And even better, the person of Jesus he’s describing is very familiar to me. It fits with what I know and have experienced and best of all its real. I’m mean, there’s a chapter in the book that’s called “Jesus had poopie dieapers” or something like that. The Jesus he is talking about and which I also had in mind when I wrote that story is not some sanitized, Sunday-school approved two dimensional character, but a real personality.
Those of you who know me personally know what a difficult summer this has been for me. But all along the way, God has been dropping little hints like pebbles left to mark the trail He wants me to follow, telling me that I’m going the right way and that He hasn’t abandoned me – no matter what it looks like from the outside. Reading that newsletter about the book Beautiful Outlaw was one of those pebbles for me. I don’t think it’s a co-incidence that Eldredge has a vision and an understanding of the person of Jesus that is so close to my own. I think it is God moving to reclaim the reality of who He is and what he and his son are about in a world which desperately needs something much more real than anything the church has had to offer for a long time. And as much as I’d like to have my book be a financial success, seeing that God is moving and there are people like Mr. Eldredge listening and responding is even better.
So, that’s why I’m excited enough about a book I haven’t even read yet to write about it here. I hope that even if you aren’t the sort of person who normally reads Christian books, I’ve piqued your interest enough for you to consider putting your order in for Beautiful Outlaw. And I most certainly hope you will order a copy of my book, The Upside Down World as well. Come on, people – for every two copies of the book I sell, a 20 month old Trotter child will receive a week’s worth of diapers from Walmart. It’s for a good cause! lol.