by Ryan Gear
Brandan Robertson has written a book, just released in the UK, that any spiritually searching, thoughtful person can appreciate. This includes evangelicals, the expression of Christianity with which Brandan identifies. Contrary to some who have questioned their faith, Nomad is an honest story of a spiritual journey that has not left the author cynical. Brandon can’t be smugly written off with a label. There is no hint of academic elitism in his writing. He has not forsaken the Bible or become “just another one of those liberals.”
It’s clear from reading Nomad that Brandan loves God and the Scriptures and that he simply brave enough to say (or write) what many evangelicals are too afraid to admit… they have questions.
I first heard Brandan’s story when he shared it on a Sunday morning with the church I founded, One Church in Chandler, Arizona (onechurch.com). I can personally attest to his humble spirit and the grace that he writes about so beautifully in chapter 13. Brandon is not angry or vindictive. He is a loving, open-minded, young man who is an inspiration to anyone who wants to work out her or his salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).
In the early chapters, Brandan tells his story of coming to faith in Christ in a high-octane fundamentalist KJV-only church when he was a teenager. He was so hungry to grow in his new relationship with Christ that he watched Charles Stanley before going to school in the morning. The church was a new family for him that modeled some level of love and healing in contrast to his hurting and dysfunctional family. Searching for belonging, he took on the same Bible-thumping ethos as his newly adopted church family. He began a teen evangelism, winning souls for Jesus and preaching against the Religious Right’s common enemies, abortion and homosexuality.
Chapter 6 is the turning point of Nomad and of Brandan’s life. I love Brandan’s description of his first encounter with doubt while watching a History Channel Easter special at 13 years old (58). He was terrified that Jesus may not have been raised from the dead, but at 13, sobbed with relief at the fact that the Gospel of Matthew reported otherwise. Still in early teens, Brandan absorbed his church’s commitment to biblical inerrancy, but the doctrine would not go unquestioned forever.
Brandan addresses the common conservative evangelical conundrums of biblical contradictions, Bible class questions, and the favorite apologetics buzz phrase “absolute truth.” I was reminded of how tortured I felt as a teenager trying to make the Bible a cohesive document, like a term paper dropped out of heaven.
He identifies with so many serious-minded young evangelicals who learn to become intellectual circus acrobats as they try to harmonize Bible verses that clearly contradict one another. In fact, the term contradiction carries negative connotations, while the Bible is actually a collection of books, a library, and no one expects every book in a library to agree on every topic. The biblical books are more like a conversation, sometimes even an argument, than a term paper.
Later in his teens, Brandan bravely and honestly acknowledged his questions. He writes, “The beliefs that we once held to be absolute and certain suddenly become subjective and unclear. The answers that we once held to so tightly dissolve and new, terrifying questions emerge” (56-57).
In my own experience, once a crack of intellectual honesty appears in the dam, it won’t be long before a flood of questions rush through, breaking apart what was once thought to be an immoveable concrete wall. Honestly acknowledging the first question begins the journey of the spiritual nomad.
Brandon then relays his story of discovery, becoming acquainted with church history and the ancient rhythms of a spiritual life that were ignored in his conservative evangelical church. He studied Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism. He became aware of a new world of Christian history, belief, and practice.
He points out what many evangelicals are becoming aware of, that Christianity is much larger than one particular Baptist-y megachurch, and in fact, evangelical megachurches are still a minority in global Christianity:
“In the churches I grew up in, there was absolutely no sense of tradition or a broader narrative we participated in. Instead, we focused on our communities’ autonomy and God’s unique work in our midst. We were rarely connected to other churches in the area because all of us were focused on creating our own unique style and brand of Christianity” (83).
In chapter 11, the second major movement of Nomad is Brandan’s discovery of his fluid sexuality in his late teens. Of course, this is the current hot button issue in the U.S., and within American Christianity, one’s full acceptance or non-acceptance of LGBTQ persons is the litmus test of one’s orthodoxy.
Sadly, there will be evangelicals who write off Brandan’s spiritual journey due to their judgment of his sexuality. This is tragic, and one that will ultimately count as their loss. Brandon is a sweet-spirited, grace-filled evangelist who will likely lead a megachurch in the future. His humble and loving presence will win over many detractors, but unfortunately, some will not even give Brandan or Nomad the chance.
Those who do will discover an inspiring leader and communicator who does his best to live out his understanding of the Eucharist in chapter 12. It is one of the simplest and best descriptions of the Gospel you will read:
“The first was that at the Table of the Lord where the Eucharist was served, all people are equal… For one moment of time, all of us stood on level ground. All our prejudices and biases were forced to fade into the background. We came together as one broken but connected body in need of grace” (113).
“The Eucharist also reminded early believers of a second truth – the pattern of life that they were to live. When Christ commanded us to do this ritual ‘to remember and proclaim his death until he comes again’, he was asking us to remember the way of life that he lived and to follow him in it” (114).
The remaining chapters of Nomad, “Grace,” “Journey,” and “Wonder” offer practical examples of how Brandan attempts to live this eucharistic lifestyle. He tells a stirring story of reconciling with his abusive father after his father’s arrest and release. Brandan finishes his story with an invitation to journey through the questions, citing that the narrative arc of Scripture is one of a journey, and the only way to travel is with an attitude of wonder.
At its heart, Brandan’s honest sharing of his journey is an invitation to all readers, not to necessarily begin a new spiritual journey, but to be honest about the journey they are already on.