A low-key invitation to the pleasures and reassurances of Christian church community.
Episcopal layperson van Keuren’s (Things Not Quite Past, 2015) slim nonfiction work is aimed at people who’ve been “driven, fatigued, or at least cordially ushered, out the church door”—that is, those who’ve been discouraged by the hidebound exclusivity or lack of imagination of some congregations. In the opening pages, the author expounds, at amusing length, on the occasional close-mindedness of some of these communities, in which “women were expected to stick with cooking fried chicken or tuna casseroles” and gays were expected to “confine themselves to making music or arranging flowers.” Van Keuren then goes on to lay out a basic version of the Christian faith that’s designed to welcome pretty much everybody. These sections expertly outline his ecumenical, humanist view of an inclusive, philosophical Christianity, with none of the fire-breathing absolutism of fundamentalism. He writes about the natures of prayer and sacrifice and of sin as a function of self-hatred: “We all know we can be self-destructive and do ourselves harm; we have all done it,” he writes. “That is sin, and it doesn’t require a single word, written or spoken, to make it so.” He veers away from offering a literal interpretation of the Bible and warns readers of the distinction between morality and respectability. Throughout, he always presents his own view of Christianity in smart, easygoing prose. The appendix, in which the author quickly and comprehensively takes readers through the books of the Bible, is a highlight. This book is not “the entire gospel in one neat meal,” van Keuren chides, but even so, it’s a very clear, highly accessible introduction to the basics of the Christian faith.
A short but gently persuasive interpretation of the appeals of modern-day Christianity.