Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Book Write-Up: Outlaw Christian

Jacqueline A. Bussie.  Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the “Rules.”  Nashville: Nelson Books, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Jacqueline A. Bussie teaches theology and religion at Concordia College.  In Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the “Rules,” Bussie challenges what she believes are myths: about God, suffering, and whether people can make a positive difference in the world.  Instead of embracing these myths, she advocates being an “Outlaw Christian.”

What is an “Outlaw Christian”?  Bussie is dissatisfied with a lot of the pat answers that Christians have given to the problem of evil, the question of why a good God allows evil and suffering.  She supports being honest with God and other people about pain.  The lament Psalms, the Book of Job, and Jesus’ cry of abandonment from the cross are cited as biblical justifications for her position.

Bussie also challenges the myth that people cannot successfully fight injustice or make a positive difference, as she refers readers to books that tell a different story, while sharing with readers what those books are about.  And, while Bussie struggles with thanking God for her food, when there are so many people in the world who are starving, she still advocates an attitude of appreciating the good things in life, and even seeing those things as gifts from God.

Here are some thoughts about the book:

A.  Bussie’s stories made the book effective.  She talks about how Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel had a negative image of God yet remained an observant Jew.  She relayed a Buddhist tale about a woman who lost someone and learned that her suffering was not unique, for everyone else had lost someone, too.  She shared about a horrible experience that her husband had, and his attempts to move past that.  And, since she is a teacher, she told stories about her teaching experiences: the insights that she gained from her students and imparted to them.  The book was honest, thoughtful, and eloquent.

B.  The book may appeal to people who, like me, get a little irritated when people spit out the theologically correct answer and high-five each other or pat themselves on the back after doing so.  In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with embracing these answers, as long as there is sensitivity to the fact that not everyone finds them convincing or helpful.

C.  A possible disadvantage to the book is that Bussie does not really offer a robust explanation as to why God permits suffering.  She does not wrestle with the Scriptural passages that offer an explanation for some forms of suffering: that God rewards and punishes, that God disciplines Christians to improve their character, or that suffering is part of God’s plan.  Bussie appears rather skeptical of those explanations, as they have been offered by Christians, but she never wrestles with biblical authors’ endorsement of them (at least not in this book).

D.  When Bussie does attempt to reconcile God’s existence with the reality of suffering, she says things that may be controversial.  Bussie seems to compare God with a parent who unintentionally hurt his or her child.  Elsewhere, Bussie says that our prayers to God can actually teach God something.  The book could have been better had it tried to develop these thoughts, or referred to theologians with similar ideas.

E.  At the same time, there is a part of me that can understand why Bussie may have chosen to take the route that she did.  Bussie is dissatisfied with a lot of the religious solutions that have been offered for the problem of evil, for she does not believe that those are good enough reasons for God to permit evil, considering how horrible evil is.  And, even though she offers some speculation of her own, she herself cannot find a solution that satisfies her.  Instead of trying to find an answer to the problem of evil, therefore, she does something else.  She acknowledges that evil exists and that the religious solutions that people have offered to explain its existence fall short.  She appears to embrace that she does not know why evil exists, and she turns her attention to the question of where people should go from there.

F.  I recently read another book on suffering and criticized it because, while it discussed the importance of lament, it failed to offer ways to incorporate lament into worship services.  Bussie actually did this, on some level, when she raised the possibility of using lament Psalms in worship services.  That is a good idea.  Worship services should not consist solely of lament, for they should also include rejoicing.  But there are plenty of Scriptures that express lament, and they should be incorporated into worship services as examples of the experiences that people have had in their relationship with God.

G.  Bussie stressed the importance of community.  For Bussie, community can be a place where people give and receive comfort, and community can be a force for societal improvement.  At the same time, she acknowledged that there is a dearth of community in the United States, especially in comparison with the Third World.  Bussie should have rigorously and specifically addressed the question of how community can be fostered in the United States, considering the importance that she places upon it.  She does mention insights that may intersect with that: how one can sit with someone in pain, for example.  Still, due to the dearth of community, many people may be unaware that someone is in pain.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through BookLook Bloggers, in exchange for an honest review.

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