Lutheran professor Jacqueline A. Bussie’s Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the “Rules” reads like an infomercial for the purported latest and greatest form of “just be you” faith and new club: Outlaw Christians. She writes:
Outlaw Christianity: (noun)
- a new, life-giving faith for those who ache for a more authentic relationship with God and other people by no longer having to hide their doubt, anger, grief, scars, or questions
- an honest, outside-the-law faith for those seeking a hope that really speaks to the world’s hurt (p.xi)
Bussie rightly pushes back against the notions many have of not being able to be really in honest in some Christian circles, having to hide anger, doubt, and scars in the midst of real pain and uncertainty; however, the path taken in this book is not one to recommend. In order to travel this path, one must, as Bussie has, redefine a number of terms to create this new faith club. Rather than revere the Almighty, Bussie encourages the reader to bring God down to a human level as she does, stating that God learns and grows with us, comparing her relationship with him to an angry married couple in which both sides are flawed people just trying to figure things out and get along.
I concur that we can learn from people not like us, even other religions; but if it is not ultimately God honoring and glorifying then it is of no use. However, Bussie seems to take this a bit further down an apparent path of universalism when she writes about our “brothers and sisters of other religions” (137) and redefines sin by stating, “To keep things simple as well as practical and concrete, I now define evil and sin as anything we say, do, or believe (or fail to say, do, or believe) that robs us of our humanity or the earth of its dignity” (129). The emphasis of this book is certainly on oneself and being honest about one’s humanity, reveling in doubt and sharing each other’s pain and suffering, for which Bussie claims there is no other meaning than that it is shared. She reminds her reader that something isn’t sin if it’s honest; so be honest because that’s authentic and authenticity attracts.
So, while being honest and attempting to attract others to this new club of “outlaws” that is said to include Job, Jesus, and God, Bussie demonstrates where she’s really at with God when she states that he “carries a dead child, and that child is Jesus, and all of us too” (157). No, Jesus is risen! Yes, there is suffering, but there’s so much more that can be helpful for potential readers than to bring God completely down to an utterly flawed human level and say something like “he’s just like us, so he understands.” He understands, and has conquered!
To be fair, there are also small sections in the book that praise God and his love, but I think Bussie’s experience with her mother’s suffering and passing is still eating away at her and is the lens through which she sees her life, her students, and the rest of the world. Yes, we are called to participate in changing the world (examples of which are included in the final chapter and may or may not be helpful for a Christ follower), but it is in Christ that we should have our identity, and it is through and for him that we are able.
Given the poor exegesis and evaluation of the book of Job in the second chapter, I would not have gone any further had I not agreed to review this book. However, having finished it in its entirety, I can say that my concerns about its direction were validated. In its sincere desire to help and encourage struggling Christians or those who have been pushed away by hypocrisy, it can be even more damaging than the things it attempts to correct.
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