Jesus at the Watering Hole: A Book Review

Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Home Brewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith by Michael Camp

Michael Camp has waded his way through the entire evangelical subculture. He converted in the seventies, after previously been apart of evangelistic youth rallies and meeting CCM music legend Phil Keaggy (his conversion is not directly related to either of these). He then went to L’Abri, did missions, got a degrees from Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions and Eastern College, he attended Baptist churches, Che Ahn’s church in Pasadena (Charismatic Evangelical), Calvary Chapels, Non-Denominational Churches and Vineyards, as well as more Emergent Churches. He is well versed in Christian politics, dispensationalist End-Times theology, biblical literalism, creationism, evangelism and world missions, homophobia and Hell and a whole host of evangelical peculiarities.

Confessions of a Bible Thumper  tells the tale of Camp’s conversion to Christ and his gradual drift away from conservative evangelicalism.  The format is reminiscent of Brian McLaren’s New Kind of Christian trilogy, but  whereas those were fiction, this is Camp’s own story. Camp explores various topics while telling  the story of his  journey through evangelicalism. Each chapter closes with pieces of a  discussion between Camp and his  friends in a bar, discussing his journey, his book, and his current theological stance. Today he is still a Christian and concerned about listening to the scriptures, but politically, socially, and theologically he has come to critique the evangelical culture which first formed him in the faith. He has moved away from the legalism, an acculturated form of church and the Christian life,   from He also has moved towards Christian Universalism and the full affirmation of homosexuality and a hermeneutic of the Christian life which is based on love.  But lest this sound like he’s just another liberal, he also is passionate about proper interpretation of the Bible and  affirms intelligent design.

I enjoyed this book.  I have wrestled with many of the same parts of my evangelical heritage, though I haven’t come to all the same conclusions. I think he raises good questions and  I generally found reading this book made me think.  I don’t agree with everything Camp says, but he does seem fair in his reading of scripture and evangelical culture. One aspect I really appreciated was the attention he paid to biblical hermeneutics. He has a chapter on Bible Abuse where he offers sound advice on how to interpret scripture sensitive to its context.

However, despite my generally positive experience reading this book, I did find several aspects to critique:

  1. I found the format of the book a little preachy. This isn’t just a story about Mike Camp’s journey. It also records his discussion with friends over dinner and beer reflecting on that journey. Those conversations shift the narrative for me, from an exploration of one man’s journey, to an apologetic for why I should come to the  same conclusions as Mike Camp.   Camp comes off as the grand guru of his own book (the one with all the answers).  His friends sometimes vehemently disagree with him (especially his staunchly evangelical pal, Steve), but it is obvious that they haven’t spent as much time thinking through the issues and are as well read as he is.  Thus I found the dialogue with his friends less engaging than the story parts of the book. This discussion comes off as a device which clarifies Camp’s own position rather than  being a robust debate. Occasionaly his friends seem like strawmen.
  2. Camp occasionally describes people as conservative, moderate, liberal or progressive evangelicals owing to their position on particular hot button issues.  What bugs me about this is that based on his criteria, he likely would peg me as a moderate evangelical. I loathe the word moderate and there is nothing I would hate being called more.  I think it is like calling someone tepid. Yuck.
  3. Camp repudiates most of what he has been taught in evangelicalism but he seems to buy in (at least in some form) to Christian primitivism (the idea that we should get back to the church of the New Testament) and he has rather low ecclesiology.  This leads he and his friends to be rather dismissive of the institutional church (in favor of just being a couple Christian friends hanging out at a bar).  In a couple of places I wanted more connection to church history and theology.
  4. The discussion in the bar and over dinner happens while Mike and his friends are drinking Fat Woody, Ridgetop Red, Pumpkin Ale, Panther Lake Porter and Belgium Blonde.  This discussion happens west of the Rockies and there was not a single person drinking IPA.  It doesn’t seem right.

These critiques aside (which may say more about me than Camp’s book). I think this book would be an interesting read for any of us who have lived through the past thirty odd years and have seen the various trends in the evangelical world.  I also appreciate the way Camp catalogues his thinking and points his readers to various resources and authors.  Do not read this book if you are uncomfortable being challenged and do not like to think for yourself.  My seminary friends will be cognizant of many of the issues Camp raises here, but others will find his story format engaging, challenging and informative.  Maybe one day I’ll catch up to Mike and the two of us can sit down over a cold one and discuss theology. I’ll be drinking the IPA.

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.

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6 thoughts on “Jesus at the Watering Hole: A Book Review”

  1. James, Thanks for an honest and thorough review! Sorry about the IPA slight. That was my personal preference as they are just too bitter for me!

    As for your comments on church, I wish I had made myself more clear in the book. I do not advocate that we should go back to the church of the NT, only that we should understand the NT original gatherings before making dogmatic assertions about “church.” I critique some of Viola’s book on Goodreads. He opens our eyes and then becomes dogmatic about what church should look like, which is the point I made about “churchianity.” As I say, there’s freedom and room for tons of creativity for how believers can gather.

    Anyways, you have an interesting blog and I do appreciate you taking time to review my book. You’ll be happy to know that in my next book, which has a bar scene, the first beer poured is a Double IPA–which I wrote before reading your review! Cheers!

    PS – See conversations about church on my blog and join in:

    1. Thanks Michael,

      I’m sorry if I misrepresented what you said. How I understood it, was that you were mapping your ecclesiology on the NT gatherings (though certainly not primitivist in other senses). For the most part I really enjoyed the things you had to say and found your approach thoughtful even if we would butt heads over some theological points (because then one of us would be redendant). This would probably be best over a beer anyway. Glad the Double IPA makes the next book! 🙂

  2. Point number four was unexpected and awesome! (I’m a recent IPA fan – my favorite so far is Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA.)

    I also loved your point about ecclesiology and primitivism – the church needs to be allowed to be the church with all of her diverse quirks and as much as we’d like to, we can’t just go back to the way things were before. Turns out, I’m winding up to be a pretty liberal/progressive Christian (who actually wishes he was a moderate), but when I do eventually end up doing ministry, I hope to work with any and all who want to live the Kingdom of God life in the here and now.

    1. Thanks! I am not sure if I have tried the Bear Republic’s one. My current favorite is a Boundary Bay IPA (out of Bellingham).

      Camp’s reading of the NT denies any institutional structure and that is where he ends up (currently he’s involved with a house church). I am really sympathetic to the idea of the institution always being corrupt but I also don’t want to throw out 2000 years of church history (or 1700 if you see Constantine as the corrupter).

      On the liberal/progressive/moderate/conservative thing–I think you will do great in ministry because you have such respect for people and their journey. For myself I find I am progressive on some points, doggedly conservative about others and my ‘moderate’ side is more a rejection of the extremes than my middle of the roadness. oh well

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