Many of us have made a transition in our faith. One of those paths is from fundamentalism to more mainstream forms of faith, though there are many who...moreMany of us have made a transition in our faith. One of those paths is from fundamentalism to more mainstream forms of faith, though there are many who seem to believe that this is an either/or proposition. Either you're a fundamentalist or you're an atheist. There is no middle ground.
The contributors to From Fear to Faith, which was edited by Travis Milam and Joel Watts, tell the story of how them found a pathway out of the narrowness of fundamentalist versions of Christianity, and yet remained committed to their Christian faith.
The book is composed of sixteen stories, with the two editors contributing two each. In addition, Joel Watts writes the introduction and Travis Milam writes a concluding section. The stories share similarities and differences. There are different degrees of fundamentalism present in the stories, with Joel Watts story of his emergence out of a oneness Pentecostal movement that goes by the name Church of Jesus Christ. This is the classic form of fundamentalism, where all areas of life are controlled and no dissent is brooked. Unfortunately, in some of these communities spiritual abuse occurs as does varieties of emotional and physical abuse. People are afraid to leave however because they have been convinced that to do so jeopardizes their souls. It is either stay and receive the abuse or face an eternity in hell.
Not all the stories, of course, are quite as dark as that, but fear is a central component of these movements. Perhaps the greatest fear present in these stories is the fear of knowledge. Contributors tell of going to churches that allow no forms of outside reading beyond the King James Bible. No critical examination is allowed. Women are to remain subject to the males in their lives. For some who write, fond memories of good people can be found, even if the theology is too narrow. For others the previous life was so traumatic that there is no going back.
Readers will find themselves gravitating to different stories, especially if they stand close to their own. There is one contribution that seems to have a place, but placement seems odd. Chapter 10, written by John Morehead, focuses on transitions out of Mormonism into evangelical Christianity. This is the most "academic" of the articles, and gives some good information about what happens when one makes a transition. But, it's not the story of Morehead's transition. I was thinking that it might have more usefulness either at the beginning or end of the book with some conversation about how the story of people transitioning out of Mormonism serves as an analogy for the move out of fundamentalism.
The longest, and to me the most gripping, story is told by Joel Watts. The suffering he endured and required his wife and daughter to endure is eye opening. Unfortunately, the essay is filled with typos and grammatical problems. It could have used much more editing, and if it had, it would have been an even more powerful story.
I'm not sure who is the target audience. I think it probably speaks to those making the transition. I'm afraid more liberal audiences won't understand why one would endure such a thing. But as Joel mentions in his essay -- it's all about control. Many of the adherents of these groups start very young, and become socialized into it. I don't think a fundamentalist will read it, but then they might not recognize themselves in it.
Lew Smedes was one of my professors in seminary. So I read this with great interest and wonder. It is a wonderful book that shares how one understands...moreLew Smedes was one of my professors in seminary. So I read this with great interest and wonder. It is a wonderful book that shares how one understands and lives faith.(less)
Joe Jones is a retired Disciples of Christ theologian. He is some what unique in that he has had an affinity for Karl Barth (an affinity I share as a...moreJoe Jones is a retired Disciples of Christ theologian. He is some what unique in that he has had an affinity for Karl Barth (an affinity I share as a Disciples pastor/theologian) and for John Howard Yoder. His theological work is rooted in Wittgenstein's concern for words/grammar, and he is troubled by the lack of theological sophistication among many in the church -- especially the clergy of his own denomination.
In this book, we find a collection of essays, blog posts, and sermons. Most have been written since the publication of an earlier collection was published in 2005 (On Being the Church of Jesus Christ in Tumultuous Times). The book is divided into four parts. Part one focuses on theological matters -- "Ecumenical Theologizing with Ecclesial Friends." I personally found this section to be the most provocative -- as he takes on the questions of what it means to live out a "radical orthodoxy." He talks about theological method, spiritual formation, salvation, discipleship, and the eucharist.
In part two, writing from a Yoder-influenced perspective, he tackles matters of politics from the perspective of a Gospel of hope. Yes, his politics is liberal, but his roots are in the gospel -- for the question is whether we are American first or Christian first.
In Part Three, he takes up a number of conversations -- beginning with the story of his life growing up in Oklahoma and on to his decision to pursue theology rather than law -- being the son of a respected judge. He takes us to Yale Divinity School and introduces us to H. Richard Niebuhr.
Finally, in Part four, we have before us a number of sermons preached for various occasions from his daughter's ordination to the funeral of a friend. In each of these pieces we are drawn into the biblical story and the need to draw close to the God witnessed to by this story.
What comes through these various pieces is that Jones is committed to the church and to the one who calls the church into existence. We hear a clarion call to consider the importance of the Trinity to the life of this church -- a call that is not always well received in a church that is doggedly non-creedal (at least of the traditional kind).
Being that this is a collection of various kinds of written materials, different pieces will speak differently to a person, but as with the Pauline epistles, these are occasional pieces that give witness to the gospel for our day. (less)
Many books have been written of late that explore the biblical and cultural and theological aspects of homosexuality. It’s clear that, at least on a s...moreMany books have been written of late that explore the biblical and cultural and theological aspects of homosexuality. It’s clear that, at least on a surface reading, the Bible speaks against homosexual practice. It doesn’t speak of orientation, because such an understanding wasn’t in existence at the time. There aren’t that many texts to deal with, but they seem to offer clarity, but is this true? Is there more to the story than what we seem to think. Could new information help us to see things differently? Books by Walter Wink, William Stacy Johnson, and my friend Steve Kindle take up that side of things.
As helpful as these studies are, I’m convinced that it is personal stories that transform our understandings. Senator Rob Portman, a Republican who had opposed marriage equality, changed his mind. Why? His son is gay and seeks to be married. Portman’s story isn’t unique. A key administrator and professor at my seminary came out in support because his daughter is a lesbian. I changed my mind, or at least took a new look at the issue, when my brother came out. Since my cousin and my wife’s cousin are gay, we have plenty of family to help us think this through.
Into the mix of stories comes Jeff Chu’s new book Does Does Jesus Really Love Me? Chu is a journalist and a Christian. He’s also gay. He is the grandson of a Chinese Southern Baptist preacher, who imbibed the biblical story from his grandparent’s knees. He also learned many songs, and the one that stood with him over time was “Jesus loves me.” The question that Chu raises in poignant fashion is – if I’m gay is this true?
In an age of religious mobility, when many former barriers to interfaith and intra-faith conversations, it’s still difficult to make that transition w...moreIn an age of religious mobility, when many former barriers to interfaith and intra-faith conversations, it’s still difficult to make that transition without burning bridges. In Crossing the Street, Robert LaRochelle, a UCC pastor who once served as a Roman Catholic Permanent Deacon, tells of his decision to the cross the street from the Catholic to the Protestant side, with great honesty, noting the places of deep disagreement with current trends in the Catholic Church. But, in sharing why he found Protestantism attractive, he also shows deep respect for the faith of his birth. In writing this book, LaRochelle offers us a way of having an important conversation about religious diversity, religious mobility, and the central importance of Christian unity, so that our street crossings don’t always end up going in one direction. (less)
An expansion of an earlier book edited and introduced by Hugh Kerr, John Mulder brings us a collection of conversion stories that run from St. Paul to...moreAn expansion of an earlier book edited and introduced by Hugh Kerr, John Mulder brings us a collection of conversion stories that run from St. Paul to Bono, from Augustine to Fannie Crosby. These stories remind us that conversion comes in many different forms, and that conversion is often a realization of a deeper relationship with God. For preachers this could be a good source of inspiration -- but the same is true for any Christian.(less)
John Henry Newman was an important figure in the origins of the Oxford Movement -- and then a leader in British Catholicism. In this book he attempts...moreJohn Henry Newman was an important figure in the origins of the Oxford Movement -- and then a leader in British Catholicism. In this book he attempts a defense of his movement into the Catholic Church. His departure the result of liberal inroads in the Anglican Church. It's a bit repetitive and tendentious, but an important document in the history of English Christianity. (less)
The story of one man's journey from his roots in Islam into Christianity, finally resting in Roman Catholicism. As an African convert, the road was a...moreThe story of one man's journey from his roots in Islam into Christianity, finally resting in Roman Catholicism. As an African convert, the road was a long and winding one. This isn't a breezy memoir, but it is a fitting read. For those who are engaged in interfaith conversations and wonder about the whole issue of conversion, this is a compelling story that might run counter to expectations. Sanneh's story includes his move to America for college, and experiencing the early stages of the Civil Rights movement, wherein he didn't fit anyone's expectations, to study in Europe and the Middle East. Though a convert from Islam to Christianity, his graduate work took him back into the world of Islam, and then in the end to a call to teach world Christianity.
It is a story with many twists and turns. Because Sanneh is an academic by training and disposition, this book has a scholarly flavor to it. But, it is a compelling read.(less)
Carolyn Sharp, a Yale OT scholar edits and conducts conversations with Brueggemann and others concerning Brueggemann's message and legacy. Enlightenin...moreCarolyn Sharp, a Yale OT scholar edits and conducts conversations with Brueggemann and others concerning Brueggemann's message and legacy. Enlightening read to see how Brueggemann has seen himself. We often see him as the great biblical scholar, but despite his prodigious output he's not so sure of this.
Reinhold Niebuhr, famous for his development of "Christian Realism" while teaching at Union Theological Seminary, spent thirteen years from 1915 to 19...moreReinhold Niebuhr, famous for his development of "Christian Realism" while teaching at Union Theological Seminary, spent thirteen years from 1915 to 1928 serving as pastor of a Detroit congregation. During the final eight years of his time in Detroit, the founding pastor of my congregation was serving as pastor as well. One can learn much about Niebuhr and about ministry in an fast growing industrial city. It is worth noting that Niebuhr saw this burgeoning city as pagan, criticized his colleagues for not supporting the unions and addressing social and racial inequality.
It has taken me a bit of time to get to this book, but I must admit it was worth reading. And it's very accessible.(less)
You have to be a really good writer to keep someone engaged with your story, if the reader is a fifty-plus male clergy member, and the story is about...moreYou have to be a really good writer to keep someone engaged with your story, if the reader is a fifty-plus male clergy member, and the story is about pregnancy and child birth, attachment parenting and even being a woman pastor. It was clear at several points that I'm not, necessarily, the intended audience, and yet Katherine's story of her life, her marriage, her ordination, her ministry, and becoming parent drew me in. Though I have to say -- as one who lived in Southern California for half my life, and somewhere on the West Coast for the vast majority of my life before moving easter, I can't understand her desire to leave behind California!
I think it draw in many others, even 50+ males!
I should note that Katherine and I once served as Disciples pastors at the same time in Southern California. (less)
In Not Sure John Suk tells the story of a journey from enchanted orality to literacy and beyond. It is a story of a person who emerges out of a conser...moreIn Not Sure John Suk tells the story of a journey from enchanted orality to literacy and beyond. It is a story of a person who emerges out of a conservative, ethnic, doctrinal milieu. It's not the story of a loss of faith, but a story of discovering faith in the context of doubt. If you have struggled with competing loyalties, that is loyalty to a faith profession and a loyalty to the pursuit of what you believe to be true then this book will be of assistance.
I'll be writing a longer review at the blog, but may this be an initial contribution.(less)
For those who feel a bit shy about their spiritual practices, and stop short of engaging due to a fear of failure, Jana's year long attempt to read sp...moreFor those who feel a bit shy about their spiritual practices, and stop short of engaging due to a fear of failure, Jana's year long attempt to read spiritual classics and engage in related spiritual practices might be for you! (less)