Summary: Based on a series of lecture about how our understanding of our personal testimonies impacts the way we understand Christian Faith.
If I had any advice for a young Christian reader, it would be find people that are smarter than you, with different perspectives than you have, and listen to them. The great value in the written word is that the words of people of different perspective, ages ,and backgrounds are available without needing to actually sit at the physical feet of others.
Throughout history we have looked toward the wise to teach us. And today we have the accumulated wisdom, not just of the wise people today but much of the wisdom of history. We are frankly drowning in words, but there is a tendency to not think of words as the means of transmission of wisdom but as a transmission of an argument.
Alan Jacobs is participating in a discussion about the role of the individual within narrative theology. But that discussion is subtle, too subtle I think for most readers that do not have a pretty good history in narrative theology. Narrative theology is trying to push modern Christianity to pay more attention to the communal and broad historical sweep of Christianity and less attention to the individual and the personal issues of Christianity. Jacobs is trying to remind narrative theologians that while the communal and historical issues of Christianity are real, that you still need to pay attention to the individual.
Jacobs does this in Looking Before and After by tracing how the act of giving a testimony matters to our Christian faith. Some Christian traditions have focused on the testimony more than others. In four approximately 20 page chapters with an introduction, Jacobs looks at what a testimony is, how our memories impact the testimony, and how we place the arc of despair and hope in reflection of what God is doing, and then in the last chapter pushes up against Henri Nouwen’s book Adam: God’s Beloved as an example, positive and negative of how conceiving of the role and actions of a person matter to the way we think of God working in the world.
It is that last chapter that it both most helpful and I am most conflicted about. In the news lately is President Trump’s use of the term animals to describe people and his description of individuals as ‘not people’. Jacobs does not have that political act in mind since this book was published in 2008. But Jacobs is trying to figure out what it means for a profoundly disabled person to be a ‘teacher’ and follower of God in the way that Nouwen uses Adam as part of Nouwen’s own testimony.
I would be interested to read more by someone that has thought more clearly about disability and Christianity respond to Jacobs. Jacobs is trying to walk that line of honoring all people and the image of God within them while also trying to respond the importance how God works in people as people testify to it.
I am pretty sure I did not really understand all of Looking Before and After. It is a fairly short book, about 100 pages of main content, but it spends a lot of the time referencing other books and ideas, most of those that he referenced I have not previously read. But I got more than enough of the idea to understand the major points.