Michael Camp, Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Homebrewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith (Seattle: Engage Faith), 2012.
Confessions of a Bible Thumper is the lifelong journey of one man into and then out of evangelicalism. Michael Camp came to faith in the height of the Jesus People movement of the 1970’s, integrated himself deeply into various evangelical communities in Massachusetts, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Seattle, where he currently resides. He even dived deeply into international missions work, serving in different parts of Africa. Although Camp highlights several bright spots in the 25-year journey through evangelicalism, his memoir is primarily of critique of the movement.
The book is rather playfully divided into twelve “confessions,” in which Camp address twelve major cultural deficiencies within the evangelical world. These include an insidiously camouflaged legalism, the logical problems of inerrancy and limited atonement, a reluctance to dialogue about sexual ethics, and the anti-intellectual climate.
Within each confession, Camp frequently switches between two scenes. He brings the reader into his own story, his own experiences of evangelicalism at various stages in his life. There is his introduction to the faith as a teenager at a massive revivalist rally in Dallas, his involvement in small scale development and missions work as a 20-year-old in Somalia, his time in a Pentecostal evangelical congregation sitting under the teaching of a young Che Ahn. Camp uses these recollections to introduce a certain topic that had always seemed a bit skewed, even if he didn’t have the initial understanding to identify his discomfort.
Camp will then flash forward to the present day, which takes the form of an imagined conversation among his wife, some close friends, and him. This extended conversation, he tells the reader up front, is a composite of numerous dialogues he has entered with various friends and acquaintances over the years.
The convention, while initially creative, quickly grows somewhat thin, contrived, and (pardon) campy. If the reader didn’t have the sense that Mr. Camp is actually a genuinely modest fellow, this composite conversation would be self-aggrandizing. He always seems to be the voice of reason as he dialogues with friends who disagree with his views.
Nevertheless, Michael Camp is nothing if not passionate and driven in his pursuit of a reasonable faith and answers to nagging biblical, theological and cultural questions. Neither a scholar nor a pastor (though Camp has spent time studying at William Carey International University, Fuller Seminary, and has earned an MS in global economic development from Eastern University), he should be credited for ample amounts of lay-study on the variety of subjects broached. Confessions is littered with helpful footnotes for the reader to follow up with her own study.
His overall critique of the evangelical movement, if it may be stated succinctly, comes in a brief statement he makes while reflecting on the church’s teachings on tithing. After acknowledging that his wife’s desire in a faith community is to engage with the people in a shared journey, his focus “is on living a faith true to my own sense of reason” (111). One can understand the sentiment. I believe I might share his yearning to know and understand truth, especially when it comes to the faith. Indeed, we all hope to find a community in which we are valued and in which we are free to disagree, reason with one another, and settle tensions with our own conscience. But the reader is compelled to wonder: would the author ever find a Christian community with whom he could worship? Or would he simply stumble upon another attribute with which he found fault and move on?
Indeed, if the reader did not have the sense that the author was genuinely concerned about faithfully living out the Scriptures, she might grow weary with the incessant fault finding. Camp has written a domestic Poisonwood Bible, but without the creative satire to veil the criticisms.
I recommend Camp’s memoirs as a useful skim. For those outside the realm of evangelicalism, he will no doubt prove refreshingly affirming. Progressive Christians will no doubt nod their heads and utter their Amens as they read.
Firm evangelicals, on the other hand, will likely find themselves frustrated, regardless of Camp’s own hopes to dialogue openly with the evangelical community. They will want to argue, as I did at a few stages, with Camps approach and conclusions. Still, I believe Camp’s voice might be a valuable one for evangelicals to hear. Consider him an eye opening exit interview as he departs your church. If his critique can spur us to genuine reflection and reform, our churches will be the better for it.
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.