According to an unscientific Twitter poll I saw, only about 14% of ex-JWs still consider themselves Christian. Well over 80% were in the agnostic/athiest camp. That makes sense in a way. I mean, if your taught your whole life that you have the one true religion and everyone else is false and easily refutable with scriptures, then once YOUR religion is proved false – where does that leave you? So it makes logical sense to go down the ‘I guess there is no God’ path and just content yourself with science and cultivating more compassion for our common humanity. If that is you, I get it. Religon and the institutions behind them are just so toxic.
However, for me, despite the pain that my former religion had (and continues to have) on me, I knew “that Jesus had never hurt me.” (Quote from a book on this list)
As I explored different styles and beliefs of the Christian world I found beauty in various forms. I also found hurtful and painful similarities with my former JW beliefs in places. But as I continued to search for a resting place for my soul, I discovered that it is possible to love Jesus and at the same time reject the hurtful elements of the intitutions that claim to represent him. The following is a list of books that saved my faith (Note: this is not an exhaustive list, just the ones off the top of my head that made the biggest impact on me):
Shameless: A Sexual Reformation by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Warning! Do NOT start with this book if you still are close in belief with JWs or Evangelicals. I spent the first third of this book being pissed off at the auther for ‘daring to disregard the Bible‘. Even in the introduction Nadia makes the claim that, in regard to traditional views on sexuality, we need to “burn it the fuck down.” Its a hard pill to swallow if you are not ready for it. However this tattoed, foul talking, Lutheran pastor has since become a major beacon of light to me. Im a huge fan and can now proudly lie and tell people my daughter was named after her!
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
This list wouldn’t be complete without a contribution by the late RHE. Even though her work, including this book, came to me later than the rest on this list, it had a fantastic impact on me. If you struggle with loving the Bible, or have problems with it’s inherent problems (misogyny, bigotry, genocide), your not alone. Rachel lays out a fresh and honest take on how to view the scriptures. She explains how to be inspired by them and still not be so…….fundamental about them.
The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion By NT Wright
Suprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church By NT Wright
Okay time for some heavy hitters. These two books by Anglican bishop NT Wright are not for lightweights, but they should not be bypassed. He lays out radical new ways to understand some of the key teachings of Christianity. In The day the Revolution Began, he diacusses what was acutually accomplished by Jesus dying. Was God really punishing Jesus for our sins? Are we looking at the story wrong? This book is complicated and packed with Greek words and fancy theological terms, if you make it to the end you deserve a medal. However if you struggle at the concept of a blood-thirsty God demanding what amounted to child sacrifice in order to ‘save us’, then wade into the deep end with this book.
In Suprised by Hope, Wright again goes against the grain of mainstream Christianity – this time arguing that the whole concept of ‘going to heaven when we die’ is not actually scriptually sound. Part of his theme will be familiar to JWs in that he spends a lot of time talking about living on Earth and having a bodily resurrection to life here, not in heaven. However its so much richer and deeper than you’ll get in any Watchtower. He discusses what happens to the soul after death, but more importantly, he deals with how we should be looking after one another and the Earth NOW. How living presently in the ‘Kingdom of God’ means we are actively trying to help make our world better (not just wash our hands of everything and wait around to let God fix everything like JWs think).
Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who has Ever Lived By Rob Bell
Considered a major heretic today by most evangelicals today, Rob Bell delivers a powerful case for whats basically Universalism, a belief that God will eventually save EVERYONE. An easy to read book (too easy, maybe?), it lays out scripture after scripture on God’s love for us. If belief in Hell, Judgement, and overall dickish nature of God has caused you to want nothing to do with religion, read this book. Salvation is for everyone!
Lies We Believe About God By WM Paul Young
Author of The Shack, this book is filled with dozens of short chapters each covering a different belief about God that needs to be reexamined. Easy to digest and wonderfully thought-provoking, this is tidal wave of different views to challenge you (I mean, this is the same guy that portrayed God as a large black woman named Papa in The Shack). Some ‘lies’ he discusses are, ‘God Loves You but doesn’t like you’, ‘God is good I am not’, ‘God is a Christian’, ‘God is a He’, ‘You need to get saved’, ‘Not everyone is a child of God’, and ‘God is a prude’.
Seeking Allah Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity By Nabeel Qureshi
This one is a bit different from the rest. It is a true story of a former Muslim’s conversion to Christianity. It made a big impact on me because I had also made a vast change theologically. It covers a lot of Islamic history and beliefs, so it wont be an easy read for some. Seeing Christianity through his eyes for the first time is amazing. And while he ends up more on the Evangelical spectrum of Christianity instead of the Progressive side where I am, it is still worth the read. Hearing him struggle with his faith and slowely realize that he had to change, then being somewhat shunned from his family because it is powerful. I was hooked right from the dedication of the book. He dedicated to his parents with the hope that “one day we can be a family again”.
Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History By Rodney Stark
Okay so this is not a book of theological ideas. Its a history book. But wow, this was eye-opening! Coming from a JW background you develop a deep loathing of the Catholic church, so knowing and bringing up things like the crusades, the inquisition, and science denying is second hand. This book blows those and other anti-catholic ideas from history out of the water. This is thoroughly researched and transparent. And before you think that this is some Catholic trying to whitewash history (which I did at first), this final line in the introduction sent chills up my spine: “I am NOT a Roman Catholic, I did not write this book in defense of the Church, I wrote this in defense of history.” After reading this book I began to read several others about Catholic teachings and really fell in love with the church. While I have since moved beyond that, I very nearly converted to Catholicism, and still have warm feelings about it.
A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That are Transforming the Faith By Brian Mclaren
This is a collection of ten essays that transform the way you think. From challenging the basic plot of the Bible that you think you know , to the way you think about God, Jesus, and the Bible, it is a reset button on Christian faith. Conservative (Evangelical) Christians have stained and discredited Christianity, and this book shows how beautiful it can be. And you don’t have to be an asshole to believe. This is Christianity for the modern age, and any book that people describe as controversial is worth a read.
The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending the Scriptures Has Made Us Unable to Read it By Peter Enns
This was the book that demolished my view that the Bible was the 100% inspired and inerrant word of God. Because let’s face it, the Bible doesn’t always behave very well. But this is not a take-down of faith, only of a fanatical devotion to a book with a lot of problems, but still should be read for the beauty it contains. Actually reading the Bible for what it is, a collection of stories about peoples struggles with God and faith makes you love it even more. It debunks well known Biblical stories like Noah’s flood and the splitting of the Red Sea, and deals with the wholesale violence and genocide in an honest way. More than however, it makes you realize that God loves stories, and he let’s his people tell those stories. And sometimes those people are a little fucked up.
Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others By Barbara Brown Taylor
One of the last books I have read recently, this book talks about appreciating the beauty of other people’s faith. The author covers the five great religions on the planet (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) and through her experiences as a Episcopal priest and a University professor of World Religions, she explains the love and envy she has cultivated for other’s faith.
Heretic Happy Hour podcast
So not a book I know, but this has really helped me see that I’m not alone and its okay to be called a heretic (I think every author on this list has been called one). So dont be afraid to think different and drink up fellow heretics! Oh and they curse.