Special Book Review: The Shift by Colby Martin
Updated: Mar 4, 2021
If you've said to yourself, "I'm losing my faith in Christianity," then this is a good book to take inventory of where you are, to feel “normalized”, and take your next steps at personal spiritual growth and perhaps even in lasting community.
Colby Martin’s The Shift: Surviving and Thriving after Moving from Conservative to Progressive Christianity is an unusual book, and I’d like to devote this blog post to it.
On one hand, a lot of books in the progressive or post-evangelical space, as important and helpful as they are, tend to be largely autobiographical, where the author pulls you through the evolution of their faith using personal stories. And on the other hand are the books that take on the ideas and structures of conservative Christianity and then offer new ways to think about faith and religion.
Admittedly, lumping everything into two categories is a simplification, but it helps demonstrate how Martin’s book is different; meaning, neither of the two above categories of books do a good job embodying a pastoral voice.
Colby Martin and his wife started a progressive church in San Diego in 2014, and it would seem he’s been around the block a few times, definitely at street level, not just theoretical. He’s worked with individuals who have gone through a personal evolution of faith, a “shift”, and likewise struggled with the dogma of a conservative evangelicalism that has dominated their lives. What’s more, his church and pastoring keep going, and he’s even helping other pastors to do the same.
So The Shift offers what any pastor book might offer: personal stories, passages from scripture, and straightforward, plain-speaking ideas about loving Jesus, God, and the Bible, about being in a community of faith, all on a breezy and practical level--but with a progressive orientation.
The narrative is conversational, easy to get, and you’re hard pressed to find much lingo, manipulation, or doublespeak. Also, it doesn’t necessarily lack nuance and it doesn’t quickly gloss over real issues like religious trauma and the evangelical Christian entanglements with racism, sexism, LGBTQ discrimination, and political populism.
One of the consistent markers of someone leaving a faith community is a feeling of loneliness, even shame. But in Martin's experience, it is extremely common and happens all the time, if not increasingly. He writes in the introduction that “I hope this book normalizes that experience for you.” To this reader, who has studied this issue both personally and professionally, he accomplishes that task and more.
There are chapters helping you understand what you’re experiencing, how to think about God, Jesus, and the Bible, and how to find community, which is perhaps the biggest concern of those going through a shift, with the exception of those who just need space. There’s a chapter on “Waging the War Within” about our inner critic, our old self, that will not just evaporate (taking a stance against the evangelical trope of instant life change). While there might be external change in how you connect to faith and what you say, you’re still very much struggling internally. And as a first for me, he also talks about how even though a progressive community might seem like a new utopia, it can be subject to infighting and even personal attacks, just like any corporate life. That admittance demonstrates genuine maturity in the author. There’s even a chapter on how to handle family members who don’t understand you.
Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive book, nor any substitute for the wise counsel of a spiritual director or therapist, if you may need one. But it’s unique in that it’s an accessible, friendly read that fulfills its promise as a guide to just about everything you’d want in a helpful handbook on what is a sticky, hairy, ongoing topic. It’s a good book to take inventory of where you are, to feel “normalized”, and take your next steps at personal spiritual growth and perhaps even in lasting community.