Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower by Tom Krattenmaker
The title alone piques the interest of most people interested in Jesus with the knowledge that we live in a secular society that has seemingly moved past a religion or religious rootedness. How does one both live squarely in the world, without the trappings of orthodox belief, and follow Jesus? Reporter and Columnist for USA Today Tom Krattenmaker, in his new book, Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower captures that sentiment as he seeks to follow the way of Jesus without holding to the teachings of one church or denomination. Many will know Tom from his other books, including The Evangelicals You Don’t Know, where he captured the spirit of evangelicals in a progressive world, highlighting the people working in Portland and the west coast.
In his chapter on Bad Company, Tom levels our gaze at those who Jesus ministered to and told stories about who were marginalized by their culture. In a winsome sort of way, Tom writes, “What do we do with the very real possibility that our own kind sometimes does the wrong thing, and the “other” kind sometimes does what’s right? (28) We too often don’t recognize that our kind does do the wrong thing, even in a habitual and continual way and the other, those who we deem evil or wrongheaded do the right thing. Tom points to the story of the Good Samaritan as a story in which the outcast ends up taking it upon himself to help, care for, and house a very badly beaten man. Tom goes onto quip, “…the Samaritan for us may be a young African American man in a hoodie, a Muslim woman wearing a burka, a redneck, a lesbian, a Southern Baptist, a transgendered person.” (28) Jesus didn’t have wrong people on his list but attitudes and actions that were cause for his anger. This kind of thinking and acting is important because it levels the playing field, seeing all people as made in God’s image and having inestimable worth, bringing to the table all kinds of talents, gifts, and resources.
After aiming his words at men and their unchecked lust after women that many times lead to immoral and ungodly behavior, Tom then turns our attention to how Jesus viewed and acted among the presence of women. He writes, “Jesus was downright profligate at times in his extension of love, warmth, and acceptance to women, even to women of questionable reputation.” (71) The strict hierarchical or cultural lines of separation between men and women were not followed by Jesus, and he even welcomed prostitutes and widows in his ministry. Jesus’ question of “Do you see this woman?” points harshly at the Pharisees who saw this woman as unclean and not worthy of being in their presence. Jesus acted in a fully compassionate manner toward woman that told them of their dignity and value despite what other thought about them.
I enjoyed Tom’s book immensely and even the section on what we are saved from, the notion that salvation and its consequences in our life can’t be relegated to a heaven looking view only. But, as we are saved, we are saved from a kind of material salvation where we nonstop run the race of gathering more, thinking that the accumulation of wealth, power, and stuff makes us who we are.
I agree with much of Tom’s words from his concern about America’s incarceration problem to his understanding of those who live in poverty and are considered the invisible. Yet, although I think it’s possible to seek a life of good and human flourishing without faith, I believe that the Jesus we find in the gospel accounts calls us to much more than justice and righteousness, but that he calls us to himself in a relationship and to others, i.e. the church. The good news of Jesus Christ, the hope of the gospel that Jesus saves us from our sins and brings us into fellowship with God the Father is of primary importance.
Thanks to Blogging for Books for this book in exchange for an honest review.