Tom Krattenmaker is part of a growing conversation centered at Yale University that acknowledges—and seeks to address—the abiding need for meaning and inspiration in post-religious America. What, they ask, gives a life meaning? What constitutes a life well led?
In Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower, Krattenmaker shares his surprising conclusion about where input and inspiration might best be found: in the figure of Jesus. And Jesus, not only as a good example and teacher, but Jesus as the primary guide for one’s life.
Drawing on sociological research, personal experience, and insights from fifteen years studying and writing on religion in American public life, Krattenmaker shows that in Jesus, nonreligious people like himself can find unique and compelling wisdom on how to honor the humanity in ourselves and others, how to build more peaceful lives, how generosity can help people and communities create more abundance, how to break free from self-defeating behaviors, and how to tip the scales toward justice.
In a time when more people than ever are identifying as atheist or agnostic, Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower is a groundbreaking and compelling work that rediscovers Jesus–and our own best selves–for the world of today.
Before I mention anything else: if you are a professing, practicing Christian, this is probably not the book for you. Krattenmaker is not a Christian himself, and is open about this. He evens explicitly mentions that since he is not a Christian, he is fine with taking parts of a whole from the Jesus story and learning from those parts alone (ie, not in context with the entirety of the Bible). He tries to take more of a historical, sociological perspective than an internal one. But if it is against your beliefs to study the Jesus story this way, this book will likely make you more angry than anything.
That said, I enjoyed this. Krattenmaker takes Jesus out of the Christian context and studies what has been written about him in order to gain some perspective for his own life. The book is separated into topics such as sexuality, religious tolerance, and politics, and Krattenmaker uses specific anecdotes from the Gospels to illustrate how Jesus reacted to different situations. The overall message is that Jesus acted differently than most humans tend to. While we separate the world into “us” versus “them,” Jesus didn’t see it that way, and treated everyone individually. In his eyes, every single person had value, and he interacted with them as such. That, Krattenmaker says, is what all humans should strive for.
So if I liked it, why did I just give it 3 stars? For starters, Krattenmaker tends to repeat himself. Some things do bear repeating, but it felt to me like he kept restating the same few ideas over and over. Perhaps this is because he used only 4 books from the Bible — the Gospels — but then, this makes sense because those are the only primary accounts of Jesus’ actual life. The rest of the Bible deals with events before and after. So even though I liked what Krattenmaker had to say, I found myself skimming the book after the first few pages of each chapter.
As for the final verdict, I would recommend this to anyone struggling with religion or lack of it. This book can be used as a jumping-off point for those who are floundering. It highlights the fact that Jesus really is a great example for everyone, even if the Christian church isn’t always. If taken to heart, the principles detailed allow for the better understanding of others, and that’s never a bad thing. This is something I would even give to a Christian who is disheartened or dissatisfied with their faith. Taking Jesus out of the religious context, while definitely not orthodox, can be a good reminder of why Christianity began in the first place.
This book was provided to me for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review. Image from Goodreads.