One of the fun perks of blogging and being known as a book nerd is being approached to review books. I don't have time or interest to read everything that comes my way but every once in awhile the stars align.
I agreed to review the book Fundamorphosis: How I Left Fundamentalism But Didn't Lose My Faith for a few reasons. First, the bulk of my church experience until age 18 had traces of fundamentalism. They might not have claimed to be fundamentalist but this is where I learned the supposed do's and don'ts of Christianity, from the charismatic church of my childhood to my Baptist youth group. I've been untangling those roots ever since.
Second, while I've never attended an emerging church, I do believe the movement saved my faith. If not for Brian McLaren's willingness to think outside the box, if not for my friend Andy who showed me what Christianity could look like, if not for so many other good people and authors...I was frighteningly close to walking away from organized religion altogether. It's not that the emerging church gets it right 100% of the time but that they're willing to explore faith from another angle and seemingly more accepting of those of us on the outskirts.
Third, when I hear "theology," my default is snooooore, bo-ring. It doesn't keep my attention. Yes, it's important to know what you believe and why. I have informed opinions of my belief system. It often seems theology leads to arguing, splits, exclusions, and so on. I don't see the point in that. Truth be told, I can see every side of every story (hello INFJ!). I am content with mystery when it comes to many facets of faith. Several years ago, friends and I formed the Dead Theologians Society and discussed chapters from the (dry, not at all easy to read) tome Systematic Theology. I loved our little group because we were seeking understanding, not division. This is the closest I could get to making peace with theological debate.
Ryerse has legitimate fundamentalist street cred: his grandfather founded a denomination. Pastoring was in his blood. We learn about Ryerse's life in a non-linear fashion but it is quickly apparent he was not cut from the same cloth as his family. For one, he asked questions. The kind that don't usually have neat and clean answers, at least not outside church circles. For another, he tried to change the fundamentalist church he pastored.
Ryerse becomes the square peg to fundamentalism's round hole and neither the twain shall meet. As Ryerse's story unfolds, we see how this gap affected his spirit and why it ultimately led to him leaving fundamentalism. It did not come without cost. Fundamentalism goes beyond church attendance: it impacts work, friends, family, and every facet of life. While there was much to gain in leaving, he also had much to lose.
With each chapter, we see Ryerse's pastoral side emerge. He's not telling us his story to bash fundamentalism or challenge Christianity but to open room for dialogue, speak grace to hurting hearts, and invite us to partake in a living, breathing theology. That last bit is what I most appreciated about the book.
Ryerse says "the purpose of theology is to transform us" (p. 162). He makes important distinctions about various beliefs and theological terms. I bookmarked quite a few pages for further reflection.
He peels back the layers of fundamentalism, of Christianity itself, and allows it to breathe. And in turn, our faith is released from fear. While he alludes to his new church throughout the book and offers more information toward the end, I wish he would have talked more about how church planting came about and what all was involved in the decision, especially why he chose the emergent church movement. I would have enjoyed hearing more of his story in general. The subtitle of the book made me think Fundamorphosis would have more of a storytelling format, instead of a Christian living or Theology bent. His story is certainly in there but Ryerse's aim seems to be providing an overview of how faith can flourish outside of fundamentalism, which is much needed.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has experienced a fundamentalist church, who is wary of the emergent church movement, or who perhaps like me feels "meh" about theology. Ryerse doesn't bash his past church experience; he is actively part of the solution and open to the ways God would use him. He could have easily turned his back on Christianity altogether or conversely gone through the motions at his old church. I admire his convictions and willingness to admit he doesn't have all the answers.
I admire his invitation for us to all move forward in faith.
Do you study theology? What are you reading these days?
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Disclosure: I was provided a free copy of Fundamorphosis with no expectation that I would provide a positive review. The thoughts, opinions, and reactions are entirely my own.