Welcome to the Reading in Babylon Book Club, a site dedicated to bringing understanding in an age of confusion by summarizing interesting ideas from books, articles, and podcasts through a biblical lens.
During the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah before Babylonian captivity, the prophet Jeremiah wrote to Israelite exiles already living under foreign rule:
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.“
God gave instructions to his people living in an alien and hostile environment. He encouraged them to build little Edens: gardens of life and prosperity, in the midst of the exilic wasteland. In Babylon, they would most certainly be countercultural in everything from diet to worship. Kings and neighbors would see them not only as weird, but as subversive in their unwillingness to bow before the idols of the day.
And yet, God did not call them to shrink back from society, or wage war against it, but through their faithfulness, to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.”
Their experience is not unique and is, in fact, a common experience for Christians worldwide. Peter addresses his fellow believers as “foreigners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). In some social and political contexts many Christians might feel right at home. In others, we feel the impact of our identity as “strangers in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22) acutely. But Peter’s attitude towards the pagan world in which he lived was not one of conflict, but of concern for the good of neighbor and glory of God: “Live such good lives that… they may see your good deeds and glorify God and the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).
We’re in Babylon, whether we recognize it or not.
Because of the outsized role that Babylon played in Israel’s history, it became more than just a historic empire, but the symbol of all powers aligned against God. Babylon plays this role in the Book of Revelation. Used in this way, the believer is called to flee from Babylon so that the judgment leveled against her pride, idolatry, and violence, will not fall on the faithful who reside there (Revelation 18:4, Jeremiah 51:45).
For the purposes of this blog, I am using the language of Babylon in a less confrontational way. Instead, I use it to simply to refer to the foreign land (read: dominant culture) in which all followers of Jesus reside. As followers of Jesus, we are citizens of two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. Because of sin, these two kingdoms will always be out of alignment. But, because of God’s common grace, not everything we find in the kingdoms of this world will necessarily oppose God.
Christians inhabit the kingdoms of this world as ambassadors of the kingdom of God. We reject her ideologies to the extent they oppose God, but we love her because God loves her (John 3:16). We live for the sake of the world, for the good of the city, faithfully bearing witness to our Creator and Redeemer. God calls us to be his city on the hill and light in the darkness.
Each of us fulfills this role in a unique way. I have become convinced that some of us are called to do this primarily through the world of ideas, engaging God’s special revelation in Scripture and other forms of knowledge discerned through logic, philosophy, science, history, sociology, etc. These latter truths must be examined through the lens of Scripture. Sometimes they add to our understanding, sometimes they ought to be ignored, and sometimes opposed.
We find these ideas in the written word; in books, articles, and blog posts. By interacting with them we can grow in wisdom and by sharing that wisdom we can contribute to the common good, not only in the church, but in society at large.
Today knowledge is easy to come by, but truth is in short supply. Trust in institutional centers of knowledge is at an all-time low. Instead, we go to social media or the news outlets that fit into our pre-defined ideological bubble. This current environment does not reward nuance, thoughtfulness, or truth, but click-bate headlines, partisanship, and memes which either distort the truth or outright lie. It is no wonder that misinformation abounds. We, and this is no less true of Christians, are experiencing an epistemological crisis.
The diligent pursuit of truth is more critical than ever. This blog is, in part, a call to pursue that truth not through thoughtless social media content, but through thoughtful and nuanced content found in Scripture and other high-quality media such as articles, podcasts, and books.
My mission here is more about content curation as content creation. I am not going to try to be original, but to synthesize the best of what I find. My aim is to give you the tools which will enable you to live as a faithful exile and contribute to the well-being of your neighbors. Much of that will be found in Scripture, much from other Christian writers, and some from “secular” sources. I am guided by the dual principles that “all truth is God’s truth” and that everything must be filtered through the lens of Scripture and the gospel.
Why a Book Club?
For some, these two words will be yawn-inducing, but I am leaving them in quite intentionally. First, the word “book” tips my hand to the primary content which I will be engaging with. Books, as opposed to most blog posts, article, and memes, are well-researched and edited. They take more work to get through but are more likely to give the reader a fuller picture of the truth. (There are, of course, many terrible books and excellent articles.)
The second word, “club”, is intended to denote community and participation. In my ideal world, these posts will stimulate conversation. Perhaps I can convince some of you to pick up the books which I aim to synthesize. To aid in that I will keep you, dear reader, posted on the books on my bookshelf before I begin interacting with them. I would love for you to read along.
Two more values
I had to scratch two names for this blog because they conflicted with existing Christian book titles, but I will share them anyway since they reveal two core values:
“The Curious Christian”: For some detractors, “Christianity” and “curiosity” are mutually exclusive. Christians, it is supposed, must “check their brain at the door.” This is ridiculous. I believe that Christianity calls us to a greater and greater quest for truth. If “all truth is God’s truth” then we can pursue it anywhere without fear.
“Reading for the Common Good”: It is good to read for personal edification. It is better to read out of love for neighbor. This is not a mere private intellectual pursuit but arises from the belief that knowledge contributes to the edification of the church and, through the church, the flourishing of the world.
Steven Kopp, January 1, 2021