Friday, July 27, 2012
Confessions of a Bible Thumper by Michael Camp was both a fun, quick, enjoyable read and a difficult, personal history resurrecting, thought provoking book. It is part memoir of how Camp got into and out of conservative American Evangelicalism with his Christianity intact, and part deconstructive analysis of the cultural and social opinions that are considered de rigueur for the true believer. The early part of the book is more memoir and is much more loosely constructed, more like reading a blog than a book--even the editing is sloppier--but as the book continues, the structure tightens up considerably, the vocabulary improves and the editing is much cleaner. It felt as if the book had been designed from a series of shorter, more intellectual, well-researched articles or lectures and strung together with folksy jaunts down memory lane, then tied up in neat chapters with contrived conversations with conveniently progressive and liberal Christian friends in the brew-pub.
That was the down-side of the this book. Once I got over my snobbish dislike of what I consider the over-used device of the fake conversation in self-help (especially Christian self-help) books, I actually really enjoyed this book. Michael Camp's journey through Christianity mirrors mine at so many points that I almost could have been reading my own story. The easiest to read and certainly the most fun blast-to-my-past was the container story set in the microbrewery in Silverdale, Washington. My family and I used to live in Silverdale, walking distance from the Silver City Brewery in which the aforementioned conversational tidbits occur. I've even raised a glass and downed a burger there when it was still just a burger joint. We had a lot of laughs together, snuggled on the couch and peering at Google Earth in the laptop, "omigosh, remember that green belt we used to look out at from our deck? It's a grocery store now!" and "holy cow, look at what went in there!" and, "hey, right there, that's the apartment you were born in, there's a hospital just up the street now."
And then the memories of trying to find a church home in Silverdale when we moved there as a newly married Navy couple. Camp's descriptions of the churches in the area make it sound as though not much has changed in the decade-and-a-half since we were church-shopping. We finally gave up in frustration. If only we'd stayed in the brew-pub a few years longer and Michael Camp had arrived a few years sooner, we might still be willing to consider ourselves Christians--though certainly Christians as on the fringe as Camp and his brew pals.
As the memoir dug a little deeper into Camp's history, I thought of my own days as the preacher's kid, the one trying so hard to live just right as a witness to my public high school classmates. I went to more than one of those big sell-out-to-Jesus conferences--none so large as Explo '72 that Camp attended in Texas but Love Europe '89 was only a slightly smaller European version followed by two weeks of street evangelism at sites across Germany. I'm sure I was that girl who curled my lip and tossed my hair in disdain at people who smoked cigarettes, drank beer and had the temerity to think themselves truly saved!
Although even then, and for some years before that, the issues that Camp raises--inclusion, inerrancy, legalism, abortion, apocalypticism, evolution, sexuality, and universalism--had been nagging doubts lurking in my head. Granted, my bigger questions as a teenaged girl and young woman in the Church were gender roles, feminism, authoritarian power structures, and exactly why couldn't I offer a prayer in our Spirit-led service but my brother could? It was hard to read through this book and see my old confused but prejudiced self, arrogantly certain of all the answers even as I secretly doubted even the most basic of the taught truths.
Perhaps if I had read this book back in the Eighties, I might have realized decades sooner that there are many more legitimate expressions of authentic Christianity than my fundamentalist Evangelical upbringing allowed. I might have never felt that I had to leave Christianity altogether in order to find God. Then again, perhaps not.
I would hope that a copy of this book finds its way into every church library, trendy-named evangelism-themed coffee shop, and onto the bookshelves of every small group leader, Sunday School teacher, and spiritual director. Because every Christian who longs for their fidelity to the Way of Jesus to have meaning beyond the social networking possibilities will one day, sooner rather than later, confront every single one of these questions. Camp provides a template for how to go about thinking through the questions, directions for where to get more information and better research than can be provided in this book, and hope that love can be the gold standard of Christian living rather than rules, dogma, and cultural knee-jerk lockstep.
See also, the book's website, Michael Camp's blog, and a video promo of the book. Also available as a Kindle edition.
I was compensated in advance for this review with a pdf copy of this book regardless of my published opinions of it.