Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Book Write-Up: Misfit Faith, by Jason J. Stellman

Jason J. Stellman.  Misfit Faith: Confessions of a Drunk Ex-Pastor.  New York: Convergent, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

This book was not exactly what I expected.  It was better.  Much better.

Jason Stellman was a Presbyterian pastor, but he became a Roman Catholic.  I expected Misfit Faith to be, therefore, a semi-autobiographical work of Catholic apologetics.  I had just read Kevin Vanhoozer’s defense of the classic Protestant Solas in Biblical Authority After Babel, and I figured that I might as well read a work by a former Protestant who converted to Catholicism for balance.  But I did not see any defense of Peter being the first pope in Misfit Faith, or any criticism of Sola Scriptura, or an explanation and defense of the Catholic understanding of justification.

What I found was an honest account of a person’s faith journey.  When Stellman was flirting with universalism, it began to dawn on me that this would not be a typical Catholic book!  Stellman is critical of the beliefs that he once held as a Calvinist Presbyterian, feeling that they do not present all that flattering of a picture of God (to say the least).  Stellman even expresses problems with certain stories in the Bible, such as the story in Judges 14 about a Spirit-empowered Samson striking people down so he could take their clothes and pay a debt to the Philistines.  While Stellman fails to offer a faith-enhancing interpretation of this story, he feels that Jesus would agree with his reservations.

In reading Stellman, a question that occurred to me more than once was, “Why, then, are you a Catholic?”  He is against seeing Jesus’ contribution to spirituality as Law 2.0, as something that bears down heavier on the rules of the Torah.  Why, then, did he become a Catholic, when Catholicism emphasizes rules?  Stellman recoils from his former dogmatism, and dogmatism in general.  Why, then, is he a Catholic, when Catholicism stresses dogmas and holds that one church has the proper understanding of Christianity?  And some of his criticisms of his former Calvinist views can be applied to Catholicism, too.

But then Stellman said that a friend made a similar point to him, and Stellman admitted that, yes, he is not a very good Catholic!

And yet, Catholicism does influence Stellman in this book.  Stellman is drawn to the Roman Catholic view that grace enhances the natural rather than replacing it.  Stellman states that the Catholic view that the church is a mother, with open doors, influences him to have a more charitable view towards those with contrary ideas, rather than defining himself by who and what he is against.  Stellman is also drawn to the ritualism of the Catholic church, and he appreciates Catholicism’s enchanting supernaturalism, which the Enlightenment repudiated.  There is a part of him that is drawn to stories and fairy tales, and that is a factor that underlies his attraction to Catholicism.

This book is thoughtful.  Although it is peppered with salty language and its prose is rather informal and conversational, Stellman still comes across as a person with important things to say.  Stellman not only criticizes certain views that are often encountered within Christianity, but he also attempts to provide a constructive outlook.  The book also makes pop culture references: the Star Wars references were especially good.  People who like to read Rachel Held Evans will probably like this book.  It may hit a cord with people who are disenchanted with evangelicalism, yet still see value in Christianity and wonder where to go from there.

Points in the book that I particularly liked:

—-When Stellman asked whether we would be happy or sad if God does decide to save everyone.  I think that is a good spiritual test, even though I would also say that there are valid spiritual reasons to oppose universalism (i.e., a desire for justice against evildoers).

—-When Stellman criticized the evangelical Christian view that we are looking for all of the wrong things for fulfillment, when only Jesus can fulfill us—-“as though we were correct in our search but just using the wrong vending machine” (page 92, Adobe Digital Reader).  I have read plenty of Christian books that effectively point out why looking to other things for fulfillment is a dead end, but not all of them present a positive case for God.

—-When Stellman likened rules to the rules that the Fairy Godmother set on Cinderella.  He states: “The command to love your neighbor by sharing with him from the bounty of your own wealth is not some external condition attached to having wealth—-it is the way wealth can be enjoyably had” (page 107).  Stellman also justifies Christian rules that restrict sexuality to marriage, believing that they preserve sexuality, rather than cheapening and emptying it.  Stellman’s approach to wealth was refreshing, since I am reading another Christian book that argues that, if one is not generous, that is an indication that one is not truly saved.  I much prefer Stellman’s positive approach!

I applauded this book after reading it, and I do not do that for too many books, even books that I like.  I may listen to some of Stellman’s podcasts, which he conducts with an agnostic ex-pastor!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley.  My review is honest!

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