Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Books for Recovering Fundamentalists

Growing up in American evangelicalism, we are not taught multiple ways of looking at the Bible. "The Bible says it, that settles it," is the motto. Of course, there are silent, unspoken presuppositions and interpretations that dictate how one sees Scriptural passages, but that's another story. For young adults like myself who came out of this environment, being subjected to the rest of the world can be daunting and ground-shaking. Finding many weaknesses in the faith that we were surrounded by growing up, it's easy to want to drop Christianity altogether, and many do. But for those of you who have experienced this but still find something in Christianity worth holding onto, I recommend the following books. But even if you haven't had that experience, these are some great books.

The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus by Dale Allison

I just finished this recently and it's incredible. You may have to supplement it with some other historical Jesus reading, but as it stands it's a fantastic book from a leading historical Jesus scholar on the reconciliation of faith with biblical criticism. Allison offers some pretty uncomfortable conclusions for the common evangelical. It's a book I wrestled with, but ultimately one I found freeing and profound. I actually threw the book across the room at one point!

Love Wins and Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell

Bell is a must-read for recovering fundamentalists. He's an easy read, but a challenging one. He offers a lot of great insights, and even more great questions. If you're a recovering fundamentalist, I would start with Bell.

Is God to Blame? by Greg Boyd

This is a book for those who wrestle with theological issues like the problem of evil. I haven't read anyone stronger than Boyd on this topic. He tears apart the "blueprint worldview" that attributes everything that happens in life to the work of God, and offers a "warfare worldview" in which pervasive evil and suffering are the results of free agents who so often choose evil over good. Boyd gives you a lot of comfort and a lot to think about.

The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

While this isn't specifically a book for recovering fundies, it is a must-read for all Christians, and I think young progressive Christians will get a lot from it. Every new person I have read it comes to me with the same reaction: "This book blew my mind!" Brueggemann uses the Bible in a way that I never heard used growing up. He talks about the Bible's teaching on social justice, and the countercultural message it presents to society. This book is gold.

The Bible Tells Me So and The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns

Enns is incredible. Like Bell, he is a perfect person for ex-fundies to read. His books are challenging, but also liberating. I would read The Bible Tells Me So first, and then The Evolution of Adam if you want a good intro to Genesis as mythic poetry instead of a historical book that describes the literal origin of the universe. If you haven't been subjected to his ideas before, you will never look at the Bible the same after reading him.

If the Church were Christian by Philip Gulley

This one is so good because it's so subversive. Gulley is a heretic, straight up. There's something so interesting about reading what a heretical pastor has to say and what his experiences are. Whatever your beliefs about Christianity are, Gulley will challenge at least some of them. I don't endorse everything he says, I think he's wrong about several things and the book has weaknesses, but it's a very thought-provoking read. Whether you're cheering him on or making this face O_o, you will get a lot out of this book.

The God-Shaped Brain by Timothy Jennings

This one is not as controversial as the others. It's coming at Christianity from a psychology perspective, and what a perspective! Jennings provides a new angle from which to think about the implications of our Christian beliefs. Although he gets a little evangelical-y at times, so much of what he says is so beautiful.

In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen 

Really, anything by Nouwen is excellent. I have never read another devotional author more consistently edifying. His theology carries such beauty, and the way it transfers from mind to heart and practice is compelling and inspiring. It is a tiny book that can easily be read in one or two sittings, but it's gold, pure gold!

Sacred Word, Broken Word by Kenton Sparks

If you wrestle with the problems of Scripture while maintaining a desire to recognize its authority, Sparks is essential, along with Enns. He makes the case that the same dilemma we face with the problem of evil, we face with the problem of Scripture; that is, Scripture, like creation, is corrupted by human evil, even if it is thoroughly a work of God. The book is insightful and challenging.

What else should be added to this list?

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