Having grown up in many toxic churches where religion was used not to grow a person's faith but as a way for the pastor to control his congregants, it's amazing to me that I even believe in any form of Christianity or go to church at all. For me, religion is what happens when people replace faith, which is nourishing and healthy, with fear. Religion has caused a great many people to be done with not only the Church but with Christ. It definitely makes me think of Gandhi saying, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." How many others have either left the Church or Christianity for the exact same reason? Statistics show that people are leaving both in droves, opting to believe in nothing rather than the hypocrisy they see.
Zach Hoag should have been one of them.
In The Light is Winning, Hoag writes what is part memoir and part assessment of the modern "spiritual but not religious" trend. It's both a deconstruction of the statistics as well as his own journey within the Church itself. He starts from his childhood and growing up in a Pentecostal apocalyptic cult that dealt on the militant doom of eschatology. Not a healthy baseline to begin with, as an adult, Zach Hoag also suffered through his failed attempts at church planting. Struggling with the institutionalized abuse of religion, the spiritual trauma that comes from it, as well as wrestling with conservative theologies (particularly Calvinism) until coming to a more progressive form of Christianity. So much of his past could have easily disillusioned Hoag enough to be one of the "nones" or "dones" and yet he attempts to reconcile himself within the walls of the Church.
How many of us have had a dark night of the soul because of the Church and find ourselves tender to any harshness that might come from well-meaning believers who are attempting to bring us back in the fold without an understanding of what makes us want to leave it in the first place? Zach Hoag's book avoids platitudes and rhetoric and speaks directly to those who are still in that wilderness.
The Light is Winning is written in a compassionate, humorous and honest way. While it too often leans on cultural pop references (Breaking Bad, True Detective, The Walking Dead, Mad Men), I appreciate Hoag's writing about a real spiritual problem without trying to give quick cultural fixes. His is a call to go deeper, to move beyond the Church's embrace of empire and prosperity and what Richard Rohr calls "easy ego consolations" to a faith that is richer, more honest and more Christ-like.
While it is, at times, an unevenly written book, what draws me in is that it is a book that genuinely wrestles with the unfortunate weaknesses of the Church (such authoritarianism) but does so out of a love for the Church and, in the end, offers hope. For Hoag, the light truly is winning.
Zach Hoag's official website: