[I’ve spent a good deal of time and energy promoting my own book recently, so I decided to end the week by focusing on someone else’s].
Keith Buhler was a student with me at Biola University about whom I can say three things. First, I owe Keith a debt of gratitude for introducing me to David Gray’s White Ladder, an album that was integral to my college experience and has stood the test of time and remains in my collection (even as I type this, I am listening to it). Second, Keith Buhler is a good man, and I can attest to this due to my most vivid memory of him, one which is highly embarrassing to me (so I will share it with you). He and I were invited to accompany two young women on a day-long, dorm-floor-event during which all the young women and their dates were to perform a scavenger hunt in Hollywood, followed by dinner at a restaurant where each group would share its findings. Well, long story short, I fell asleep during the day’s events, and Keith was not only a wonderful companion to his date but also the young lady that I treated so poorly—I recall his either doing impressions of me sleeping or taking pictures to that affect in order to cheer up my rightfully-disheartened date (Rachel, I am still sorry for my behavior). Third, years after this when he and I reconnected, Keith not only treated me as a friend but also did not bring up the embarrassing affair, an act which confirms that he is a genuinely gracious person.
That being said, buy his book.
Just kidding (sort of); I am actually going to discourage some of you from buying his book, not for lack of its merit but for its intentional niche appeal. You see, Sola Scriptura is not for everyone. I wish it were, as it is an engaging and, at times, riveting read full of vibrant ideas and wonderful truths; however, its format is also direct to such a degree that some readers will have neither the desire to engage it nor sensibility to enjoy it.
Sola Scriptura is a unique reading experience. In many ways it feels far more like a play than a book—and note that I have not called it a novel, for it eschews the conventions of that category altogether. Whereas a novel would paint us a vivid picture of a world and the characters that inhabit it, Sola Scriptura is far more interested in the content of the language and ideas than any descriptions or characterizations—an aspect of the book that works both for and against it (but I will get to that).
The work is defined by the author as “a dialogue” and rightly so. Inasmuch as characters exist within the text, they feel like vehicles for conveying various, at times contentious, ideas—all of which are treated with a level of fairness that ground Buhler’s work in authenticity. He’s not nearly as interested in convincing his readers of things as much as he is presenting concepts, which is the reason that Sola Scriptura succeeds as it does. At no point does Buhler attempt to impose anything on the reader other than his own thirst for discussion, fellowship, and truth—making both himself and the reader more akin to audience members within the story than creator and consumer of it, respectively.
But herein lies the rub: if you refuse to accept the storytelling conceit and thereby fail to read the book on its terms, you will miss the whole point. The book is not for you. It has no interest in traditional character development or narrative structure. Inasmuch as Sola Scriptura is a story, the story only exists as a framework in which dialogue occurs; in and of itself, the narrative contains no true arcs.
And yet it does in its own way. While little happens in a “plot sense” a great deal happens in a “sequence sense”, meaning that topics are introduced, digested, and concluded (or left unresolved) as we transition into a new sequence of ideas, thereby moving the conversation (and story) forward without anything in the world of the characters actually happening (other than the passage of midday hours). Additionally, while the characters don’t necessarily have “arcs”, they have personalities that we get to know and, to a degree, love. Frankly, as someone who digests a large amount of content, this was very refreshing: characters in the book exist without anyone going on a “hero’s journey”.
Sola Scriptura’s biggest strength is that it feels organic, as if the dialogue between the central characters is taking place as one is reading it. As a writer myself, I recognize the trap of dialogue, that it can feel solely like a device to further plot or establish character, but Buhler’s work is not bound to these paradigms for it has no concern for them. Rather, Buhler adheres to his own adage that conversation is story; ergo, while we as readers are an audience to characters talking, we become invested in them as individuals as well as in their conclusions in the same way we’d be interested in a heroine stopping the villain, the adventurer chasing the macguffin, or the coming-of-age youth finding himself.
Books, like all art forms, need not conform to a particular method of execution. Novels and nonfiction works have different rhythms, not only in regard to one another but also within the subgenres they contain. Sola Scriptura hovers between categories in a way that is unique but familiar, nebulous yet intentional. I cannot recommend Sola Scriptura for everyone, nor do I think it appropriate to do so. To be frank, this dialogue will be wholly engaging for some but not all; the text will be highly valuable for those who are open to a different type of reading experience, one grounded in authenticity and ideas more than story or lecture, and for readers of such a mindset, I believe that it will prove profitable not only on an initial reading but on others thereafter.
On a personal note, I feel like Sola Scriptura would make a great film were some adaptation issues overcome. Given the rhythms, characters, and the storytelling, the film version would be akin to Richard Linklater’s profound films Before Sunrise and Before Sunset yet geared toward the theologically minded rather than the romantic, which would make it a welcome entry into the category of religious-themed films.