Some 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.