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(Un)Certain: A collective memoir of deconstructing faith

Olivia Jackson


Review by Carole Marsden, United Reformed Church minister and Community Warden at Cliff College, Derbyshire

SCM Press, 2023, £19.99

<strong><em>(Un)Certain: A collective memoir of deconstructing faith</em></strong>

Doubt, uncertainty, scepticism and questioning of the Church and faith can get a negative press in some quarters. If you welcome any of the above, (Un)Certain by Olivia Jackson is well worth a read.

Created from an in-depth online survey with 400 respondents, alongside 140 follow-up interviews, the first thing that strikes about this book is that the stories told, the reflections offered, and the sharing of faith is first-hand, first-person reality. The weaving together of her personal experience alongside those from around the world, from different traditions, age groups and backgrounds offers a blend of many voices on this topic of faith deconstruction and reconstruction.

The book focuses on what happens when certainties about the church as a body, and faith as a belief, start to crumble. The stories are of those who have found themselves deconstructing their theology due to trauma alongside those who experienced a gradual peeling away of certainties.

This is not a book about pulling apart faith and Church life because of a lack of faith or a sinister intent. Rather it tells of faithful, committed believers who are grappling with the effects of disillusionment and disappointment that comes when leaders, preachers, fellowships, and faith cannot respond adequately, or appropriately, to real life challenges. It considers a lack of space for believers to ask questions and the ostracism that can follow for those who do. It shares stories of the long lasting and deep traumatic impact of teaching and preaching around purity culture, gender, and family values.

The stories are hard hitting but also bring glimpses of hope. Whilst some turn away from faith, many others find a deepening and broadening of their appreciation of the Divine. Of particular note is the chapter entitled ‘Lemon Meringue Pie Gospel.’ Don’t let the title fool you as it considers whether the gap is narrowing between those fixated on the salvation gospel and those living out a social gospel.

This book is of value to preachers who ever wondered about the power of their words as leaders of worship. People are listening and taking to heart the words and teachings they hear. What a great privilege this is and what a great pastoral responsibility it brings.

If you don’t welcome doubt, questioning, scepticism and questioning of the Church and faith then this book is equally valuable. It is a way into others’ lived experience that is eye-opening and challenging. It should not be dismissed because its tales’ shock. Rather, the depth of struggle, trauma and resilience in the first-hand stories are the very things that makes the book of interest to those seeking to preach, serve, lead and live, within the Church today.

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