I recently received a copy of Zach Hoag’s newest book, The Light Is Winning: Why Religion Just Might Bring Us Back to Life. Thanks to Zondervan / HarperCollins for sending a review copy!
Hoag’s new title launches right in with his own story, mainly how his family up and moved from Florida to join a cult in Texas. That’s one great quality to the book – the transparent display of vulnerability, giving us a glimpse into his own story. Not just in becoming part of a cult, but also one of a pained relationship with his father, an inner-battle with his own identity, and a failed church plant he started in Burlington, Vermont, the least religious city in the US.
Yet, in it all, Zach also uses that story to help us understand his main thesis: that the light is winning and that light is religion itself.
That’s just it. Whereas, he could have easily become part of the proverbial “Nones” and “Dones” in regards to the Christian faith, Zach instead had an “apocalypse,” or a revealing that rooted him further in the true religion that is the Christian faith. (As a side note, the word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek word apokalupsis, which means “a revealing.” This is where we get our English word “revelation,” which we use for the last book of the New Testament.) Hoag masterfully weaves his story, his study of the book of Revelation, and his reflections on American religious culture to help us understand that the light is winning.
In considering the religious landscape of America, Zach helps us see that we must choose between the status quo of the American empire and the radical path of Jesus. We cannot choose both. This is where his own reflections parallel the prophetic insights of John, as told within the book of Revelation. In John’s own day, there was the status quo, which thrived under the Roman empire, and there were the ways of Christ. The church was called not to the former – the powerful, violent, oppressive, and elitist ways of Caesar. Rather it was called to the authentic, meek, lowly, and just ways of the one who they now identified as Lord, Jesus.
The same call remains for the church of America today. Shall we choose to collude with the American empire? Or shall we take up Christlikeness, which rivals the status quo of our land? Much of the church has chosen the former over the latter.
His book speaks further to the “Nones” and “Dones,” the Millennials who are supposedly abandoning the Christian faith because of the religious wasteland America has become. This group doesn’t want performances, light shows, smoke machines, nor state-of-the-art buildings. Rather, they want something real, earthy, storied, and grounded in the beauty of liturgy and a historic tradition. Gothic architecture, stained glass, pews, weekly participation in the eucharist (communion), lectionaries, and other such ancient ways are now seen as life-giving.
And, so, Zach calls us to be just what we thought we weren’t supposed to be – religious. As he says himself:
The rallying cry of “spiritual by not religious” in this apocalyptic moment is well intentioned, and it might even be helpful as some of us process the eruptions taking place in our faith and life. But like a vision of God that isn’t centered on Jesus, it will not sustain us. Nor will it renew, reform, or sustain the Christian faith in America (p155).
The reality is that, we are religious whether we like it or not. And that’s actually ok. James (1:27) tells us that God loves religion, pure and faultless religion. This religion is centered in caring for the oppressed, such as widows and orphans, and steers clear of being polluted by the world (or “empire”).
Christians are called to be religious, Zach makes this clear. Yet, he doesn’t just help us see this truth; he helps us see how the light of religion is actually winning.
Something better stirs beneath the surface; a more beautiful wind of God blows afresh. The light is winning; religion is being resurrected. Are we ready for this apocalypse? Are we ready with eyes to see? Are we ready to abandon any collusion with the empire and embrace the path of Christ? Zach Hoag lights the path to true religion in his book, The Light Is Winning.