Of the Making of Books There Is No End

A friend of mine in the publishing business has often compared books to little missionaries: they go where we can't, they speak to people we might otherwise never meet, they propel conversations that otherwise might have died on the vine of our own locality. It's a nice image, a helpful rationale for publishing as an industry. No less voluminous a writer than N. T. Wright, however, offers a counterpoint in the closing paragraphs of his John for Everyone commentary:

Once the Word has become flesh, all the books in the world can't do justice to it. Nothing less than flesh can now do justice to the meaning of the Word: your flesh, my flesh. Books can reach a small way out into the world. Our lives, in the power of the spirit, can reach a lot further.

I suppose that both these statements are true. Books serve their purpose, and to the degree that we share our scholarship among various localities we are binding the whole church together and deepening its discipleship. But to the degree that books are nonrelational--to the degree that they dictate rather than converse, decree rather than contextualize--they fall short of the relational kingdom that Jesus calls us into. Books are means to an end; the end is that author and audience, like Paul and his correspondents, would have one another in their hearts, would share in God's grace.

Incidentally, and appropos to this post, if you're looking for a nonprofit to throw your money at this December, consider Word Made Flesh. Their executive director, Chris Heuertz, wrote a mighty book this year called Simple Spirituality, but their main work is to build relationships of justice and mercy with some of the poorest people in the world. Helping them out is tantamount to helping a community of women trapped in the sex trade find their way out, or helping a garbage dump community of outcastes fight for just treatment and human dignity. Plus, they're just really good people to be in a relationship with.


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