Review: Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic

Jewish SkepticSome of you may follow Sarabeth Caplin’s blog on WordPress. A few weeks ago, she contacted me and asked if I would review her latest book, Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, which is releasing this Friday. And I said “Yes!” because I like what she writes and think this book would appeal to many readers of this blog.

To give some background, Sarabeth is a young Jewish woman who converted to Christianity in college. The book highlights her recent struggle to find a faith identity that both accommodates her Jewishness and finds acceptance in the evangelical world. Acceptance is hard enough to find anyway: as someone who wasn’t raised from birth in Christian culture, Sarabeth doesn’t speak the evangelical language and finds certain practices (such as praying aloud in groups) to be both problematic and uncomfortable. Arranged in a series of short vignettes or “thought pieces,” the book offers her thoughts on everything from evangelicalism’s love of pat answers and Facebook prayers, to religious appropriation and faith-based jewelry, to Jewish hair and her fear of being labeled apostate by both Christian and Jewish communities.

As someone coming from the other side of the equation–raised in Christianity but coming to the same conclusions–I found the book fascinating. For me, it was one of those rare “you don’t read the book; the book reads you” experiences. I related to so much. The book felt familiar, as if I had sat down to chat with a old friend. I kept finding passages I wanted to quote, and would read a particular part four times to try to burn it into memory. Here’s one:

“Here’s the thing I’ve noticed can happen when biblical disagreement is allowed to take place: it inspires more passionate and engaged study of the text to either rebut an argument or strengthen your own. When I’m told to just accept the words on the page, when I’m forbidden to wrestle with the text because ‘God said it, and that settles it,’ the wonder is gone. The curiosity and passion dwindles because there’s nothing to vigorously study when doubts and questions are forbidden. The Jewish model of learning is the one that keeps my faith alive, while the fundamentalist one stifles it” (pg. 100).

And then there’s little nuggets like this:

“The worship songs at church can be catchy, heart-stirring, and emotional, with lines that many people think outside of church, Christian or otherwise:

‘I’m nothing without him.’

‘I’m not good enough for him.’

‘How could he ever love someone like me?’

Aside from not being moved by crowds of people waving their arms and singing off-key in general, this is the next biggest reason why worship music doesn’t connect me with God: I have a problem when lyrics describing how God feels about me sound very similar to how my ex-boyfriend felt about me. If those lines above came from another human being, how many of us would feel an instinct to tell the person hearing them that she needs to leave?” (pg. 25).

I think this view of Christianity, one from a recent newcomer, is extremely valuable and something today’s pastors and Christian leaders should be reading. Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic challenges today’s evangelical culture and asks, “Is this really the gospel that we believe?” Good stuff.

Sarabeth also talks about her experience with an abusive boyfriend and the grief over the recent death of her much beloved father. She admits that she is still in the healing process, and that is evident in some of the personal insights she shares and how she shares them. People in a similar situation will appreciate the raw tone this brings to the book. Sarabeth is very open about who she is and what she feels–that she’s not perfect and doesn’t have everything figured out. This is not some empty platitude that I’ve heard uttered by countless self-righteous people “trying” to be humble, but a true, self-evident assertion. More conservative readers might accuse the author of being bitter, biting, or overly cynical in places, but Sarabeth’s honesty about where she is in her personal journey is both refreshing and relateable.

I hope to see a follow-up book from Sarabeth in 15 or 20 years that shares the outcome of her faith journey and the new insights she gleans. She’s a very thoughtful person being shaped by two different communities, so I’m sure it will be interesting. In the meantime, you can pre-order Sarabeth’s latest Confessions on Amazon for your Kindle.

Happy reading!

5 responses to “Review: Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic

  1. Hi Beth. Congratulations on the new book. I always read your comments with interest on assorted blogs. I will say just one thing. If you moved from a nice Jewish religious background into a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical church, you took the hardest possible road to hike—literally jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Something liberal United Methodist or Episcopal would have made the transition much more easy—I suspect. But hey, if you ever need a really novel dissertation topic, you may have one of the best ones ever conceived.

    I would just like to close by saying that I—for one—love and appreciate Jewish culture. Sometimes, I think we Christians forget that most of the characters in the Christian Bible are Jewish people—including Jesus. Some people seem to think that Jesus was born a Jewish person and died a Christian person. Fact is, Jesus was born Jewish, and he died Jewish. I think all Christians with reasonable and open minds could understand our Christianity better if we understood Jewish history and culture much better than we do. Maybe that would be a positive thing you could do in addition to your new book Everyone writes at a table with a light. Maybe you could be our table lamp and show us lifelong Christians how to better understand our Christian faith in overall Hebrew cultural and historical context. I think it would shed light on an enormous number of things—and pop a few soap bubbles in the process.

    Thank you Beth—and have a great Memorial Day weekend. You too April. .

    • The jump from Judaism to evangelicalism wasn’t on purpose, I assure you. Sadly I don’t have a better excuse to offer besides “It’s what all my friends were doing.” And I was so clueless, I thought all churches were the same.

      • Yes Beth, I understand. I grew up in a small Tennessee town filled to the brim with various stripes of baptists. I thought Christianity everywhere on planet Earth was not too much different from the way it was in my small town. Much to my surprise at about age 36, I began learning that the differences in Christian belief systems were anywhere from a little different to just plain extraordinary.

        This is not too much of a surprise to me now because I learned some early Christian history. Over much of the ancient Middle East in the decades after Jesus, individuals and small groups of people were trying rather desperately to answer for themselves in parallel just one question: “What are all these Jesus rumors and messages I am hearing about, what really occurred with this man, and what do they really mean for mankind—and me?” And so some unknown guy named Thomas sat down with his scroll, plume, and ink and started writing stuff kind of like:

        “I have heard much about this Yeshua of Nazareth, his miracles, and the story that he came back from the dead. I have though about this very much, and now I am going to tell you who I think this Yeshua was and what his presence among us was really all about.” Chances are many other people across the Middle East and in the Mediterranean world were doing the same thing, and their scrolls have been lost forever.

        For the first century or two, people were really struggling to sincerely understand the Jesus events and what they meant. So, I do not think it is unChristian for us to struggle with those same issues here and now in our particular time in history—and this is old—as you know doubt know from Judaism.

        I am reminded of the time when Jesus sneaked off to the Temple in Jerusalem at age 12 and was found there discussing faith issues with the scribes and elders. I have always had the impression, correct me if I am wrong, that Jewish scholars and rabbis regularly discuss and meditate on portions of scripture and what they mean—in a friendly debate sense where each person recognizes that they might be wrong and their best friend next to them might be right. However, everyone knows that the purpose and deep thought is to do exactly what Jesus said: “Seek and ye shall find—God and real faith .” I now think real faith is really a journey rather than settling into a cozy, doctrinaire, written-in-concrete hotel without even taking a journey of seeking.

        Just a few random thoughts.

  2. It is so very interesting the pathways that different lives follow. I was raised Penecostal and found my way to Judaism (which turned out to be my maternal grandmother’s faith) and when in Hebron had “the voice of God” give me my name…direct speaking being part of both traditions.
    I am happier than I could have ever believed possible, fully embracing that we are all children of creation and maximal expressions of love. And since the unified field theory brings oneness into the picture it’s complete for me. No separation possible.
    How joyful when we all discover that–and are free to express our worship in the ways that suit us best!

  3. Beth, I suppose the best way I can describe my experience w/Christianity is it’s something God brings you through as an individual. I believe the ONLY thing Christians have in common is believing on Christ as the Lamb of God to deal with our sin/crimes against God…from there, God deals with you personally through His written Word as led by the Holy Spirit to make you in the image of Christ.

    I’m not sure how you will deal with this, but it seems Jewish believers wish to hold on to their “Jewishness” when the Apostle Paul writes these that these distinctions no longer exist in Christ (Gal. 3.28) – EVERYONE is on equal footing in Christ. The Goy runs into the same issues: if they were raised Catholic, they want to hold on to the elements that identify them as Catholic (I was raised a conservative Lutheran and in the beginning, I confused elements of my Lutheranism with Biblical Christianity), etc…it’s all the same as there is nothing new under the sun.

    Worship music? Yeah, I get ya…I’ve never gotten anything out of the “Jesus is my boyfriend” music, I’m a hymns guy myself.

    I’m glad you made April’s blog, she’s good people, very authentic as far as that goes.