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Not the Religious Type: Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist


As an atheist, Dave Schmelzer never thought of himself as the religious type—and he still doesn't, even though he now believes in God and leads a large Boston church in the shadow of some of the nation's most impressive universities. Religion is usually about rules and codes, about “being good,” about what will get you embraced and what will get you shunned. But God, according to Dave, is all about how you can become a closer friend with him, with others, and with yourself.

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As an atheist, Dave Schmelzer never thought of himself as the religious type—and he still doesn't, even though he now believes in God and leads a large Boston church in the shadow of some of the nation's most impressive universities. Religion is usually about rules and codes, about “being good,” about what will get you embraced and what will get you shunned. But God, according to Dave, is all about how you can become a closer friend with him, with others, and with yourself.

In the tradition of C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity and G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy comes this illuminating collection of thoughts on faith in a postmodern world. Not the Religious Type bridges the gap between the two communities in which many of us live—the secular and the religious—and suggests a new, unexpected way of seeing the world and our place in it.

Whether we're the religious type or not, there's a certain part of each of us that invariably wonders if it's true—if there's a God we can connect with who is alive and active, with the kind of perspective on our lives and futures that we could never have on our own.

As Dave engagingly explores these most important questions, he invites his readers into “a new and warmer spring,” a way of thinking that will help both secularists who never imagined they would become people of faith and also people of faith who perhaps haven't experienced all from God that they've hoped. Tyndale House Publishers

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The title of this book is misleading since it characterizes the author, pastor of a Boston-area Pentecostal church, as an ex-atheist. But as Schmelzer recounts in the book, his atheism was a teen phase, and adolescent explorations are generally not cited on one's intellectual résumé. The title also sets the reader up to expect some apologetic rejoinder to trendy bestselling polemical atheists. This book, however, is much broader (and better) than that, and almost antipolemical. Schmelzer has a disarmingly low-key way with words, a refreshing change from the fighting terms so often employed in battles over religious truth . His self-deprecating tone is persuasive even while he makes bold statements about the power of faith. He asserts, for example, that prayer can bring about physical healing, a statement he backs with evidence from his own family and a few other instances. Yet he's honest enough to admit he has no answer to the question of why God permits suffering. Schmelzer's mild-mannered theological humility is winning. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In this quick and easy read by former atheist turned pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Boston, Schmelzer attempts to bridge the gap between two cultures frequently in conflict: religion and secularism. Using a personal, conversational style, Schmelzer tackles obstacles atheists present toward the Christian faith. Following M. Scott Peck's four stages of spiritual development (first proposed by James Fowler), Schmelzer argues that truth is relational rather than abstract and offers a personal experience with God in place of traditional religious systems characterized by a moral need to be right. To make the case for God's existence, Schmelzer relies on miraculous stories of answered prayer from his own life. He also references the universal myth of the hero and argues that God has invited each of us on a supernatural adventure of our own in which happiness can only be attained via a personal relationship with God. Skeptics may not be convinced, but people of faith will be encouraged by the personal accounts shared in this volume. Recommended for public libraries of all sizes.
—Brian Greene

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781414315836
  • Publisher: SaltRiver
  • Publication date: 7/1/2008
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 1,349,469
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Not the RELIGIOUS Type Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2008 David Schmelzer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4143-1583-6

Chapter One If I'd KnownThis Was Possible,I'd Have SignedUp a Long Time Ago

I'M IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NOVEL How to Be Good, by Nick Hornby, and I can't say I'm enjoying it as much as I'd hoped to. It's about a demoralized London doctor and her angry husband, who undergoes a strange conversion and becomes utterly good-selfless, concerned about the wider world, sacrificial. But rather than being comic, as Hornby customarily-and brilliantly-is, he strikes me here as grim. The world he paints offers two choices for our lives: guilt-ridden, culturally savvy liberalism or humorless, scarcity-obsessed goodness. It's as if we can (a) write for the New Yorker or (b) lead the Bolshevik Revolution.

Not that this has an entirely unfamiliar feel to me. In my teen atheist years, my mom tried to convince me to go to church because it could offer me "a good thought for the week." She's a great lady, but this didn't do it for me. Like all people, I was already sold on my goodness, if not my happiness. (Al Capone infamously saw himself as a selfless champion of the little people.)

Of the hundreds of people I've seen encounter God over the last few years, one thing nearly all of them have in common is that they never-never-saw themselves as the religious type. I live in the shadow of Harvard, where almost no one sees himselfor herself as the religious type. (A 1995 survey-hard to pin down but widely quoted-found that only 2 percent of folks living in my city went to church on a given week, compared to 35 to 40 percent nationwide.) But my friends would, almost to a one, tell you that what's happened to them has had very little to do with making them better people, as happy as that thought might be.

For instance, I asked some of them to take a minute and write down what has happened to them on a napkin-sized piece of paper. I got responses like this:

Me before: No friends, into pornography, broken marriage, horribly burdened at work, couldn't sleep at night, detached from my own emotions, complete lack of hope for the future, favorite saying (no joke): "Every day is worse than the one before."

Me after: Great friends, incredible hope, sexually pure, conversations with my Creator, sleeping eight hours a night, improved relationship with my ex-wife, have seen my family find God, seeking God's will in my life and knowing he will fulfill it. Or:

I prayed that I would be healed from anorexia and am now at a healthy weight and have rejoined the track and cross-country teams at my college.Or:

I found out that my aunt and uncle's marriage was unraveling due to an affair. I fasted and prayed for them. After thirty-eight days, I was contacted by my uncle. He was about to sign a lease on an apartment to move in with his lover. Before he could sign, he felt an almost audible voice in his head say, "stop." He went back to my aunt and started to see how their marriage could be saved. She found a way to forgive him. He was calling me to find out whether this voice was Jesus. It's been about three years and my aunt and uncle are happily together (and my eleven-year-old cousin is doing great). They are both following God now and have since then encouraged me in faith.

When people find out where I live and the types of people I spend my days talking to, they assume that I have a lot of heady conversations about truth and proofs and theorems. But I really don't have heady conversations very often (though I am trying to learn a little more about physics so I can nod at the right place in conversations).

What I do talk about again and again is one particularly depressing day I had as an atheist when I spun around to see if there was anything else out there-and seemed to slam straight into a God bent on giving me all sorts of incredible and unexpected things.

I recently was reminded about a Hebrew word-hesed-that,when applied to God, gets translated as "mercy" or "kindness" and tells us two things: (1) God will keep his end of the deal, and (2) God will blow us away with shocking acts of kindness, love, and power when we least expect them. My friends and I tell stories along these lines quite a bit.

I've got a lot of problems, trivial and otherwise, as I'll talk about soon enough. So on the mundane side, I used to be thinner than I am now, which feels discouraging. And then there was the day when my baby daughter went from being this vibrant little girl to being-as I was told by the cardiologist who checked her in-maybe the sickest child in a hospital where people bring the sickest kids from all over the world.

And you've probably noticed that the world has a lot of problems. I've spent time in Lebanon, and I have a few friends there. As I write this, Lebanon is being bombed into rubble, and I'm getting e-mails each day about my friends' harrowing attempts to get out of the country alive. You've noticed similarly wrenching items in your morning paper. In the face of problems like this, perhaps the only appropriate response would be a permanently furrowed brow, as if God himself must live a righteously grim life.

And yet there are very few times when, as I'm lying down for the night, I don't think about what's happened to me and shake my head in wonder. How I got to this point has felt like one strange journey.


Excerpted from Not the RELIGIOUS Type by DAVE SCHMELZER Copyright © 2008by David Schmelzer.Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Welcome to Final Participation     ix
The Universe     1
If I'd Known This Was Possible, I'd Have Signed Up a Long Time Ago     3
It Turns Out I'm Not Smart Enough to Understand Churches     9
How M. Scott Peck Saved My Life     17
I'm Not a Jerk! (I May, However, Be a Fool)     29
Why-I'm Guessing-You'd Rather Live in Paris than Tehran     37
I'm Better than You (Hang On-That Didn't Come Out Right)     51
God     63
A Word from Our Lawyers     65
On Second Thought, Disregard Everything I've Said     67
You-Yes, You!-Can Hear God's Voice     77
Nobody Suspects My True Identity     85
Evidently My Options Are either to Be (a) Bored or (b) Terrified     99
How Baywatch Caused 9/11     109
I Want Lots and Lots of Sex     121
Happiness     129
I Was Pretty Bummed Out Yesterday     131
Sometimes My Prayers Feel Pretty Lame     139
Isn't Faith Always Just One Step from Being Disproved?     147
Three Cheers for Thoughtful Atheism!     151
I Certainly Need All the Help I Can Get     155
Welcome to Your Centered-Set Life     161
Some Inside Dirt on Pastors     163
If I'd Known This Was Possible, I'd Have Signed Up a Long Time Ago     171
Notes     177
Acknowledgments     178
About the Author     180
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