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Richard P. Hansen

Is a Mustard Seed Enough?

Faith and unbelief

A five-year-old girl loves her Sunday school, loves listening to her parents harmonize on the old gospel hymns, even loves the fire-and-brimstone preaching antics of Brother Munroe—loves everything about the First Church of God in Moultonboro, New Hampshire. In Mrs. Nichols' class she is memorizing the books of the New Testament, eagerly anticipating her reward—a gold necklace with a tiny glass bulb containing a real mustard seed, just like in Jesus' story.

But then everything goes wrong. Her father becomes so sick her mother must support the family by waitressing, which includes serving drinks. To the First Church of God, serving alcohol means "breaking the covenant." Hands of friends and neighbors are raised to vote the family out of the church. As Kate Young Caley writes in The House Where the Hardest Things Happened: A Memoir About Belonging: "And so I, who loved the church … I too was out."

Former friends now ignore them. Even Mrs. Nichols turns her back when little Kate runs into her in Ellen's General Store. Her family walks away from church and never returns. In her teens Kate tries a "Jesus People" church on her own, until the leader's wife receives a "prophecy" that Kate must give up her boyfriend because "God says" the wife's niece, not Kate, is intended for that boy. Kate enters young adulthood concluding, "As much as I wanted God, I was sick to death of His people."

Kate Caley sounds like one more statistic in the casualty list showcased by Ruth Tucker in Walking Away from Faith: Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief. Tucker wants to understand how born-again Christians end up as seemingly contented agnostics or atheists. Early chapters offer the author's own struggle with unbelief, reflections on the mystery of knowing God, and case studies of the lives of author Hannah Whitall Smith and Chuck Templeton, a dynamic young partner of Billy Graham who followed an opposite trajectory. Drawing on personal interviews, biographies, and postings on "unfaith" ...

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