It is rare that I read a book with which I so immensely resonate yet so profoundly disagree. I was lucky to recently be in the States for some conferences – and one of the books I picked up was David Gushee’s Still Christian: Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism. I’d not actually come across Gushee before encountering some American Christians (literally – I’d grown up as a conservative evangelical baptist in the UK, studied theology at undergraduate level at a ‘secular’ university and then a Masters’ degree at a theological college – and it took a controversy on another continent to get me to read his textbook!) – engaged in some important conversations. I’m glad I did – as Gushee thinks carefully and reads widely – but I was also surprised (throughout this book especially) at the way that came across.
This book is basically Gushee’s account of his own journey – following Jesus – through life, interwoven with his perspective on evangelicalism and American culture/politics. If you haven’t come across Gushee before, however (Which, in my experience, is due to the American focus of his life/work/book) this book is still well worth reading. This is a book that does what it says on the tin – and one that I’m sure people will try to extrapolate all sorts of things from in the future. If you can get past the number of ‘I’s (Which is reasonably, given that it is someone writing about themselves) then this is actually a very well written and thoughtful book. The author has kept journals throughout his life – and the vulnerability displayed in sharing them is noteworthy and honourable. As well as this, I did appreciate the way that Gushee is – at least in this book – very irenic about those with whom he disagrees, which is not always the case.
As autobiographies go, I’m confused as to why someone would write one before retirement. I struggled throughout with the ‘I’ language – as both an example of individualism and a paradigm of the way Gushee seems to thinks. I would note that if you aren’t interested in distinctly American evangelicalism/christianity, then this book is not going to make a lot of sense. I genuinely think it is worth putting a health warning on books like this, in terms of the
Who is this book for? I often read and review books with this question at the front of my mind. As I read this book, I fluctuated wildly between two very different audiences. Firstly, I thought this was a book for people who have also left one kind/form of faith and are searching for another. However, I don’t think this particularly is for that audience – rather that it is a book for people who already agree with Gushee on some of the more contentious issues of our time, and want a narrative that supports what they think. This isn’t, in my opinion, a book that is going to change anyones mind. Secondly, as I read it, I realised that actually this book is for people like me. Whilst a niche market, this is a book that offers one perspective on the balance of loving the church and loving the intellectual life, a balance between following Jesus and being part of any given church. It is also a fascinating story of one person honestly seeking to follow Jesus – and the way that the events of life (whether job changes, success, or death) impact that walk. It was sobering to note – in common with Ken Wilson, author of A Letter to My Congregation, that around the time of a shift in thinking on one particular issue, Gushee was wrestling with a bereavement. This is a very raw book – but sitting removed from the person it is also a fascinating examination of how people change, and what remains important to them.
Overall, then, this is a difficult book to review. I read it voraciously, but I’m not sure who I could recommend it to. As I say, it helped me see some things from Gushee’s perspective – but at the same time it is so distinctly American that maybe this is a book for our transatlantic cousins only. I’ll keep the book on my shelf – and be pondering some things from the book as I attempt to follow Jesus, whilst remaining an evangelical in a very different sense from the religion in this book.