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
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
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
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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