Bumper to Bumper on the Road to Emmaus
The story of the two men on the road to Emmaus has fascinated me for years. We all know the story but allow me to briefly summarize it and then explain why I think it is a story for our time.
Two men, one named Cleopas and the other unnamed (perhaps it was Luke himself) are dejected, broken, their faith shipwrecked. The Messiah they had placed all their trust in was dead and buried. The new kingdom, the restoration of Israel, and the salvation of their people were now off the table. Everything they had believed in was found to be baseless. They were leaving the center of that new faith and hope – Jerusalem – and the remnants of the community of Jesus. They were headed…away.
Jesus, now resurrected in his broken and pierced body but cloaked in a way that made him unrecognizable, joined them on the road. Luke says that he started with Moses and the prophets and showed them everything the Jewish scriptures said considering the Messiah. For 2000 years Christians have mourned the fact that this might have been the greatest sermon Jesus ever preached and not a word of it was recorded. Once the faith of the two men was repaired and restored (by being revisioned and reimagined, their faith moved from a physical hope to a spiritual one) they returned to their faith community in Jerusalem.
Here is why you and I need to consider this story today: the road to Emmaus is clogged with bumper to bumper traffic as people leave their faith and their faith communities heading into an uncertain future, their faith shattered, their foundations broken.
Every single day I get notes from young people who have lost their faith or who fear that it will soon be lost. Or I get notes from their parents and friends. Or I get notes from people in their 30s and 40s who’ve had their faith broken and their hopes swept suddenly away. The reasons for this are many. Here are some of them in no particular order. I am certain readers can add many more:
- After a lifetime of Veggie Tales level Bible lessons with cute Arks and smiling animals, our people find themselves unprepared for the deep, dark matters of life. When all parables and Jesus stories are boiled down to predictable aphorisms and bumper-sticker morals, faith is too shallow, too rootless to survive much of a blast.
- When worship is non-participative and too predictable, full of shallow prayers or songs that do not connect to the lives and souls of those in attendance, those who feel disconnected…disconnect.
- When we have made our Bibles into gods, declaring them the very words of God, dictated to scribes who then passed them on to us perfect in every way we set up our faith and that of our children for failure. When they run across the genocides in Joshua or the Documentary Hypothesis or see how the Bible came together here and there with re-edits and redactors, they wonder why they should believe anything at all. They have been taught to believe their Bible and we neglected to tell them to believe, instead, the One to whom the Bible leads us.
- When we insist on non-salvation issues as matters of faith and marks of faithfulness (six day creation, young earth creationism, music styles, church organization styles, and many, many more come to mind) we set ourselves and our children up for a trip to Emmaus when new facts come to light that destroy the old paradigms we/they were told came straight from God.
- When churches abuse or are run as private kingdoms or when they fail to encourage and nurture their members and their communities, people leave.
- In short, when our faith is in anything other than Jesus, we are set up for a road trip away from the community.
Every single day I dedicate between 30 minutes and 3 hours to writing these people. Every. Single Day. Instead of making this a book length blog, I will list some of the books I suggest and let you know why I suggest them. Perhaps you can use this list and add to it to help all of us reach those walking to Emmaus, away from us.
If science is the issue, I direct people to the writings of top scientists such as John Polkinghorne, John C. Lennox, David Berlinski, or the intelligent design proponents, William Dembski and Michael Behe. Polkinghorne is one of the greatest physicists in recent generations and his writing can be difficult to understand for those with no science background but he is invaluable for those who are struggling with what they are seeing in test tubes, rocks, and rainbows. Lennox is a treasure – easy to understand yet extremely powerful in his arguments from science. Berlinski (I believe he would call himself a deist) dismantles the arguments of pretentious atheists with great joy and scientific skill. To the above, I would add the book “The Irrational Atheist” by Vox Day, a hyper intelligent writer and designer who decided to have a go at Dawkins and the other New Atheists. I saw his book on sale on Amazon yesterday for 1.99 for Kindle.
Many other books spring to mind to help us see the diversity in belief about origins and the number of scientists who continue to believe regardless of the shattering of their Sunday School level lessons of days past. Tim Stafford of “Christianity Today” has written a very nice, accessible book called “The Adam Quest” where he interviews believers in various scientific fields who hold differing views on the origins of life. Highly recommended. As is “Death Before the Fall” by Ronald Osburn and “The End of Apologetics” by Myron Penner.
If the issue is scripture itself and the American Fundamentalist view of it, we have a wealth of material to help us. Words like “inerrant” and “verbally inspired” have confused the Bible with God in many minds to the point where when a reader sees that the story of – to take one of many examples – Peter denying Jesus is given to us with different orders of events, numbers, and settings according to which Gospel one reads…they begin to wonder about their book and that has the same effect of making them wonder about their God. [an aside to illustrate: when I first starting hearing about NT Wright many years ago, I dismissed him out of hand without even reading a word he had written. Why? He was Episcopalian. How could someone from a faith that didn’t believe in the absolute inerrancy of scripture have anything to say to me? I have since learned that he had quite a lot to say to me!]
I recommend several books on this topic. One would be NT Wright’s “The Last Word.” Another would be Christian Smith’s “The Bible Made Impossible” or Michael Graves’ “The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture” or Kenton Sparks’ “God’s Word in Human Words” or Peter Enns’ “Inspiration and Incarnation.”
If they are struggling with how a good God could allow terrible things to happen to them or to the world in general, I suggest Greg Boyd’s “God at War” and “God of the Possible” along with “God in an Open Universe” by William Hasker and Thomas Jay Oord (warning – science content!) as well as a variety of books by John Sanders and Clark Pinnock.
If they believe in Jesus but think the church was just a bad idea, get them “A Gathered People” by John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, and Johnny Melton. I’d recommend other books but this one rises so high above the others I’ve read that I’ll leave this list at one. [feel free to suggest others, however]
There are a lot of reasons why the road to Emmaus is crowded. If we don’t get a handle on it – even if we have to make uncomfortable changes in our own beliefs, ones more in line with truth and less in line with tradition and teachings that rose in the 1800s – we will find the church becoming irrelevant to more and more people and atheists and “nothings” becoming more and more common, even among our own children.
But Jesus will always be the Christ. The church will always be His bride. We need both of them and so do those on the road away from us. It’s time to launch a search and rescue team on the Emmaus road.