Bussie, Jacqueline A. Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the “Rules.” Nashville: Nelson Books, 2016. 268pp. $16.99.
What does it mean to be an outlaw christian? Bussie answers that question with her own definition,
Outlaw Christianity: (noun)
1. a new, life-giving faith for those who ache for a more authentic relationship with God and other people by no longer having to hide their doubt, anger, grief, scars, or questions
2. an honest, outside-the-law faith for those seeking a hope that really speaks to the world’s hurt
She does well to begin with her detailed definition, because her book then provides six lengthy chapters. I use lengthy as a fitting term as a few of the chapters are over 50 pages. These long chapters deal with the major issues Christians deal with today – doubting your faith, dealing with the elusive plan of God, and addressing your pain head on. All topics worthy of books, in and of their self. Finally, chapter six is almost a whopping hundred pages. Why so long? Again, Bussie is addressing the real issue we all long for – hope – and seven ways to find it.
Just to be clear, being an outlaw christian has nothing to do with breaking good rules, but breaking the rules established by inadequate application of scripture by modern society. For example, breaking the rule of not arguing with God when you are angry. Many Christians have been taught to hold in their feelings and to keep their doubts inside their heads. Good meaning Christians may not have meant this for bad, yet psychology has shown us that holding in our doubts, fears, and pains, can lead to all sorts of mental and physical illnesses. Therefore, to be healthy in your beliefs is to break the rules that hurt, not help. This behavior is deviant (to play off the bestselling book series) and yet necessary.
Dr. Bussie’s story telling is compelling and you can easily follow along with her theology without pain of looking through old theological tombs. It is truly a gift to write about tough theological issues, but to do so with openness, honesty, and even humility is a god-given calling. Her work among students has kept her theology down-to-earth, yet her profession as a teacher keeps her mind engaged in academic rigor. This books gives you the best of both worlds wrapped up in warm and engaging stories.
I personally engaged with this book because of much of the pain I have dealt with in my life. As a pastor, I even taught on health and wellness and the God who protects us from such things. I did all of that with full honesty, yet naively. Then 2011 rolled around and I started a journey of pain, bones degeneration issues, starting with the replacement of both my hips. One replacement failed and was redone and I have had cervical fusion in two locations in my neck since then. As 2017 approaches I still face multiple surgeries. All in all, lots of pain, lots of questions, lots of time laying in a bed thinking, and years of searching and seeking answers.
Chapter five deals with the topic of dealing with our story and our pain and seeing how it all draws us closer not further from God. But we have to break the law of, “Never tell your real story. Vulnerability is weakness,” and become Christian Outlaw. In Bussie’s continual and beautiful prose,
“Suffering is dizzying. When someone you love is suffering deeply, you usually cannot make the world stop spinning out of control for her, nor is that even what she expects from you. Instead, she wants you to understand that she cannot stand up without leaning up against you. Rather than endless philosophizing or wordy defenses of God, we need to offer up our arms.” (page 151)
Anyone who has gone through anything painful knows these words ring true. God hasn’t failed us. Scripture hasn’t failed us. Modern society and its erroneous religious beliefs have failed us. I know I focused on pain and suffering, but each chapter is written with care and vulnerability. This is incredibly refreshing.
Although Outlaw Christian is not unique in the topics it addresses, its approach to being both theologically sound and approachable places it above other books on said topics. Honestly, I would relate her to a female version of Tim Keller. Keller’s books are packed with theology, yet in a way that any Christian can approach, understand, and apply. I look forward to more books to come from Bussie.
I highly recommend this book to any pastor, especially those that deal with young adults or even thirty-somethings. These age brackets often deal with those who are dealing with the collapse of a childhood belief system and are either about to eject from the faith or sadly trudge along with a weakened belief system always on the edge of breakdown. Outlaw Christian offers another way, a better way, to reevaluate one’s faith and build an even stronger, and dare I say, authentic.
In a world seeking the authentic, may the hurting in the church learn that sometimes being a good Christian requires the behavior of an outlaw, breaking the law to find a truer and better way of life! That is how to find authentic faith today!