*** DEBUG END ***

Not for the posh or po-faced

27 November 2015

Jennie Hogan hugely enjoys an unusual take on spirituality


Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the wrong people
Nadia Bolz-Weber
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (use code WISEMEN)


I AM flattered that the Church Times invited me to review Accidental Saints — not least because they judged that its profane dialect, such as the first chapter’s title, “Absolution for Assholes”, would not make me blush. While the Lutheran clergywoman Nadia Bolz-Weber may write with brutal force, her latest book exudes eloquent and fervent theological insight.

Why Bolz-Weber describes herself as “religious, but not spiritual” is entirely understandable. Here, readers experience the “unbounded mercy” of God as though participating in the liturgy of the people of House for all Sinners and Saints, in Denver, where she is pastor. Indeed, the book is prefaced by the opening verses of the ancient Easter Exultet. Still unconvinced? Her arms are tattooed with images of the liturgical year.

Glorious light banishing darkness is the leitmotif here. Given that much is autobiographical, this is unsurprising. Bolz-Weber was brought up as a fundamentalist Christian, rebelled, and became a drug- and alcohol-addict, and stand-up comedian. Only after being asked to lead a funeral for a friend did she realise that she could serve those who were grieving — and others — in a particular way.

Although her world is undoubtedly sacramental, she presides within a congregation of misfits with radical hospitality and humility, admitting: “I’m a leader, but only by saying, ‘Oh screw it, I’ll go first.’”

Admissions of failure, resentment, and self-obsession appear in many short chapters that have the verve to stand alone, and sufficient nuance to enlarge gradually our understanding of her community. Some biblical texts are explored here, without neat reflections, only with the author’s coruscating and sometimes confessional honesty.

In the chapter “Judas will now take your confession”, the traitor is seen as a victim who, unlike the betrayer Peter, “chose death before seeing that death was done for”. Her community of undesirables becomes a place where grace is “told” through compassion and forgiveness.

A former fundamentalist’s reflections on the ubiquitous imagery of Mary again celebrate her experience of the strange and incessant love of God. She writes: “Mary is what it looks like to believe that we are already who God says we are.” Throughout, ersatz originality combines with candour and, certainly, muscular teaching.

By no means a gift for the faint-hearted, this is certainly a book to give to the multitude who presume that Christianity is the preserve of the posh, polite, and po-faced. Accidental Saints makes for both engaging post-Christmas reading and spirited motivation for Lent preparation in the dark days of winter.


The Revd Jennie Hogan is Chaplain to Goodenough College, and Associate Priest at St Giles’s, Cripplegate, in London.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)