A Review of Andrew Byers’ Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint

The brokenness of human misery before God may recede into bitterness, but healing comes when we bring our maladies to him and check into his healing ward. We do this not by avoiding him in disillusionment but by crying out to him from the depths and striving with all our might to grasp onto something hopeful from his hand.  Andrew Byers Faith Without Illusions, page 175-176

As a pastor who has been in full-time parish ministry for not quite 25 of the past 31 years, I have read books, attended seminars, and had numerous conversations, face to face and in writing, regarding those who either become disgruntled with the Christian faith and church or have been for quite some time whether having been a part of a church or not. Cynicism has never been in short supply just ask St Paul… and Jesus.

And Andrew Byers does, in a manner of speaking, as he addresses the issue of walking the line between despair and cynicism in a new book published by InterVarsity Press in 2011, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint.

He begins with a first person account of how  “we fall into” cynicism with a grade school love story. He then goes on to state something that all of us know to be true, namely that, “cynicism often arises from painful disillusionment-when the rug gets violently jerked out from under us…” and then he turns to the focus of the book  “What if we are disillusioned by the church– that one safe harbor of community on which Christians are told to rely on when all else comes crashing down? What if we become cynical toward the faith that is supposed to sustain us through all life’s trials?…what if the object of our disillusionment is…the God we worship?

Focusing then on this last question, Byers takes us  into a review of what he calls “pop Christianity” which he claims makes us cynical and chapters related to the common themes found in his view and discussion of pop faith: Idealism, Religiosity, Experientialism, Anti-Intellectualism, and Cultural Irrelevance. Along the way, he challenges some very common view and assumptions that are part and parcel of common and wide spreading thinking across the Church such as “just follow your heart” when he reminds us that scripture reminds us that the “heart is deceitful.”

Then, as a solution, Byers offers “hopeful realism” and supports his solution with a walk through the Old and New Testaments as he draws line between cynicism and a hopeful realism based in God’s grace through Christ that does not side-step questions which come from hearts of disillusionment, pain and brokenness. Along the way he reminds the reader of the passionate angst of the Psalms and the anguished cry of the prophets which are ultimately sent God ward for resolve. And he makes a case that Jesus Christ himself had every opportunity to become a cynic because of the hostility and disillusionment that he faced as he walked this earth.

I, too, have been at times, a cynic of the faith and the church. And in my journey I have had to face the truth that my cynicism was based on some of the assumptions and views presented in this book. And what I like about this book is that Byers addresses the pain and the disillusionment I too felt and understood when the rug was pulled out from under me, by my own poor and flawed attitudes and choices, that had made me a disillusioned cynic.

If you are cynical about the “popular” claims of Christianity today and have found your faith wanting, I recommend this book. If you know someone who is dealing with doubt, despair, and cynicism, I recommend this book to you to share.

I rate this book a ‘great’ read.

Note: I bought the Kindle version of this book for my own personal reading and thought it worthy of a review.

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