It’s been two months since my last blog post – wow! I can’t believe how fast time goes when one is quarantined at home.
For those of you who may not know, I usually post every other Wednesday. Recently, though, I put my blog on hiatus in order to focus on my mental health during this COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the main activities I’ve enjoyed for self-care is reading…and I mean reading. I already met my yearly goal in five months! Seriously. Not twelve. Five months.
But I digress.
It just so happens that around that time I was accepted as a book reviewer for Speakeasy. I thought I’d feed two birds with one scone, as the saying goes, and use my first book review for them as my next blog post in order to slowly get back into blogging.
Without further ado, let’s ado the book review. (Geez, that was a bad pun, even for me!)
There’s a God in My Closet: Encountering the Love Who Embraces Our Skeletons by Ben DeLong is a book about building a non-abusive relationship and healthy love with God and ourselves. In a religion where a dichotomy between an irate and contemptuous God exists alongside a humanitarian and unprejudiced Jesus, DeLong’s book aims to reconcile our theology and redefine what it means to identify as a Christian.
As a pastor’s kid, lifelong Christian, and pastor himself, DeLong pulls from both his personal experiences and biblical studies to examine his faith (DeLong, n.d.). In doing so, DeLong takes his readers on a journey through healing, radical acceptance, self-worth, and relational love all commencing from the point of view of our sin.
DeLong’s book fits well within the genre of contemporary Christian literature. It pretty much delivered what I expected – a deconstruction of traumatic religious doctrine and a reconstruction of salubrious new spiritual ideals – and that’s exactly what I wanted! I identified strongly with DeLong because I recently went through a similar experience that left my soul raw at first, but then gave God the opportunity to ameliorate my sense of being.
DeLong makes his points by using personal anecdotes, stemming from his childhood all the way through to the pornography addiction that almost broke his marriage. That’s how he builds a sense of trust between the author and readers, so we claim him as part of our imperfect community of believers. He doesn’t talk down to us from his moral high ground, which is tricky since he’s writing about a spiritual weakness after finally gaining strength. In fact, he relates to us on the same level, which makes it easier to consider his arguments. At least, it did for me.
Basically, the running theme here is complete and non-judgmental accepting or, rather, embracing. Accepting/embracing our dark thoughts and sinful past. The skeletons in our closets. God’s love. Our identities in Christ. Truth. Vulnerability. Others.
Accepting/embracing God’s acceptance/embrace. (See what I did there? Genius, I know.)
There’s also the running motif of God not being the boogeyman. That’s why there are several repeating images of God chilling with our skeletal sins in the closet. In other words, God isn’t the way Jonathan Edward portrays in his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.
DeLong challenges pond scum theology, which I really appreciate (and think Rachel Held Evans would’ve too). For example, when discussing how we start to define our faith and Christian identities, he asks, “Do we start in the beginning, where God created us in his image and said we were good? Or do we start with the fall and see our base identities as corrupt?” (DeLong, 2019).
Another motif that underlies acceptance and embraces would be letting go, but it’s more like a paradox. We both need to let go in order to be accepted/embraced and be accepted/embraced in order to let go. We have to let go of our pasts to accept/embrace the God whom Jesus spoke of, but we also need to accept/embrace the lessons we’ve learned from our sin in order to let go of the false narratives we’ve created about ourselves and God.
Perfect example (though I can’t remember the chapter it’s in). DeLong is conversing with a spiritual director about sin. Somehow, then the spiritual director flips all mainstream Christianity on its head: we need our sin in order to be saved (DeLong, 2019).
Cue mind blown gif here…!
Now, while I was impressed by the twist in theology here, I have to mention that the majority of the book covered ideas I’ve already encountered in other books. The most obvious of all is Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.
While the books differ in writing styles and point of views – Borg being more academic, philosophical, and controversial, while DeLong is more conversational, down-to-earth, and moral – they both share the generic arc of realizing that God and Jesus aren’t like they had been taught, as well as where they go from there.
DeLong only skims the surface in comparison to Borg. One of the specific reasons I feel like that is because DeLong repeats himself often. Yes, there are times when he clearly states he’s referencing an earlier point because he’s drawing connections between his realizations. I get that. Yet, there are times when he just repeatedly uses the same phrases, probably making sure he got all his points across, but instead I feel like I’ve been kept back a few grades in school.
I also think he shortchanges himself in the ending of some of the chapters that could’ve been more powerful if he didn’t repeat himself so much. Once is enough for emphasis in my opinion.
To be fair, I’ve been deconstructing and reconstruction for years now, which has given me plenty of time to read about these topics to my heart’s content. I also understand that I’m comparing DeLong’s first book to only one of many Borg books. Nevertheless, I actually think it’s a good sign that DeLong’s book makes me think of a more well-known and radical book like Borg’s.
If you’ve ever struggled to build a close relationship with God because of the “love me or else” unhealthy message Christianity tries to pass off as spirituality nowadays, then you’ll find solidarity in this book. DeLong can make you feel understood and cause you to reflect further on how you came to be where you are in your faith, as well as encourage you on where to go from here.
All in all, I personally enjoyed DeLong’s book and think it’s worth a read. While I’ve never considered myself an Evangelical, I feel understood in my Exvangelical-like quest in my spirituality and sense of self. I’ve gained some insight and feel like I have an ally in a world where I’m ashamed to call myself Christian.
However, I do think it’s fair to note that I think DeLong’s book is best for beginners. When I say that, I mean Christians who’ve only deconstructed their faith and are just now starting to reconstruct. Or Christians who only deconstructed and haven’t reconstructed at all. Or even Christians who just started to deconstruct. They need to know they’re not alone and that there’s hope to rebuild a sturdier faith that works for them and who they are today.
So, if you’re a Marcus Borg fan, you may find yourself feeling like DeLong is a bit of a broken record from what you’ve already learned elsewhere. I still think you can enjoy the book as I did though. Everyone’s perspective is worth hearing out.
In general, then? I think DeLong’s book is a great place to start.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
To purchase DeLong's book to read for yourself, click here. To check out Speakeasy to get your book reviewed, or to apply to become a book reviewer, click here.
DeLong, B. (n.d.). About. Retrieved from https://www.bdelong.com/about
DeLong, B. (2019). There’s a God in My Closet: Encountering the Love Who Embraces Our Skeletons. [eBook edition]. Resource Publications.