Call me a fan of Melville.
The sun was still coming up when my friend Pete, a middle-aged agnostic scholar in American literature, sat across from me in a Minneapolis coffee shop. It was early, but he was ready to talk about Herman Melville. Whether it’s Moby Dick or a less popular short story, Pete can’t get enough of arguably America’s greatest novelist, and he was trying to win me over.
“He’s Shakespeare-caliber,” he said to me.
“Really?” I wondered, fascinated by his curt infatuation. I was intrigued to know what Pete considered so special about Melville. And I especially wanted to know why my secularist friend finds him so captivating.
“What’s his deal?” I continued. “What was he trying to do?”
“Just show the tragedy that is life,” Pete came back, looking me in the face like nothing else needs to be said.
We continued talking long after this initial exchange, but something clicked for me in that moment. . . .
Here was my friend, a serious thinker, but someone who really loves to feel. He values honesty, especially in those stories that reach deep inside the heart of what it means to be human. He likes authors who understand people enough to know what frustrates us to the core — or makes us sad, or angry, or hopeful. Melville is the exemplar — Pete would chime in here — and that’s why he likes him so much.
Intellectual inhibitions to the gospel aside, cynicism toward American religiosity put on hold, Pete just likes a good story — which means, the best way for me to tell him about Jesus isn’t through an apologetic book that answers objections to Christianity. I actually tried that already. I recommended he check out one of the most popular apologetic books out there today, written by a widely respected author. But that book, outlined in the order of various objections, didn’t help him.
Should I have expected otherwise? He’s used to hearing Melville speak to his soul, and I gave him a logic-laden treatise on how the gospel circumvents skepticism. I was beginning to discover that what would be most useful to my friend, and to anyone new to Christianity, was a book that centered on the content of the gospel but was written from the perspective of our greatest longings — longings that are ubiquitous to the human experience.
It is a good thing that we have books that rehearse the storyline of the Bible. Those are needed, and often helpful, but the question remains of how this storyline connects to the average reader? Instead, what if the biblical storyline were freshly articulated from the angle of persuasion, tapping into those feelings we all share as humans? What if it started with our deepest cravings and then let the Christian story connect the dots, giving us the background and then the solution?
I began to realize that I wanted to give my friend, and the several people I’ve met at Cities Church in Minneapolis, a book that was about the gospel, not skepticism; one that was deeply heartfelt, but not chicken soup; introductory, but not elementary; serious, but not intimidating. That was the kind of book I needed for Pete.
And that’s I wrote Never Settle for Normal: The Proven Path to Significance and Happiness.
You can read more about the book’s purpose over at Desiring God: Voices We Need in the New Normal: The Whirling Adventure of ‘Retrodoxy’.