Yesterday a book I order arrived in the mail.
The Quest for the Historical Apostles: Tracing Their Lives and Legacies, by W. Brian Shelton (Baker Academic, 2018) pricked my interest because of my friend Tom Bissell’s Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve (Pantheon, 2016).
Tom and I crossed paths in Israel when I was on the trip of a lifetime and he was undercover with Atlantic Monthly Magazine. My goal was to meet Dennis Prager and see the Holy Land. Tom’s job was to try and figure out why American Christians and Evangelicals in particular are so pro-Israel.
Tom, by his own admission, is a “cultural Christian” but not an evangelical of any stripe. He is a well read writer, in fact, a New York Times best-selling author who specializes in travelogues which have taken him to far flung regions of the world and into some intriguing stories. His book Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia, was a first book I ordered when I got back from the Israel trip and it puts on display Tom’s ability to to turn a phrase and capture the imagination. There is much that he admires in the New Testament picture of Christ; he loves C.S. Lewis, Augustine and has a library that frankly, I would love to see in every evangelical’s home. He believes in God, but isn’t sure about Jesus as the Son of God.
I like Tom. Tom has a generous spirit, is an engaging conversationalist and a faithful friend. He has an attractive and very talented girl friend (a stage actress), whom I have met and I hope he “get’s smart” and marries. Their daughter is a charmer and the delightful central pivot of their lives. To be sure, I find much in his book on the Apostles that I disagree with and that I would love to have some extended conversations over. There is much that he has written about the Bible that, in my opinion, does not show much conversation with broader bibilcal scholarship and seems to take as a finished project the conclusions of a particularly liberal and overly sceptical strain of thought. But none of those quibbles and disagreements compromises my appreciation of him as a person or my friendship with Tom.
So, when I heard of the new book, I ordered it and contacted Tom to ask if he had read it or interacted with it. His response is below.
I have this book! And read it! I am mentioned in the index something like 21 times, astoundingly. He refers to me in the preface as “atheist Tom Bissell” and I was like, when I read it, “Wait? I am? Since when? Says who!” I enjoyed the book, though. It was very well done, I thought.…….We’re all doing well! __________ is with ________ in Nebraska right now doing a show, and I’m traveling throughout Upper Michigan with a dear Italian friend and his girlfriend. I won’t get to see my family again for another three weeks, which has left me bereft beyond words. But it will end eventually.How are you doing? Are you still in the south?….Yr friend,TCB
This is one of those mistakes I see too often among Christians. Someone, (some times even scholars like Shelton), reads an author (in this case, my friend Tom and his book) and because he (Tom) voices a scepticism about the biblical documents and their accuracy, jump to unwarranted conclusions. In this case, Tom is misrepresented in the new book as “athiest Tom Bissell.” That is news to Tom and everyone who really knows him. It is also unfair and a killer of any future dialogue that might move Tom away from some of his postions and perspectives and toward a deeper belief in Christ. When you are not treated fairly by Christians, why would you listen to what they have to say?
So this rambling short essay is simply an extended plea to be more generous toward the people you disagree with or who have some disagreement with your faith in Christ.
An ambassador, for that is what we are comissioned by Christ to be, must be more winsome than pugnacious, more friendly than argumentative, more gracious than protective. Let’s be more like Jesus. Let’s be the Ambassadors for Him He wants us to be.
Let’s live passionately for and like Jesus.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:20