Book Review: Reborn Again by Christopher Vanhall

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Reborn Again: Crucifying Christendom & Resurrecting a Radical
Christopher Vanhall
Christopher Drury, 2019 

♦♦♦ 
3.5 Stars 

There is but one guiding question for pastor Christopher VanHall (nee Drury)’s new book Reborn Again, ‘What does it mean to be a Christian?’ In many ways, this is the only question Christian (specifically evangelical Protestant) literature ever asks. But unlike so much of the dross making up the genre vacillating between bigoted jeremiads and vapid faith journeys, VanHall stakes a clear claim for a resurgent, inclusive, and genuinely loving form of Christianity. Reborn Again asserts and makes explicit progressive values are the bedrock of Christianity. VanHall articulates these values in a compelling and meaningful manner.

When looking for a pastor, churches will send out a ‘call,’ essentially auditioning individuals to see if they’re a good fit for the congregation. One could see Reborn Again as a pastor’s call to a congregation. It is a call out to those who’ve been abandoned or repulsed by the unquestioning intolerance of contemporary Protestantism as well as a call to those ignorant of what a progressive, caring church community can be, what he calls “spiritual refugees.” 

Recounting his experiences within evangelicalism (working full time choreographing the sound and light shows for megachurches throughout the Bible Belt) serves as a lens to show how VanHall broke with the church. These are deeply personal and visceral stories written in plain, conversational language. You can hear VanHall in your mind speaking earnestly and self-assured but never pompous or holier-than-thou. Readers see the ugliness behind the veil of megachurches and the grit required to seed a new church. This is VanHall’s greatest strength in Reborn Again, presenting a personal narrative leading to practical, pragmatic action. It is bold and committed.

Where VanHall falters is in sections that are more sermon than narrative; here he falls into the writer’s cliche of failing to ‘show, not tell.’ This is due to the fact Protestant sermons tend to be autodidact lectures equal parts textual quibbling, analytic imprecision, fascinating metaphorical thinking, and critical insight. However, VanHall uses the form to exorcise the ingrained bigotries permeating Protestantism revealing them to be tenets designed to foster control and obedience.

Just when it seems he is falling back on cliche sermonizing, VanHall makes a stunning (and often subtle) course change taking readers to a place confounding their assumptions. One of the strongest of these is in the chapter Captive where he takes on the idea of privilege and cultural bias. Here he explores “one of the most troublesome passages that I have come across in the New Testament” in the seventh chapter of the Book of Mark. Here Jesus is confronted by a gentile, whom he at first casually rebukes but then embraces. VanHall goes on to ruminate on the scene getting inside the character (in all senses) of Jesus showing how cultural bias informed the reaction of Jesus, but how he instantly overcame this. VanHall concludes: 

“To me, what makes Christ’s actions worthy of respect was the ability to immediately recognize and address internalized prejudices the moment it was exposed.

No excuse.

No deep thought.

No debate.

Just an instantaneous alteration in course of action.”

If the morality and composition of a community is determined by who it excludes, then VanHall’s Reborn Again looks to transgress borders or, perhaps, create permeable community defined by its openness and inclusivity. This faith community doesn’t just tolerate but welcomes, embraces, celebrates, and treats as ordinary those so readily demonized by white evangelicalism–the poor, women, POC, immigrants, and queer–because “the intolerance of anyone can no longer be tolerated in Christianity. Period.”

One could argue VanHall is trying to fashion a remedy for toxic Christianity, the dominate faith of the United States where unapologetic egoism and vicious bigotry are painted as virtues. To VanHall’s mind, the faith as been hijacked and needs to be brought back to its original principles of inclusivity and love. In this way, Reborn Again takes part in a common practice in religious writing–restoration. Very rarely do we see faith leaders come out with something not backwards looking, that is, reactionary. Here is where VanHall’s work is able to distinguish itself. He turns the reactionary impulse on its head, deconstructing it if you will, to present his position as radical. Given just how far right and ultra conservative Protestant Christianity has become, simple assertions of ordinary kindness suddenly become politically charged.

VanHall writes Reborn Again to carve out a place for Christianity in the 21st century catering to those who will live through the majority of the century–Millennials and Gen Z, those currently under 35. These demographics have very little time for an orthodoxy set on demonizing the very facts of their existence. Thus, Reborn Again attempts to and succeeds in articulating an intersectional, inclusive faith. 

 

About the Author

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Christopher VanHall has spent his entire career in the realm of ministry. Christopher has a passion for innovation in the church that often appeals to younger generations. He desires to offer a Christian centered message for those who have justifiably left the church due to bigotry and hate-filled theology, and to be a living apology for the despicable actions of The Church throughout history. 

Christopher is a socially progressive Christian who is committed to aiding those in need and environmentalism. He has a passion for studying scripture and the history of the early church, and has over a decade of pastoral and leadership experience.

Christopher is the lead pastor of Greater Purpose Community Church and the visionary behind the Greater Purpose Brewing Company in Santa Cruz, California. Greater Purpose is a progressive church that sold its massive sanctuary to finance a charitable brewery that raises funds for socially progressive nonprofits.  The story of Greater Purpose Community Church and Christopher has been featured on NBC, NowThis media, and more.

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