Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

Nadia Bolz-Weber
(Convergent Books)

Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor, cares about people. That care shines through her book, in which she offers herself and her eclectic parishioners as evidence that Jesus indeed came for outcasts and misfits. A former alcoholic, she knows firsthand that “the power of unbounded mercy, of what we call The Gospel, cannot be destroyed by corruption and toothy TV preachers. Because in the end, there is still Jesus.” This Jesus loves everyone – addicts, teenage girls who cut themselves, overweight middle-aged white people, NRA enthusiasts, and Adam Lanza. She writes convincingly about taking part in a community in which repentance, confession, and absolution are real. And she leaves us with a challenge: do our lives and churches and friendships, in their breadth and boldness, bear witness to Jesus’ unconditional love for every person?

Yet Bolz-Weber gets crucial things wrong. Not the tattoos, snark, and casual expletives that have, by design or not, made her a poster-pastor for hipster ­Christianity. The deeper problem is that, despite the countercultural packaging, her book actually sidesteps much of what’s truly subversive about Jesus’ good news – specifically, his challenge to “keep my commandments” and “take up your cross and follow me.” She hates it, she says, when Christianity gets sentimental. Yet isn’t that what’s happening when talk of freedom isn’t paired with a call to discipleship, or when, for example, she says she’s willing to marry Jim and Stuart? Too often, she ends up with an unthreatening, self-indulgent gospel that plays all too well in today’s culture.

Despite these blind spots, Accidental Saints is a colorful reminder that, as Jesus promised, we’ll all be surprised at the sort of people entering the kingdom before us.