We live in a world where people are bewildered, doubtful and despairing and feel let down by religious leaders, institutions and dogma. Sometimes it seems as though, God himself has turned his back on us, and we doubt who Jesus is. Is he God? Is he the Messiah? Was he even a real person (as a recent book by Bart Ehrman asks)?
In The Searchers, historian and journalist Joseph Loconte puts his finger on the pulse of our culture and our hunger for faith, hope and purpose. Loconte brings his readers into conversation with the story of Jesus’ encounter with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). This was shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (a handful of women had brought back reports of an empty tomb). These two disciples are on their way out of Jerusalem when Jesus meets them on their way, though they do not recognize him. He walks with them and explains to them from the Hebrew Bible the truth about the Messiah. When they reach their destination, they invite Jesus to stay the night with them. As they sat down to eat the evening meal, they recognize Jesus as he says the table grace. He disappears from their sight and they say to one another, “Did not our hearts burn when he talked to us on the road and opened the scripture to us?”
Each of Loconte’s chapters probe this story and its connection to our current cultural search for Jesus. The Emmaus story is broken down into sections which stand as epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter which Loconte uses as a scaffolding to hang his reflections. He explores how Jesus’ presence on the road calls us to look beyond the hopelessness of our world, confronts our grief, exposes the poisons of religion (it was the religious establishment which demanded Jesus’ death), challenges our illusions, and gives us reason to hope that God is alive and at work behind the scenes in very real, supernatural, and surprising ways.
There are few stories in the Bible that hit me at an emotional level the way the road to Emmaus episode does. There is something really touching about how Jesus meets two disciples stuck in the depths of grief, doubt and disillusionment and nurses their fragile faith back to life. I think Loconte does a great job of inhabiting the space these disciples are in and showing how we, in our culture, are also infected with doubts and disillusionment but hunger for something beyond our grasp.
This is the perfect book to read with a seeker (or as a seeker). Loconte’s use of films, novels, history and cultural analysis brings the gospel into lively interaction with a world in need of Jesus. But this isn’t just a book for evangelists and Christian apologists and those on the hunt for God. As someone firm in my convictions about who Jesus is,Loconte’s book invited me into deeper reflection of all Jesus is and does. We who believe also need to walk the Emmaus road and encounter Jesus afresh.
I happen to like this book because it is thoughtful and beautifully written. Loconte probes the resurrection and brings it into conversation with examples of conspiracy theories, contemporary obsession with angels, and analysis of of the biblical concept resurrection against ancient myths. Making for a highly entertaining and engaging read.
Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.