Author and former pastor John Koessler offers Christian readers a thoughtful look at the difficulties of the faith life from the opposing vantage points of both doubter and believer. Koessler narrates his life story thus far by the retelling of childhood impressions and vivid memories, and how these faded yet still powerful recollections continue to color his world today. His honesty in detailing the painful family dynamics from which he arose will resonate with readers of all ages and beliefs. More important, though, is Koessler's continuing struggle with the church at large, the dilemma of not feeling at home within its walls.
Beginning with his early church background, Koessler shares his first understandings of the subtle and not-so-subtle distinctions between neighborhood Catholic and Baptist churches. He recalls feeling on the outside even then as his immediate family did not attend any church, thus this "outsider" mentality runs deep in his history. Koessler remembers asking his parents if they could convert to Catholicism but was met with raucous laughter. Not to be dissuaded, the young man asks if they are Protestants. Finally, his father offers this cynical reply: "If a Protestant is a protest-ant, someone who protests against the church, then we are."
Koessler does indeed "find God" and explores both charismatic and evangelical Christianity despite his parents' lack of belief. Through some painfully comic episodes --- the real stuff of life --- Koessler bounces around between feelings and faith and truth, learning and growing and getting bumped and bruised along the way. He describes the angst he felt as a pastor, the internal obsession to succeed and how God met him at every stage.
With a wide assortment of childhood stories intermixed with adult reminiscing, Koessler does a fine job meshing timeless truths through the decades. His college years, marriage and fatherhood all come under the microscope in brief yet intense chapter segments that demonstrate how these parts contribute to the author as a whole. Koessler likewise shares those non-answerable posings believers wrestle with on a daily basis. Prayer, healing, money, motives, contentment --- he touches on each one and more. Not always intending to offer an answer, Koessler simply lays out the pieces of the life puzzle and gives readers an opportunity to poke around a bit, pick up a piece here and there, and make it fit somehow.
Despite the text being all about Koessler's experiences, Christians will find themselves drawn in and interacting with the drama. Perhaps this was the author's intention all along.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on May 29, 2007
A Stranger in the House of God: From Doubt to Faith and Everywhere in Between