Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor out in Denver, Colorado. She has recently come out with a new book entitled “Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People“. I have not read it, but from what I am reading about it, it seems to me like a very compelling read.
There are some things about Bolz-Weber and her story which will naturally plunge the evangelical gag reflexes into overdrive. The tattoos and the foul language may be a bit much for some readers. The progressive politics for which her strain of Lutheranism is known, is something I can do without. And the fact that she is a female pastor in a church that ordains female pastors–well, that is enough to push many evangelical sensibilities completely and totally over the edge. But if you can stick with her, you will find a tale of raw, unvarnished grace in the most unexpected places from one who is desperately aware of her need for God.
Challies has read the book, but that is not what he saw. Instead, what he sees is someone who is monumentally unqualified to hold the office of pastor:
Let me say it candidly: Bolz-Weber has no business being a pastor and, therefore, no business writing as a pastor. She proves this on nearly every page of her book. Time and again she shows that she is woefully lacking in godly character. Her stories, her word choice, her interactions with her parishioners, her temper, her endlessly foul mouth, her novel interpretations of Scripture—they lead to the alarming and disturbing picture of a person who does not take the office seriously enough to ask if she is qualified to it.
Okay. I haven’t read the book. But I can tell you right now: It takes a HELLA big leap of imagination to get from “She has tattoos, she uses a lot of bad words, and her politics isn’t exactly my thing” to “She does not take the office of pastor seriously and therefore has no business being a pastor.” One does not, of necessity, follow from the other, and it takes a great deal of creativity to make a case that it does.
Not content to quit while he’s ahead, Challies continues:
…the religion she describes bears little resemblance to Christianity, at least as the Bible describes it. And this, I suppose, is her point: She wants to recreate the Christian faith and make it palatable to the twenty-first-century culture. To do this she uses the Bible when and how it suits her, but without any consistency. She casts doubt on the miraculous and supernatural. She affirms homosexuality and transgenderism. She teaches a form of universalism. She outright denies all kinds of central Christian doctrines including, of course, Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice (which she mocks like this: “God gathers up all our sin, all our broken-ass junk, into God’s own self and transforms all that death into life. Jesus takes our crap and exchanges it for his blessedness.”). What remains in the end has only the barest, weakest, blandest hint of Christianity left.
Again I say: It takes a HELLA big leap of imagination to get from “She has tattoos, she uses a lot of bad words, and her politics isn’t exactly my thing” to “She does not take the office of pastor seriously and therefore has no business being a pastor.” I don’t know if she affirms, denies, or teaches any of the things Challies says she does. I suppose a case can be made that she does, if one reads the book in a certain way. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know. But this reminds me of the illustration from Rob Bell’s book a couple of years back in which someone defaced a fellow believer’s artwork which featured poignant quotes from Gandhi on peacemaking with a post-it note that read “Reality check: Gandhi’s in hell”. It is like showing up at the funeral of a teenager who went around saying he was an atheist and telling everybody that he’s in hell and there is no hope for him. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know. But it seems to me that it takes an awful lot of imagination and creativity to get from whatever is in the book to what Challies is saying about it here.
Now Challies steps on the gas:
…This is yet another in a long line of books meant to appeal to those who want to bear the name of Christ but without becoming like Christ. It’s not that Bolz-Weber doesn’t have any interesting or even helpful insights into life, into sin, and into human nature. It’s just that her brand of Christianity confuses worldliness and godliness. No wonder, then, that the eager masses are lapping it up. Her God calls us to himself but then leaves us to be whoever and whatever we want to be.
Once more, with feeling: It takes a HELLA big leap of imagination to get from “She has tattoos, she uses a lot of bad words, and her politics isn’t exactly my thing” to “She does not take the office of pastor seriously and therefore has no business being a pastor.” Or in this case, to “Her brand of Christianity confuses worldliness and godliness. No wonder, then, that the eager masses are lapping it up.”
Again, I suppose it is possible to make read the book in a certain way and make a case for what Challies is saying here. But again, I have a sneaking suspicion that it takes a great deal of imagination and creativity to get from what is actually in the book to what Challies is saying about it. One would have to embrace a certain set of theological (or perhaps cultural-disguised-as-theological) presuppositions about what godly character and Christian growth are supposed to look like, and then remain so doggedly committed to those presuppositions that one misses all the evidence of actual godly character and Christian growth because it does not conform to said presuppositions.