John Koessler is at once an Everyman and an anomaly. You might expect the former pastor and now chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute to have been "raised in the church," as the saying goes. Rather, he's a virtual nobody from nowhere, raised by parents both agnostic and dysfunctional. Thus his memoir, in which he proves himself a graceful writer, is a coming-of-age and coming-to-faith saga A Stranger in the House of God: From Doubt to Faith and Everywhere in Between.

The book is immediately accessible, sharing how Everyman views us churchgoers. Koessler is disarmingly self-revelatory, at first curiously observing people of faith as an outsider, then eventually gushing theological and spiritual insights while never positioning himself above his readers.

The real turning point in Koessler's life came in the early 1970s in, of all places, the back room of a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant where Koessler worked after high school. (For a fuller retelling, see Koessler's article "Why I Return to the Pews," CT, December 2004.) Calling himself "contemplative by nature," John found the lonely midnight shift exacerbated his introspective tendencies. That, coupled with his mother's debilitating illness and his father's alcoholism, led him to depression.

John says suicide crossed his mind, "but only in the vague, romanticized way most adolescents consider it. … If only I could handle the matter cleanly and in a way that ensured I did not actually have to die."

Eventually he joined a Pentecostal assembly. While he was never wholly comfortable there and eventually soured on what he considered its excesses, Koessler learned much and truly came to faith.

Along the way, Koessler tells of disappointment with romantic love, then finding his wife and starting a family. Early pastoring adventures in rural Illinois made him realize that church problems are not limited by geography.

Through the years, Koessler says, after having attended many churches, he has made a surprising discovery: "Most of the Christians I know are disappointed with their church, finding it to be either too traditional or too modern. The sermon is either too theological or not theological enough. The people, too cold to one another or too cliquish. In the end, the root problem is always the same. It is the people."

In an age when the church faces disparities among right-wing conservatives, the emergent church, and even a Pope who claims the Catholic Church as the only true church, Koessler's quiet little memoir is instructive.

A Stranger in the House of God returns us to common roots—to how churches and believers are viewed by outsiders, and to how the power of God unto salvation is still operative on middle America's Everyman.

I find myself thinking of it at every service I attend, eager to stay attuned to the Everyman or Everywoman who might cross our threshold.

Jerry B. Jenkins, author of Writing for the Soul

Related Elsewhere:

A Stranger in the House of God is available from and other book retailers.

Zondervan has more information on the book, including a sample chapter.

Koessler's site has more on his writings and speaking engagements.

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