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
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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