I was sent The Searchers: A Quest for Valley for Faith in the Valley of Doubt by Joseph Laconte from Book Sneeze. As always I am not required to give a positive review but an honest one. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255
I first heard of Joseph Laconte back in 2001 when my cousin and I drove down to Osprey Point for a Trinity Forum lecture entitled, “What Would C.S. Lewis Say to Osama Bin Laden?” (It was later turned into an article here ). I love C.S. Lewis, I hated Osama Bin Laden, and I had no clue who Joseph Laconte was. Initially, we declined on going figuring it would be a bit predictable but Laconte made it all worthwhile. I’ve always kept an eye out for Laconte’s writing (he pops up all the time) even though I was focused on other interests and pursuits.
For those who like Hugh Hewitt, Os Guinness, Cal Thomas, the Heritage Foundation, you likely already know Laconte. But for those who don’t and are on the lookout for “smart conservatives” (Not Rush, Coulter, Fox News types, etc.), Laconte fits that category well. It occurred to me that I don’t know anyone reading Joseph Laconte but I hang out with a lot of conservatives – not sure where the disconnect is.
About my interest in reading The Searchers, I like just about anything the wrestles with seeking truth and the search for meaning. The book is framed around the two disciples walking that unknowingly encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus from Luke 24. He keeps weaving this account throughout the chapters. Being a history professor and a policy writer, he uses a lot of history, but not just American, but of ancient history, ancient literature and philosophy as well. It was interesting to note that books written by pastors always include historical and cultural references but they also include many personal interactions and anecdotes – history professors stick to the history. Nothing wrong with that, it speaks to my conditioning but it would have been good to feel a bit of the author’s subjectivity and personal journey of finding faith in the valley of doubt.
I’m not always sure what to do with book reviews on my blog. If you like and promote everything, then this is more of a commercial or announcement. However, I have found some bloggers to be unfairly critical and dismissing of important aspects like author’s intentions like the intended audience, etc. For me, the book didn’t center on doubt so much (like the Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark) nor is it so much about an existential searching for God (“Who am I, Why Am I here???”) but more of a search for a better expression of Christianity. Which is fine, but I think I was a bit distracted by the title. Perhaps it worked better toward the end.
So in short, I genuinely liked the book. It got even better as I went along, especially as I understood what is what more about (for me). It felt like the book was compiled from messages and lectures – if that’s what happened, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it accounts for the disconnect from doubt and searching and why the chapters feel more like separate episodes than the reader actually walking the road to Emmaus with Jesus.
Regardless, it’s strong writing. Even if you don’t finish the book, Chapter 2 – “A Grief Observed” features some of the most powerful writing on grief I’ve ever read. Though I couldn’t help but wish he would have titled the chapter something else than the Lewis classic (it was probably the editor’s idea ;), I will certainly be quoting Laconte and borrowing other ideas and thoughts in future sermons and funeral meditations. It’s that good.
Chapter 3 “The Poison of Religion,” spent a lot of time talking about the evil and tragedy of the Spanish Inquisition. He fairly pointed out that there were injustices from all sides, powerful Catholics and powerful Protestants. He wrote about Islamic fanaticism, wrote about how power and greed can poison anything and show the world the worst type of hypocrisy and finished the chapter with stating that holiness is what is needed to defeat the hypocrisy and poison of religion. Wished he would have written a little more about atheism and agnosticism (the book is subtitled Faith in the Valley of Doubt). I also liked the chapter entitled “Rumors of Angels” – anything that calls out the sensationalism of angels and shallow theology is good with me. While I was’t crazy about the “Myth Becomes Fact” title, the chapter itself is excellent. Couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’t go with Tolkien’s idea of “Jesus the True Myth” or something along those lines.
Who is going to enjoy this? It feels like a book for an educated humanist who has a high appreciation for the arts, history, literature and philosophy. It’s also written for the Baby Boomer and old school X’er/Millennial – particularly conservative ones. There are no pop cultural references, no mention of any movies after the year 2000, no sitcoms, and I honestly don’t remember any music mentions including the required Bob Dylan reference (come on I thought you were an undergraduate history professor ;) I appreciate his frustration with the modern church but still his continued commitment to wanting to see it fulfill its God-given calling – that is a strength of the book.
Which is all fine – most of us need to recall some of the mentions from our literature, philosophy and arts and humanity’s class, most us need to watch more PBS and History Channel and we should all listen to a good symphony once in a while. But for a book entailed The Searchers, I thought it could have done a little better in bridging the cultural gap.
I’m not sure this will be the book that Christians give to their seeking “greater spiritual meaning” friends like Tim Keller’s Reason For God or N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian, but I have a friend who finished with a history degree from Cornell that I would send this too. He’s a teacher in his mid-thirties, loves literature and classical music, isn’t on Facebook, hates organized religion (and no, he doesn’t read this blog) but from our conversations, is searching for something better – he might read The Searchers.
Joseph Loconte, PhD, is an expert on religious freedom, faith and American foreign policy, and international human rights. In 2008, he was a distinguished visiting professor at the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University. From 1999-2006, he held the first chair in religion as the William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He also served as a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. He now serves as a senior fellow at the Trinity Forum in Washington, D.C. and at the John Jay Institute in Philadelphia. He currently serves at The King’s College as an associate professor of history, teaching courses in Western Civilization and American Foreign Policy.
The second video is the official Searchers book promo. The first is interview from MSNBC”s “The Cycle” – if you only have time to watch one, watch this one. The host S.E. Cupp describes herself as an atheist and apparently she knows Joe and it’s a great open-minded, exchange – my favorite part of the interview. You may have seen S.E. Cupp’s best selling book, Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity. Was just as interested in reading that as I was in The Searchers after the clip.