Thursday, December 2, 2010

From The Outside Looking In

I believe there is wisdom in perspective - many perspectives. Every now and again, it's healthy to see how others see Christianity - from the outside looking in. I finished two books recently that gave two "outside" perspectives on Christianity and the Church. The first is fictional, the second is a first-person account.

How To Be Good (Nick Hornby) follows a family's upheaval when the wife cheats, and her husband has a spiritual conversion. It's a rather depressing book (not the first depressing British novel I've read, either), and a rather raw look at a damaged marriage. I even considered giving up on it. But after learning of the spiritual element, I forced myself to finish it. The unfaithful wife wants to reconcile and is perturbed by her husband's selfless-ness. She asks herself throughout what it really means to "be good." In one scene she thinks reflectively about her desire to attend church again. I was struck by her honesty about her ideal church service:

It's the lack of conviction I want, of course. I was hoping for a mild, doubtful liberal, possibly a youngish woman, who would give a sermon about, say, asylum seekers and economic migrants, or maybe the National Lottery and greed, and then apologize for bringing up the subject of God. And somehow in the process I would be forgiven for my imperfections.

In The Land Of Believers (Gina Welch) is a step down from a church expose. Gina, an atheist Jew, spent two years at Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC) in Lynchburg, Virginia to better understand the Evangelical Christian faith. She describes her intent:

My hope for this book is that it will provide readers with a vivid portrait of evangelical hearts and minds to eclipse the old, broad caricatures; that people like me-people who bristle at public prayer or roll their eyes when someone asks if they've heard the Good News-might find in my book ways of accepting and connecting to Evangelicals.

Others have gone undercover at churches - and at TRBC, too. There's another book that came out around the same time - one that I haven't read, but appears to put not-so-nice a slant his experience at Jerry Falwell's Baptist church. It's called The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University.

Gina is newly arrived in Washington, D.C this year as a lecturer at George Washington University. As such, she's been interviewed by Brightest Young Things and Washington Life magazine, where you can learn more about her experience.


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