Monday, December 15, 2014

Review of "Faith Shift" by Kathy Escobar

I was attracted to the title Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart by Kathy Escobar because my own Christian beliefs have evolved significantly since I first fell in love with Jesus in high school, and I suspect I'm not quite done shifting yet. Because of my past, I related to Escobar's own unnerving journey away from a belief system that once sustained her and framed her entire life. Through her new church plant, The Refuge, and her website, Escobar has learned the stories of hundreds of Christians who, though psychologically married to a church culture that requires adherence to an extensive set of beliefs and practices, are desperate for a a change. With these stories in mind, Escobar invites readers to "consider the possibility that your soul is not at risk," as they shed those once deeply-held convictions.

Perhaps because my own shift has been gradual, I found the first half of the book difficult to really embrace. Escobar reaches out to those who began as Christians and have shifted to spiritual-but-not-Christian, agnostic or even atheist. She offers multiple examples of ex-pastors becoming atheists as they heal from an abusive church setting. I expected this book to be about a shift in faith, rather than a complete severing of one's faith; however, "Severing" is actually one of the points on Escobar's diagram depicting the process of shifting.

For example, Fiona is a former pastor's wife who has dabbled with atheism, agnosticism and Christian agnosticism since a crisis of faith. To this, Escobar asserts, "Regardless of which label she wears on a particular day, the crucial truth she has needed to embrace for her healing is that she really is okay. No matter what she believes, she is going to be all right" (113). Since Escobar doesn't qualify or explain this sentiment, I felt pretty uncomfortable and wondered where where she would finally land. I'm guessing many readers who turn to the book in an attempt to salvage their Christian faith would also be troubled by this.

Because it contains so many anecdotes of those who completely left Christianity, the first half of the book seemed to present a contradictory message: Believe what you want to believe in order to heal from abuse or legalism or burn-out. Do what you need to do to recover emotionally, physically and spiritually. Question your long-held beliefs without fear because it will lead you to a deeper faith. Except when it doesn't. Which is also OK.

I just couldn't get OK with this message. But, fortunately, I didn't have to for long. If things were completely foggy a few pages before, Escobar makes it clear, "I am not promoting walking away from God" (115). And beginning in chapter 10, which discusses "The Stage of Rebuilding," I found the much needed glimpses of hope Escobar promises in her introduction. Here, Escobar beautifully articulates many things I've longed for in my own faith journey, such as a "desire for freedom, mystery and diversity -- instead of certainty, conformity or affiliation" (127). She proposes a Christian life that sees the world through a filter of "hopeful realism," honoring to those we meet from the "fused faith" of our past, accepting of our own doubts and expectantly open to new possibilities.

Escobar also encourages shifters to consider what remains of our previous faith, because each remaining essential belief is like a "treasured gem" that can illuminate a simple path forward (143). She offers the following sentence stem as a template for hashing out the diamonds: "Despite my doubt, I still believe ____________________" (146). In chapter 12, "Finding What Works," she provides plenty of examples of ways to connect with God that might be outside readers' previous church tradition. Trying a new prayer practice or reading books or bible versions considered taboo in one's former circle can be particularly freeing, Escobar writes, because it's less likely to trigger old memories, habits and shame.

The book closes with more resources, such as tips for those who find themselves shifting while their spouse is not, those concerned about their children's nascent faith during a parent's shift and non-shifters looking for ways to connect with friends or family members who are shifting. Additionally, a nice fat reading list of memoirs, theology and spirituality had me on Amazon looking up future reads.

I would tentatively recommend Faith Shift to someone who is really at a crossroads in their faith, but feels alone in the process. Despite Escobar's emphasis on the full process of Fusing, Shifting, Unraveling, Severing and Rebuilding, I would probably recommend that readers who are disenchanted with religion but still in love with Jesus, skim the first nine chapters and jump right to the good stuff of Rebuilding.

*Thanks to Blogging For Books for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.*

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