Great books tell stories. Here’s our pick of vivid and insightful new releases for better understanding America, world events, history, science, and theology
It’s the classic quest story: the hero (or heroine) is toiling in the mundane fields or shops of everyday life when the summons occurs—a special calling or challenge. Gandalf appears in the Shire; Lucy walks through the back of the wardrobe; the burdened Pilgrim flees his doomed city.
The adventure begins.
Our culture craves adventure in entertainment, but shuns it in real life. Perhaps that’s true of all cultures everywhere: Most of the humble villagers who listened raptly to a poet reciting The Odyssey wouldn’t have rushed out to sign on to a perilous voyage. Historically, that call has appealed mostly to reckless young men. Warmongers, cynics say, have stocked their armies with it, generation after generation. They don’t say whether it’s better that young men trade actual risk for cheap thrills like superhero movies or hyperactive video games.
But anyone can feel the tug of surprise and new territory. The quest model is built into human DNA. All our lives we’re leaving home on a journey into the unknown and returning somehow changed: a new job, a new relationship, a birth, a death.
An online discussion between Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro raised this very point. While free-ranging over a broad philosophical field that might be summarized as “Man’s search for meaning,” they came to the topic of what one owes his community or nation. Jordan, a WASP agnostic, thought it was a mistake to appeal to “duty” as a motivator; more meaningful was the personal challenge to be better than we are.
Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew, applied that idea to an American vision. “The only thing America guarantees is an adventure,” he said, and likened that appeal to the call of Abraham: “Leave your home and family and go to a place I will show you.” God does the showing; Abraham the leaving, casting himself into an unknown future.
That was also the call to Moses from a burning bush, to David when he left his flock, to Elisha while he plowed his fields. And it’s the call of Jesus: “Come, follow me.” The men who left their nets and fields and counting tables clearly understood they were off on an adventure. It didn’t go the way they expected but turned out to be more than they could imagine: more danger, more difficulty, more challenge.
That’s the side of adventure we miss from the couch: It’s dangerous, difficult, challenging, and even, for long stretches at a time, boring. It takes us away from our everyday comforts and easy escapes. Unlike a Marvel Universe movie, it may end in failure. And it still calls us. In fact, does it ever stop calling?
At the turn of the year, our thoughts turn to “resolutions” rather than adventures. Resolutions are the opposite impulse—an attempt to get control over a life that seems to be unraveling. Where resolutions encourage self-discipline and responsibility, that’s all to the good: “Therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7). But what is that discipline for?
The call is going out, every day, even in the well-worn tracks of the routine and monotonous: “Come, follow me.” What we’re inclined to see as duty or obligation becomes music in His voice:
Don’t shore up your life against disruption; don’t automatically say, “No.” Don’t be a slave to well-meant resolutions. Loosen the reins on your time. Make yourself a little uncomfortable today: Take some cookies to your grouchy neighbor or stop to talk to that panhandler on Walnut Street. Before collapsing in your recliner and clicking on Netflix, do something for Me—text an apology or invitation; write a note of encouragement; talk to Me. Open the door to possibility. In your successes I am making something through you; in your failures and disappointments I am making you.
Like America, God guarantees an adventure. But that’s not all. His kingdom begins with a call into the unknown, with only His promises to guide us, and ends with a sure inheritance. You’ll never outgrow it, and it will grow you.