April 25, 2019

Recommendation and Review: Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor

If you are in the post-evangelical wilderness, this is a must read. No review can tell you how encouraged you’ll be by this story.

I’ve got a lot of brief book reviews to write in the next few weeks to catch up after sabbatical, but I don’t want to pass up recommending an exceptional wonder of a book written by Barbara Brown Taylor called Leaving Church.

Taylor is one of the finest preachers/writers I’ve ever heard/read. Her prose is beautiful. It flows with verbal energy and magical descriptions. You will rarely read a more skillful artist with language than Taylor. Her collections of sermons show us an elegant prose writer-preacher with few peers. If you are a writer prone to the sin of envy, you’ll sin boldly with this book around.

So what’s with Leaving Church? That’s what I said when I first heard of the book. The story is simple. After years of conversion and gradually being drawn into the Episcopal ministry, Taylor was ordained and eventually become priest at a historic parish outside of Atlanta.

After 5 and a half years of fruitful, effective ministry, Taylor left the pastorate to teach religion at a small college, and has never returned to the church except as an occasional guest preacher.

This book is that story, told with all the detail and wonderful description of a personal faith journey that can make this kind of narrative compelling. And it is compelling, not because of tragedy or embracing atheism, but because Barbara Brown Taylor describes the story of thousands of us in the post-evangelical wilderness.

I know she was a liberal ECUSA rector, not an evangelical, but Taylor’s journey will speak deeply to those of you who are currently- as she describes it- camping somewhere on the church grounds rather than sitting inside.

This is a book told with love about a kind of “growing up” in the Christian faith to discover the difference between trusting and knowing, between God as an answer and God as endless fountain of love and life. Taylor’s story of leaving church is a story of a loss of a kind of faith- and I’m been direly warned of this- but it is the story of the rediscovery of a deeper, wider, more ancient, more generous faith.

If you aren’t a pastor, parts of this book will be somewhat outside your experience. If you aren’t at least familiar with the world of liturgy, you may be a bit puzzled in places. But this is a writer whom you will care about deeply and will identify with over and over again. I have twenty pages dog-eared with exceptional sections and quotes.

Taylor’s description of rediscovering her priesthood outside of the church and the difference between those who are in church and those who have chosen to be, at least somewhat, out is told with generous helpings of empathy and confession. Coming to terms with what it’s been like to be loved and raised by “Mother Church” is something many of us need to hear.

I don’t identify with some of Taylor’s theology, but on this pilgrim journey, she’s shone a light on the path with one of the most accessible, appealing and helpful books I’ve read the last decade.

Purely exceptional. And no one gave me a copy to say that. I bought it myself.

Taylor writes for Christian Century and this column gives you a small taste of the book. Books and Culture had a good review if you’d like to know more.

Comments

  1. Excellent review! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. I read it last year and was also moved by it nearly every other page. I’ve found it somewhat scary to discover myself on the “fringes” when I used to be so solidly in the centre, but as you say, I’m rediscovering a “deeper, wider, more ancient, more generous faith.”

    Keep on thinking and writing. You are such an encouragement!

  2. Michael,
    Wow…this is one of my favorite books EVER! Being a woman – and having been employed by a church for 13 years – you can imagine how many times I have read this book! I finally changed jobs – and then read this book again….wow! It read so differently….I even wrote a post about “Leaving Church” and my experience….and to be honest…still working on getting it all down on paper!!! 🙂

  3. I read the NY Times on a regular basis.

    Not because it represents good journalism, but because it is well written.

    If I read Taylor’s book, it would be for the same reason.

    Bad theology written well can still be good reading.