Featured Reviews, Volume 9

Joustra / Wilkinson – How to Survive The Apocalypse [Review]

[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”0802872719″ locale=”US” src=”https://englewoodreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/614MzM5R2yL.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”222″]Where (and With Whom) We Stand

A Review of 

How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World
Robert Joustra and
Alissa Wilkinson

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2016.
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Reviewed by Rob O’Lynn


In many ways, this excellent book can be divided into three components:

1) A philosophical introduction where the umbrella—or arc—themes are funneled down into their base components.  This will be discussed below, however it is important to note here that this is extremely helpful for the reader who is not well versed in cultural theory (especially those of Charles Taylor, upon which most of the discussion is based).  The authors take great care in throughout this book to continually connect Taylor’s theories to the cultural artifacts that they use to illuminate our present social condition.

2) Individual chapters on the cultural artifacts that are being used to illuminate the cultural theory being presented (including chapters on zombies, cylons, and mockingjays…oh my!).

And 3) a pleasantly unexpected conclusion that ultimately revealed to the reader—caution, SPOILERS AHEAD—that the book has not really been about zombies and alien invasions but about hope.  And hope, as Joustra and Wilkinson argue convincingly, is the one thing that keeps humanity going, regardless of which dystopia end we meet.

But enough monologuing.  Following Professor Andy Crouch’s startling foreword, where he states the subversive obvious of the dystopian worldview—“We don’t actually just want an end—we want a judgment.  We don’t just want things to collapse—we want them to be set right” (viii)—the authors begin with a simple judgment: “The world is going to hell” (1).  This is shocking, to be sure, coming from a book published by a Christian publishing house that is not about some wild-eyed ideas about the end of time.  And, that, is the sheer genius of this book—the book is going to hell, and you and I (and those bean-counters at Nielsen who track our viewing habits) are totally cool with it.  In the words of popular theologian Michael Stipe, “It’s the end of the world, and I’m just fine.”

Time for a confession: Ever since I first read Animal Farm, I have been convinced of two things: 1) George Orwell was a literary genius, and, more importantly, 2) western civilization (and, perhaps, the world) is headed for a dystopian future.  Yes, ever since reading about Napoleon and Snowball, two little pigs who somehow rose up against their oppressive owner and established a socialist commune at their farm, I have been cautious about my assessment of the future.  Now, I will admit that I am not a Left Behind, gloom-and-doom premillennialist.  Actually, to be honest, I am a firm believer that the world has not gotten any more violent, narcissistic or greedy; it’s just that now we have CNN, Fox News and Facebook (and I am convinced those last two are entangled) to cover the play-by-play action of Fate tossing an overflowing basket of humanity into the brimming fires of existential torment.

In short, the world is going to hell.  Yet, is that necessarily a bad thing?  In the words of the old hymn, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.”  On one hand, that’s a theological cop-out, an excuse to ignore the grim realities of racially-motivated shootings in Dallas and ideologically-motivated rampages in France.  We can sit in our hallowed, empty sanctuaries, wringing our hands and sing songs about a transcendent, metaphysical reality that may or may be akin to the idyllic paintings of Thomas Kinkade.  Or we can we can stand proudly in the marketplace and “sing the LORD’s song in a strange land” (Ps. 137:4), a psalm which prays for God’s blessings upon those who surround us even though they do not pray our prayers or call God by our name for God.  Either way, we are “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Pet. 2:11).  Only, on one hand, we are praying against our neighbor, while, on the other hand, we, like Daniel of the Old Testament, are praying for our neighbors.  And, is that not the true purpose of the gospel—to bring hope, good news, to a dark and dying land.

I have been saying for years that Hollywood is doing a better job communicating the gospel better than even the best preachers do.  Even small studios have larger production budgets than the most creative congregations.  It may be as subtle as Captain America stating that “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I don’t think he dresses like that” in The Avengers.  Or it may be as blatant as Carnegie’s attempt to seduce Eli into giving him the Bible that Eli is carrying cross-country in The Book of Eli: “I grew up with that book [the Bible], I know its power.”  You can call it cliché, or you can realize that each of these examples, especially the ones in How to Survive the Apocalypse, point to a common, human desire—to hope.

And that, in a nutshell, is what Joustra and Wilkinson advocate will help us survive the apocalypse—hope.  “Apocalypse,” in a cultural connotation, is any life-altering event, not just the cataclysmic event that comes at the end of time.  Therefore, whether it is one’s attempt to discern what it means to be an individual (Battlestar Galactica), what it means to be intelligent (Breaking Bad or Mad Men), how to live within various institutions (Games of Thrones, World War Z and The Walking Dead) or how to live with intention (Hunger Games, Divergent or Scandal), it is ultimately “our hope as a believer” (1 Pet. 3:15) that compels us to face the adversity of a dystopian reality, realizing that surviving the end of the world depends on where and with whom we stand.


C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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Reading for the Common Good
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