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Book review: Benjamin L. Corey, Unafraid

Wednesday, 28 February 2018  | Nils von Kalm




By Benjamin L. Corey (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2017)

Reviewed by Nils von Kalm


In a word: encouraging


Benjamin Corey’s latest book is a tale of how he came out of an evangelical Christian faith that was based completely in fear, and has moved into a renewed faith that is grounded in the unconditional love of God revealed in Jesus as shown in the pages of the Gospels.

Corey has written much over the years about the fundamentalist faith he grew up with, and the resultant impacts on not just his view of God but also on his life as a whole. When our view of God is skewed, it cannot but have a direct effect on how we view ourselves, others and life in general.

Known now as a ‘progressive’ Christian, Corey’s story in this book will not appeal to Christians who are of a distinctly conservative bent, as he will possibly be seen as too liberal and maybe not even ‘born again’ (he still receives hate mail from Christians who accuse him of having sold out to the devil and of not being a Christian anymore). If readers can get past these labels, though, they will gain a lot from this powerful and very vulnerable personal testimony. It is a testimony not just to his struggle with faith, but also to Jesus himself.

Basically, the faith that Corey has come out of is one that sees God as an angry deity in the sky who is ready to send you to eternal conscious torment in the literal fires of hell if you don’t accept a series of core doctrines that millions of evangelicals believe. 

As I progressed through the book, I soon realised that Corey’s battle is distinctly related to the American church, and to a particular style of evangelicalism that is popular there and that has gained much traction again in the last 18 months with the nomination and election of Donald Trump as US President. 

The type of evangelicalism I grew up with in Australia is slightly different to what Corey has experienced. At least I was told that God loved me unconditionally, even though he would still send millions of people to hell if they didn’t accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour. So, despite the latter belief, my experience was not as fear-based as Corey’s.

Nevertheless, because of the influence of American evangelicalism in Australia, this book will resonate with a whole lot of readers, and still did with me in a big way.

Despite its tale of fear, this is a hopeful book. Corey could easily, like millions of people, have ditched his faith altogether, but he stuck with it and struggled through because he still saw something of Jesus that attracted him. And that is the essence of the hope that Corey touches on. In the end, it is Jesus that he couldn’t walk away from. Corey saw and sees something in Jesus that is so compelling, so loving, that he is worthy of worship.

This book is not just a personal story though, either. It is a history lesson with some eye-opening facts that many readers will likely not be aware of, such as the fact that the Rapture is an idea basically thought up by John Nelson Darby about 200 years ago, or that Charles Finney, inventor of the famed altar call, demanded that, when people came up the front to give their life to Christ, they also sign up to commit themselves to the abolition of slavery, thereby putting a specific social aspect into their new-found faith straight away.

Corey may be seen as a liberal today by many Christians, but that is not because of any political affiliation. It is purely because of how he views Jesus. American evangelicalism is so intertwined with political affiliation in the US that it has become a civil religion, and not the movement that Jesus started 2,000 years ago.

Corey wants us to come back to the Jesus we see in the Gospels; the Jesus who, in Corey’s words, loves us not despite who we are, but because of who we are. That is, we are not defined as sinners first and foremost, and therefore as bad people. That is not biblical and just produces an entrenched shame that Corey struggled with for decades. He insists that the Bible says we are made in the image of God as loved image-bearers in whom God delights. We are tainted by sin, which God desperately wants to remove from us, but God is not about to send millions of people into a fiery torture-chamber for eternity for not believing in him. 

That will be heresy to many Christians. If you see it as that, this book may in fact be for you, as it may reveal to you the loving peace and joy that the biblical Jesus offers the world.

Unafraid is powerful, hopeful and inspirational, and Corey’s style is vulnerable. As such, the book is very relatable. I highly recommend it.

Nils von Kalm is a freelance writer. He works in church and community engagement with Anglican Overseas Aid in Melbourne, and previously spent 14 years with World Vision. He can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nils.vonkalm and at http://soulthoughts.com.


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