June 24, 2015
The Book of Strange New Things
What if you had the opportunity to explain the gospel to an alien species? How would you go about it? Where would you start? That is the premise of The Book of Strange New Things, a science fiction novel that explores the ultimate in cross-cultural evangelism. While Peter is perhaps not the most likely person to be chosen for the task, he brings a winsome innocence and willingness to enter into the mental/cultural world of the Oasans. He also brings a certain optimism and faith that you wouldn't quite categorize as evangelical but is certainly deep and committed.
His challenge to explain the Bible, "the book of strange new things," as the Oasans call it, is not completely daunting because he is not the first preacher they have encountered. Nonetheless, the personal and missional difficulties are substantial.
We come to understand the Oasans somewhat better as their community is set against the human colony on the planet. Peter seems to have as hard a time understanding his fellow humans as those he has come to evangelize.
Faber sets up a number of questions that are never fully resolved in the book like, Why did the Oasans move their community after the humans arrived? And who is USIC anyway, the mysterious corporation that established the colony? Perhaps the author was setting himself up for a sequel, but there was no other compelling narrative question that drove the book except the usual, What will happen next? The closest is his very long distance relationship with his wife who remains on earth. But on the planet itself, I kept waiting for a major mystery or problem to arise which would propel the narrative forward. No such issue arose though there were plenty of opportunities for that.
The Oasans themselves were the most attractive characters in the book. Their attitudes toward life, toward each other, toward Jesus and the Bible are very attractive. By the end we suspect that they might actually understand their Lord better than their preacher does.