Jennifer's Reviews > Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism

Still Christian by David P. Gushee
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it was amazing
bookshelves: memoir, netgalley, progressive-christian, progressive-christianity, 2019, 5-star, reviewed

Following Jesus has led many of us out of the conservative Evangelicalism we may have started in. In this book, David Gushee shares the story of how that has happened in his life.

This is a fairly quick read. I finished it in less than 24 hours. It’s a short memoir because it stays focused on a very specific topic of Evangelicalism through the lens of Gushee’s life. He does give us a brief overview of how exactly Evangelicalism in the US came to be (rebranding “fundamentalism”, coopted by the political Right, etc.).

Gushee also describes how the politically motivated played a big role in taking over the Southern Baptist Convention and THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. As I myself am now a member of a progressive Baptist Church in Louisville and have lived in Louisville for most of my life, this was especially interesting to read about. I’ve heard people at my church talk about being students at SBTS when “the takeover” was going on. Needless to say, they hurt a lot of people in that process, which is what bad theology and power trips tend to do.

It is important to note that while the ultra-conservatives said they were pushing back against “liberal theology”, Gushee writes, “I never met a true theological liberal faculty member the whole time I was at Southern Seminary. In biblical studies, most professors did teach a modest version of historical criticism, but it was hardly outré compared to what I ran across later in my educational pilgrimage. I found that my theology professors hardly strayed to the “left” of Karl Barth, and legends like Dale Moody were very, very Southern Baptist. No, those Southern Seminary faculty were still pious Southern Baptist folks who were simply reasonably open to the broader world of ideas and wanted their students exposed to that world. They also, of course, like most academics, feared witch hunts, purges, and attacks on their academic freedom. Already by 1984, the academic environment was becoming more conservative and less free." (Location 397)

Gushee earned his M.Div from SBTS in 1987, then his M.Phil (1990) and Ph.D. in Christian ethics from Union Theological Seminary in 1993. But he ended up back at SBTS after that because it was his only job offer. I was surprised to learn that Mohler, who had just been appointed as president of the Seminary, was only 33 at the time. He taught at SBTS from 1993-1996. By the time he left SBTS was forcing everyone out who was not willing to ascribe to their stance that women should not be allowed in ministry. So when Gushee received an offer to teach at Union University, he took it as his way out.

Gushee describes this incident at SBTS from before he left: “...a new policy came down from the administration, one that would change everything at Southern. At an epic, miserable faculty meeting, the president [Mohler] declared that those who believed that women should serve as pastors would no longer be hired, promoted, or tenured at Southern Seminary. While some details of this policy remained to be addressed, the implications were clear enough. A school that had, over the years, worked its way around to a largely egalitarian understanding of gender roles was now, by decree, overnight, a place that required faculty both to believe and to teach that Holy Scripture clearly bars women from the highest office of church leadership. Dissenting tenured faculty members might survive but probably ought to leave, untenured faculty members who held the now-erroneous belief had no future at the school, and no new faculty members would be hired who were egalitarian.

This meant the end for pretty much all female faculty members. I vividly remember one of my younger female colleagues getting up from the meeting in which the policy was announced, running from the room, and throwing up in the hall. It's not every day that you are professionally executed by public decree. It just might make you physically ill.”
(Location 748)

Still Christian will resonate with anyone who has grown weary of the marriage of Evangelicalism with right-wing politics, and those who are completely over this nonsense about women not being allowed to preach, teach, lead, minister, etc.

Honestly, even if you still consider yourself an Evangelical, you might want to read this to help you understand more about why so many of us that started out that way have been leaving in droves, and for many of us, including Gushee, that does not mean leaving Jesus behind.

Another thing I love about this book is that Gushee kept journals almost every day over the course of his life which I'm sure increases the accuracy of the stories he tells from the past. He even quotes from them throughout the book:

“This reflection from the summer after my freshman year in college foreshadows much about my later journey: Amy Grant sings, “You must put aside the reasoning that’s standing in the way.” Well, my convictions may be shaky but this one isn’t—I will never sacrifice my intellect on the altar of “being faithful.” If you [God] can’t stand up to my measly questions, then you must be an illusion. . . . Must I sacrifice my intellect for the faith? No, I will not suppress my mind, I will not give up my intellect. I will give up the faith first.” (Location 342)

I have felt the exact same way and have written similar things in journals of my own.

I also appreciate Gushee's grace for "the other side". I think he succeeds in his goal of offering a "fair rendering" of the "flawed people and institutions" he describes in this book.

In the preface, Gushee writes: "We are experiencing a moment in American life in which our cultural divides have hardened into mutual incomprehension and demonization." Then he says that he first wrote that line long before the election of Donald Trump as president, and of course, it is even truer now. "We don't know each other, we don't understand each other, we don't trust each other, and we don't like each other. All we see are each other's vices, none of each other's virtues. If this memoir from both sides of the barricades helps improve this deplorable situation, that is reason enough to write it" (Location 92)

I think the only time I noticed Gushee taking a harsher tone was in this passage (which I completely agree with) in Chapter 7:

“This is my best chance to say that I believe the resurgence of a doctrinaire Calvinism in contemporary evangelicalism is among the most odious developments of the last generation. I abhor its version of God and most of its version of Christian ethics, and I believe it could only have emerged among relatively privileged, hyper-cognitive, compassion-challenged white men, as it has. But I digress” (Location 995).

At the end of the book, Gushee states:
“I still believe in Jesus. Indeed, I believe in him more than ever. I need him more than ever. Some days the only thing I have left of my Christianity is Jesus. And that’s okay.
I still believe in the prophetic religion of Jesus and of those before him and those after him who also shared it—a religion of justice, love, and compassion, a powerful source of good in this broken world.

But I no longer believe that the church, per se, knows or follows that religion. I no longer believe that the church, per se, is generally a source of good in the world. It depends. Sometimes it is quite the opposite. When it is the opposite, the only way to be a true Christian is to oppose the church. Yet I will never leave the church. That’s because I still believe in local communities of Jesus-followers straining every effort to study, hear, and obey him. And I believe in local shepherds humbly serving those communities. I still believe in the power of the preached Word and received sacrament in a community of hungry believers. [...]

I still believe that the truest human language is tears, and the best test of human beings is how they respond to tears. I now believe what Union Seminary tried to teach me—that the most important voices for me to hear come from the margins and from those who have been silenced."
(Location 1625)




(I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.)
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Reading Progress

December 27, 2017 – Shelved
September 3, 2019 – Started Reading
September 5, 2019 – Finished Reading

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