A Faith of Many Rooms – Debie Thomas

A Faith of Many Rooms: Inhabiting a More Spacious Christianity by Debie Thomas
Published by Broadleaf Books on March 19, 2024
Genres: Non-Fiction, Biography, Christian Life, Memoir
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When your faith begins to feel too small, too confining, you could choose to leave it. But what if the faith we inhabit is roomier than we'd thought? What if our collapsing faith is just a closet in a much larger dwelling?

Disillusioned by narrow theologies, church dysfunction, and constricted readings of Scripture, people are leaving Christianity in droves. But Jesus describes the reign of God as a house with many rooms, writes author Debie Thomas, one of the most auspicious voices in religious writing today. In this work of sprawling spiritual and literary imagination, Thomas claims that wherever God dwells, there is expansiveness and belonging.

Thomas knows what a cramped faith feels like, what it's like to wrestle your way out of fundamentalism and toward a more capacious faith. From the diasporic church in which she grew up, which traces its lineage to the doubting disciple in India in the first century, to the disorientations of a deconstructing faith, to an ample yet orthodox Christianity that makes room for all her identities, Thomas takes readers on a deeply personal and profoundly theological odyssey. In A Faith of Many Rooms, she talks back to jaundiced versions of faith and finds evidence that the gospel insists on its own roominess.

The one thing that has kept me in the faith is deconstructing from the brand of Christianity in which I was raised and trained and, amid the smoke and ashes, finding it but one cramped and cluttered room in a very spacious house. The same is true for Episcopal minister Debie Thomas and A Faith of Many Rooms: Inhabiting a More Spacious Christianity is her story.

An important element of the story is the ethnic church in which Thomas grew up. Though she grew up in Boston, her family is from South India. She writes in the introduction that many of her childhood summers were spent in Kerala, that Malayalam was her native tongue, and that her childhood faith was steeped in South Asian culture. While this is crucial to the storyline in that it forms Thomas’s sense of belonging and informs some of the conservatism that connection to evangelicalism that her faith upbringing had, it isn’t central to the story. You don’t have to have been raised in an ethnic church to feel solidarity and connection with Thomas’s experience. At least I didn’t.

I also appreciate that, while Thomas has come out from the evangelicalism in which she was raised, she writes that she still has elements that she loves about the faith tradition she came from and speaks of the positive values it instilled in her that remain to this day. With so many stories of religious trauma and deconstruction—more like demolition than deconstruction—it is refreshing to hear someone give voice to the good of evangelicalism or the good it tried to be.

Each chapter of the book follows a different thematic element and offers a more spacious contrast between the narrow confines of her upbringing and the more spacious beliefs she carries now. There are chapters about learning to doubt well, about changing views on sin and salvation, about learning to lament, about gender equality, and more.

I found the chapter on sin and salvation to be especially poignant, as Thomas details her childhood as one riddled with anxiety that they had sinned and constantly asking for salvation—never sure or confident in the relationship they have with God. This is a huge part of evangelicalism and A Faith of Many Rooms gently leads to a bigger, more welcoming interpretation that recognizes the brokenness of sin but does not seek to break the person further.

A Faith of Many Rooms is engaging and beautifully-written. Thomas has a way with words and her ability to weave her personal story together with the larger story of so many raised like her creates a work that is both personal and communal. I read this hearing Thomas’s story. I read this reflecting my own. I’ve never met Debie, yet it felt like we were walking hand-in-hand together on this liberating journey. If you are struggling in your faith, if you want to leave your faith but not Jesus, Thomas tears down the walls and reveals to you that Christianity has always been bigger than you imagined.