Sunday, February 08, 2015

Book Review: Hope After Faith

Hope After Faith: An Ex-Pastor's Journey from Belief to Atheism is an auto-biographical account by Jerry DeWitt.  I listened to the version, which is narrated by the author.

The story is told in the first person and the narration has an easy listening style.  You can tell the author is a professional speaker and the delivery is as comfortable as a conversation over coffee.

The narrative begins with Jerry as a teen, converting to Christ at a Jimmy Swaggart camp meeting. We then learn of his attempts in his early 20's at establishing a revival ministry as a traveling evangelist. Later, with wife and child, he begins to pastor at the congregational level.

What I found interesting is that we don't get to his deconversion until the last fifth of the book. Most of the book takes place during Jerry's time as a believer. During that telling, he offers the perspective as it was for him then. Very often, former believing authors write their memoirs in an almost autopsy-like fashion.  As they are describing their believing days, they process it through a level of deconstruction. Jerry does not do that. When you are reading about his time as a believer, you get a good look into the thinking process of a Pentecostal Christian.

I appreciated his story and his descriptions of how grueling deconversion can be. So often, believers tend to imagine us leaving faith for selfish reasons, or in anger.  Jerry describes a process where he worked feverishly at TRYING to stay in the faith. He TRIED to make it work. I relate completely.

It was disturbing to read the level of ostracization that Jerry had to endure. My family and I have been treated poorly at times, and have had the opportunity to see who are our true friends... but I have never feared for my job or felt such negative social pressure that we would consider moving to start a new life. It demonstrates that the deep religious South is almost a different America.

I first became aware of Jerry DeWitt through some of his talks on Youtube. I appreciated his positive delivery style, and his patience with the believing community.  His attitude and grace when interacting with believers is admirable and an approach I strive to emulate.

I highly recommend the book. Ex-believers will probably relate to a lot of his story, particularly if they have any Pentecostal flavorings in their background. Atheists who have always been such will get a good peek behind the believing curtain. I don't expect many believers would engage this book, but if they did, they would get an honest look at deconversion - which is probably very different than what they were taught to expect.

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