This is some hippie-dippie New Age horse shit.

My favorite sentence from this book because I was a teenager in 1969 graduating from high school in 1973. I was also shaped by my parents’ values. They survived the Great Depression, my father served in WWII, my mother was a “homemaker/ housewife”, and in my childhood years and pre-teen years I was raised in a Southern Baptist Evangelical “tradition” church. I claim to be a recovering Southern Baptist and began my recovery at about the age of 13 when I read the entire translation of the Bible, The Way, The Living Bible, ©1972, for myself. I realized with time, and it took years for my transformation—just like the author, Christopher VanHall—from what two evangelical Southern Baptist church ministers and teachers taught me. I have come to know that most of it was indeed a lot of hippie-dippie New Age horse shit.

If the language in this quote has offended you, then please stop reading now and move on to reading something that will confirm your long held Christian beliefs and not cause you to think critically, do any self-examination, and continue to let you feel comforted, “right”, and absolutely certain about your long held Christian beliefs.

If, however, you have at any time found yourself questioning any Church teachings you have received, if you struggle reading the Bible literally, and if you have been rejected from a congregation or rejected a congregation yourself, and find many Christian beliefs “unbelievable” even from a “faithful” point of view, then keep reading. Perhaps VanHall’s book is for you, too.

VanHall states that his book is about “…theological discoveries that led me away from toxic fundamentalism.” He also admits that his transformation was not instantaneous. It took years of self-examination, I call this critical thinking and reflection focused on doubts about the Bible and about doctrine and dogma of the Church, eye-opening encounters, and research. Committed to honest transparency, I call that authenticity and vulnerability in relationships with people, along with using “colorful four-letter adjectives” are all a part of this book.

The story from VanHall’s past concerning his grandfather’s death (who had lived a long life) gives a description of his American Christianity of the toxic evangelical fundamentalism variety that caused him to believe that his own sinfulness caused his prayers to God for the healing of his grandfather to go unanswered. Therefore, according to the teaching and preaching he had been indoctrinated with by the Church, he was the cause of his grandfather’s inability to be healed and to continue to live a healthy life. Like me and too many others, guilt, loss, and shaming were the ways the Church had taught him to be a faithful American Christian. To which he admits that that way of teaching and preaching for too many people, like me, will say, “Me Too”, to borrow another movement name that has transformed a lot of powerful and famous people’s lives in the past year or two. VanHall tells us that is what Christians are to be about—being transformed and being a part of transforming others in hospitable, kind, and loving ways.

VanHall unpacks, seminary graduates like me call it “exegeting” scripture”, several scripture passages from the ancient Greek source language along with using culture and context of the scripture (this is just some the research, I’m sure, that was part of his transformation) in his book. In the passage about Saul’s transformation in the book of Acts, he names Ananias as the hero, not Saul who became Paul. VanHall emphasizes the courage, the faith, and conviction that Ananias, a devout, practicing, faithful Jew, had to have to go to Saul and risk his life to help him. I will add that Saul’s/Paul’s transformation also took time. It, too, was not instantaneous, as scripture states he spent three years in the desert (Abrabia) before returning to take on his self-proclaimed role of being the Apostle to the Gentiles. VanHall points out that Saul/Paul never met Jesus. He met the Risen Christ. I add that Paul wrote about the Cosmic/Universal Christ who is much larger and much more life encompassing than limiting Paul to the Jesus whom Jesus’ disciples knew.

Be an Ananias, VanHall states. I say that Ananias would encourage us to leave the empire “battle mode” of American Christianity, AKA, “Onward Christian Soldiers” who throughout mostly Western Christianity’s history and tradition, have fought wars, killed, tortured, conducted inquisitions, led Crusades, robbed/stolen land from North American and South American Native Indians, excluded people from Church based on their gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity all in the name of the Christian God of the cathedrals/church buildings that must be maintained, worship in rock band concert style that must be supported with money for special effects that produce emotionalism and good feelings, and supported by tithing to continue this “tradition”.

This model of Church has been broken, cannot be and should not be maintained, and will never sustain Christianity into the future. I agree with VanHall on this judgment. If you have ever read or wanted to read Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Diana Butler Bass, Brennan Manning, Brian McLaren, Nadia Boltz Weber, N. T. Wright or Shane Claiborne (just some of the authors along with specific books they have written that VanHall lists further reading at the end of his book), then you may well enjoy reading VanHall’s book. If you have ever been called a heretic, as I have, then read this book; and go and do what VanHall is doing and invites us to join in doing too:

            The Church has forgotten its purpose and replaced its historical mandate with ridiculous customs and beliefs that are far from biblical. If we can illuminate the dichotomy between evangelical messiah and historical Jesus within our communities, then perhaps we can take our rightful place in  the frontlines of the resistance and be the collective catalyst for change that a broken world has been longing for.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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