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The Hopeful Skeptic
Author: Nick Fiedler
Publisher: InterVarsity Press    
ISBN: 9780830837274

For as long as I can remember I've felt like an outsider. I'm sure that most introspective Christians have experienced this to some degree - we're pessimistic about the world but optimistic about possibilities. We expect the worst but we hope for the best. We're often walking contradictions, being perceived as having little or no compassion, yet having broken hearts as we see the spiritual and natural plights of our brothers and sisters in the Family of Man. 

Those of us that look even deeper inside, striving for an honest encounter with our souls, even begin to feel like strangers in our own spiritual community and that, to a large extent, is what much of The Hopeful Skeptic tries to address. Somewhat inspired by his preparation for a backpacking trip, the author, Nick Fiedler, sets out to metaphorically sort the theological concepts of his particular background into imaginary boxes with markings like, "KEEP," "STORE," and "THROW AWAY." Through the course of the book we examine, along with Fiedler, contemporary trends in the evolution of the church and their implications for the modern-day believer.   

Being both hopeful and skeptical myself, I approached the book with great eagerness, anticipating a kindred spirit: a passionate follower of Christ looking for a more visceral and open Christianity practiced in an environment where it was okay to admit that you don't always 'get it.' Well, that certainly is an aspect of The Hopeful Skeptic. What I wasn't prepared for was the sometimes too-radical (for most evangelicals, certainly) statements challenging some of the basics that even our fellow 'outsiders' would put into our own "do not touch" category. Among these is the 'dropping' of the label, 'Christian,' and the admission (in the middle of a very interesting look at prayer) that the author prays 'a lot less than I used to.'

You should be prepared, if you decide to read this book, to see statements such as these: 
"…when I say I like agnosticism, I mean I love certain kinds of people under this large umbrella. It excites me that there are groups of people who don't claim to know absolute truth…"
"…we are going to start seeing people in our churches come with new questions from… their online church - or maybe they won't be going to a building at all, instead listening to a podcast from a couch and interacting with other listeners in the comments…"

Rather than picking through the book to find quotes - and the author correctly points out in one section the danger of pulling things out of context - let me talk about the tone and spirit of the book. 

The Hopeful Skeptic is a book that I believe came out of disillusionment with the rigid structure of many evangelical churches - a structure that often involves an untouchable hierarchy and an implied spiritual caste system that often leaves more fragile souls at a loss. Fiedler does a good job delineating the problems with the established church and the positive interaction to be found in the home-church movement and alternate forms of community, but often seems to veer too far from the center. While making excellent points about developing compassion and sensitivity to other cultures and their needs he later makes a case for a high-tech modern 'technianity' that's far from even remotely in-reach for those same cultures. Meanwhile, he states, "I'm pretty sure that Jesus could not fly a plane," in reaction to the 'Jesus is My Co-pilot' bumper sticker of 'Bible-Belt' fame, seeming to arbitrarily choose when to 'understand the cultural context' of an expression of faith. Sure, it's corny - but valid to the one that displays it, none the less.  

I'd be less than honest to say that I was unconcerned about the implied glee that the author displays when he ends his recounting of an inter-faith group conversation with the words, "…and it didn't end with a prayer of salvation from anyone!" Skeptic that I am, I still believe that The Savior came to save, not just to teach a better way to live, and that the angels rejoice when a soul enters The Kingdom. 

I'm not one that will say that Fiedler is 'lost,' but I will say that he might want to check that bath-water for a baby before he throws it out. Still - it's a thought provoking book by an author with a view that shifts between elitist and compassionate a few too many times.

Bert Saraco

- read with a healthy dose of skepticism (of course, you have to take into account my cultural framework….)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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