Do I Stay Christian? A Book Review
By Brandon Brown
Brian McLaren's newest work is a culmination of years of writing and growing as a disciple of Jesus. The subtitle of Do I Stay Christian is A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned and that is the primary audience for this book. As with any book, there are a multitude of secondary audiences. One of those audiences is the minister or teacher who will inevitably be confronted with individuals and families who find themselves in the groups of doubters, disappointed, or disillusioned. The phenomenon of those leaving Christianity in the U.S. is not a new phenomenon for most wealthy Western countries, but is newer to the U.S. because of some unique American demographics. This may be a challenging book for many, especially those who may not have struggled themselves or encountered those who are struggling. Just as many other aspects of American life, the Church is impacted by the current theo-political polarization, which has amplified issues.
Do I Stay Christian is structured such that it can be read in sequence or a section can be skipped. I would recommend not skipping unless one section is triggering or too disturbing. McLaren lays out three main sections which answer the fundamental question of the book. These sections are "No," "Yes," and "How." McLaren also includes several useful appendices which include how to get the most out of the book and "Do I Stay in My Denomination?" Both parts one and two contain ten chapters which walk the reader through the No and then Yes reasons. The No section may disturb some, especially if they have encountered toxic theologies or abuse. But for the minister, this section is important as an honest look at reasons one may not wish to remain Christian. These are not a list of excuses, but genuine experiences and ideas which are often harmful. Many end up leaving Christianity because these questions are treated without serious concern or ignored by church leaders. Failing to recognize and confront these parts of the Church in the present and past can lead to people leaving.
The Yes section contains reasons to remain Christian. This section highlights the good in the Church and those who are working to bring discipleship into Jesus and not ideologies. This section is hopeful and challenging as well because it seeks to answer the question as yes considering the no chapters. McLaren gives reasons to stay Christian because of positives which answer the negatives. It is not a recipe for staying despite the presentation of the no section, but deeper reasons to stay.
Finally, McLaren gives an eight chapter section on how to stay Christian. While the yes section gives reasons to stay, the how section gives ways to stay Christian. This section works as a companion to both the yes and the no. Many of McLaren's how's work regardless of doctrinal theology on a spectrum from conservative to progressive for lack of better terms. It should be noted that fundamentalist ideologies are not supported within the how in case a fundamentalist reader reads this book.
This is a practical and helpful book for the person asking "do I stay Christian" as well as ministers and teachers who will encounter those asking this question. Of course, those same ministers and teachers may ask this question themselves. Brian Zahnd's When Everything is on Fire is another title similar to Do I Stay Christian except Zahnd takes us through how we got here and then gives his reasons to have hope and faith. These titles would work well as companions for the questioner and the minister alike. I recommend this book to the reader who wishes to take the question posed seriously and who is not afraid of the answers reached. The minister who listens and uses the practical knowledge within McLaren's book may be the difference between a yes or no answer to the question "Do I Stay Christian?"