I have deep respect for author, speaker, and theologian, Brian McLaren. I’m specifically grateful for his honesty and openness about struggles with his faith in Christianity and belief in God. In his book Do I Stay Christian?, he offers a different lens through which to see God, rather than abandon belief altogether. He suggests a pathway for reconciliation to those who struggle to find God in their lives.

After a brief introduction, McLaren shares ten reasons to leave Christianity, followed by ten reasons to stay. A number of reasons on each side are quite compelling with some feeling more relevant than others. Regardless of your religion or faith, I think there is benefit in challenging your long held ideas. I love his willingness to ask tough questions and give honest answers about his beliefs and assumptions. His thoughts resonate with the writings of Rabbi Kushner that I shared a couple weeks ago – We live in a complex world where sometimes traditional answers and approaches feel insufficient. 

McLaren’s most compelling reason to stay is that at the heart of Christianity is a foundation of love, compassion and justice which has the power to change individuals and societies. Christianity can also provide a sense of community and belonging, which is crucial for human flourishing.

Perhaps the most convincing reason to leave is that Christianity often falls short of these ideals and leaves people feeling hurt and alone. Unquestionably it has been the source of significant pain over the past two-thousand years….

Although he focuses specifically on Christianity, I think he is asking a question that we should all ask ourselves – Am I living a life that is consistent with my beliefs and values? If I see something that doesn’t sit well, am I willing to do the hard work of trying to make it right?”

Over the years I’ve seen a number of friends leave organized religion. In each case I believe it was the right thing for them to do. Many have found meaning and purpose outside of their previous faith. Brian argues that one of the challenges for those who end up leaving is the space that is often created in their lives, that needs to be filled. Not that they cannot find meaning, purpose, and happiness on the outside, but that any way of life has inherent challenges. Often those who leave miss out on community and can feel lonely. Atheism and agnosticism are not free from problems (as I discussed in this quote). Moving from one religion to another is messy. Are you ready to set down one bag of problems just to pick up another?

What I feel shines through in this book is the author’s empathy and compassion for those faced with tough decisions about religion. I felt his genuine respect for whatever decision a person makes. We need more of that in this life – genuine respect for the decisions people make. But with that decision to stay or go, he pleads for one thing – that we become more patient, more kind, and more humble – especially with those who see life differently than we do. Whether or not we stay Christian, we must seek for the good of humanity.