On a dusty road outside Jerusalem, two friends were walking together, discussing events  that had occurred recently. As they walked, they were joined by a seeming stranger who would turn out to be someone they knew quite well. They were about to have a startling encounter with God.

Thus begins Joseph Loconte’s The Searchers, an examination of faith in the midst of a world of doubts. Loconte frames Man’s search for answers with the story of two disciples who meet the risen Jesus on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, described in Luke 2:13-35. The story is used as a narrative resting point for an examination of the quest for truth, yet Loconte — a history professor at King’s College in New York City — hardly confines himself to solely the Biblical record as he plumbs the depths and meaning of the tale. Ranging widely through not only history but also literature, philosophy, politics, and film, The Searchers examines the reasons to believe.

Drawing its title from John Wayne’s 1956 film “The Searchers,” the tale of a Civil War veteran who spends years searching for his kidnapped niece, Loconte’s book pushes the reader to ask difficult questions about what our reactions should be when “a great crisis sweeps into our lives, when our dreams turn to powder.” He notes that there is something within humans, an impulse to connect with God — the same impulse that turns the frightened, disillusioned Cleopas and his unknown friend on their walk to Emmaus into bold, unfearing messengers who proclaim the risen Christ.

This impulse, Loconte tells us, seems irrestible in art, literature, and film. Citing such movie classics as Babette’s Feast and great  works of literature such Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the author unveils the parallels that connect us to the encounter on the road to Emmaus, and a God who is hidden yet desperate in His desire to reveal Himself and His Son to us. Perhaps the strongest material in the book is how Loconte grapples with the poison of religion, remarking,

By the poison of religion, I don’t mean the problem of Christians who live safe, middle-class, unremarkable lives. The real danger is the pretend factor, the haze of religiosity that tries to conceal the shallowness — and the deepening rot underneath.

The answer to this — and the target at which The Searchers points us toward — is our own authentic encounter with Jesus, causing our hearts to burn within us every bit as much as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

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