Holy Runaways – Matthias Roberts

Holy Runaways: Rediscovering Faith After Being Burned by Religion by Matthias Roberts, Jen Hatmaker
Also by this author: Beyond Shame: Creating a Healthy Sex Life on Your Own Terms
Published by Broadleaf Books on October 3, 2023
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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Holy Runaways speaks to people who are feeling ignored, oppressed, or rejected by their religious community and church, offering a path forward built on speaking truth, deep listening, and acting with compassion.

In the past decade, church attendance among US adults has decreased by more than 25 percent. Americans report leaving religious communities because of the institutions' hypocrisy and resistance to change or because of trauma they have experienced in those spaces. Instead of safe havens for people of faith, many churches have become sites of harm--places people feel the need to escape at all costs.

In Holy Runaways, psychotherapist Matthias Roberts reaches out to those who, like him, want to understand the religion they've run from and erect a new faith on firmer foundations. He concludes that the best blueprint for a new spiritual home requires reimagining ourselves, God, and our very definition of faith.

Roberts blends deeply personal stories, new interpretations of familiar Christian parables, and recent scholarship about the dynamics of trauma to offer a way forward--and a warm, helpful companion--for readers on their own journeys. He calls out people who perpetuate systems of violence and oppression and suggests ways we can all contribute to a new system built on love--and a new home we can inhabit together.

Holy Runaways is a memoir of and blueprint for reconstructing a new and vibrant faith after walking away from toxic religion. Specifically, it is a handbook that recounts Matthias Roberts journey away from his evangelical upbringing and toward a wider, more inclusive Christianity. Roberts uses his story to lead others on the same journey toward rediscovering faith after being burned by religion.

As a psychotherapist, Roberts is fully-equipped to tell this story from a professional perspective as well. Using studies on religious trauma, Holy Runaways is able to validate the trauma of bad religion and teach readers to build beauty from ashes. But this is no academic tome. Roberts writes with candor, brevity, and quick accessibility. His writing is exhortative and emotion-invoking, challenging and life-giving.

There’s so much I wanted to like about this book. And may people I respect and love have. Jeff Chu, who was given the task of editing to completion Rachel Held Evans’ posthumous work Wholehearted Faith gives an endorsement. So does Jonathan Martin, author of The Road Away from God—a stunning work that still remains for me the go-to book for discussing deconstruction. Jen Hatmaker writes the foreword and absolutely gushes over Matthias and the book. Which made me wonder what my hangup was, because I just couldn’t get into it.

After some deliberation and a couple read-throughs, I determined it was not the message, or the messenger, but the shape and format of the message. Holy Runaways is written in short bursts—little 3-4 page blog-style entries that I think was meant to evoke a sense of poetry. Instead, how it came across to me was as something scattered and incomplete. As soon as Roberts develops a thought, he moves onto a different one. The book struggles to build a cohesive narrative. I never felt like I could settle into the book because it kept jumping around.

In terms of content, Holy Runaways was refreshing. But it’s not something I haven’t heard elsewhere with more clarity, depth, and substance. The style might appeal to some—which is why I want to be clear that this book was not for me but that doesn’t mean the book won’t be for you.

The book strength is that it reaches out to those who have undergone religious trauma, tells them they aren’t alone, and walks with them toward a place of healing. And that’s absolutely beautiful. For me, though, the medium muddled the message.