‘Flirting with Faith,’ book review

Flirting with Faith Joan Ball At my wife’s suggestion, I recently read her copy of Flirting with Faith: My Spiritual Journey from Atheism to a Faith-Filled Life. Written by professor Joan Ball, it is the engaging, humorous and revealing story of how an affirmed atheist with no problems to speak of, searching for nothing and experience no spiritual doubts, was smacked down “Paul on the road to Damascus style” and, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, became the most surprised convert in New York.

What sets this story apart from that of Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell is Ball was not on a spiritual quest either to find the truth of Jesus or to disprove it only to be convinced. She was aware of the gospel and the scriptures, yet had come to the conclusion that neither were true. Her regular church attendance was due only to the desire of her husband and children.

Ball’s encounter with God did not, as so many Christian stories do, end with a new car, nicer clothes, more stuff and a TV show. Instead, she went from a very comfortable upscale life to loss of income, loss of job, husband’s loss of job, loss of savings and a child afflicted with an undiagnosable illness. God did not swoop down and give her a bunch of Christianese; He swooped in and gave her himself.

Speaking of Christianese, Flirting with Faith is, thankfully, completely devoid of it. Her story is told just as she lived it, with all the growing pains, simple faith and lack of vocabulary one would expect from a new convert not grown in the church greenhouse. Especially encouraging is the simplicity of faith in which Joan walked when learning to obey the Bible. It will challenge and convict all those but the closest to God.

One example of the “fall out” from Joan’s conversion is the effect it had on her husband, Martin, who was a solid believer, but with a less than active faith. She relayed the numerous times that she had peppered him with all the standard skeptic’s questions about the Bible, Noah’s ark, and the like. His simple, non-argumentative response always ranged along, “It’s in the Bible, so I believe it.” As she grew, he grew and the first step was in an unlikely place: Ephesians 5. She writes:

I know that he used to read the Bible a lot before we met, but I guess this bit must have gone by him.

“It says right here. I have to submit to you, and you have to be the head of the household.”

Martin looked at me like I had three heads, trying to decide how to respond to this latest wackiness. “Well,” he paused, thinking. “I don’t want you to submit to me.”

“Me neither. But it says it right here, and if we’re going to live this thing, I think we’ve got to be in it all the way.”

I can see how random this was. And now that I have learned how differently people approach their understanding of what the Bible says to them, and how they react to it, I find this independent choice to respond to this scripture literally is even more fascinating. But this was not some fallible human telling me what I was supposed to do, or a rule some church was throwing down at me. Best I could tell, these instructions were coming from the Big Guy himself, and I was ready to say yes to whatever he put in front of me.

“Okay,” Martin said. “Here is my first command.”

He certainly shifted quickly from not to yes on this one, I thought, bracing myself for what would come next.

“My first command is…that we do everything like we’ve always done it.” (pg. 59, emphasis in original)

This book is a good book for understanding how many seekers approach life and faith. It is also good for those who are seeking. Flirting is a “Read this and tell me what you think” kind of conversation starter.

It’s also a good book to be reminded of the simple faith you might have had when you first came to know God. A faith that might have gotten smothered in the ensuing complexities of life. Isn’t it odd how so many who have “walked with God” for a long time sometimes find themselves actually walking away from Him? There are some reminders here of what the early days were like.

You can order Flirting with Faith and more through the links below. You pay the same low price and I get a small commission.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • I am currently reading the book and thoroughly enjoying it. While it is copy loaned to me by a friend, I intend to add this to my library and pass along several copies to others.

    • Marty Duren

      Just make sure you buy’em here ;^)

      • No doubt, I will buy them here…and hopefully a few more:)

  • Thank you (and your wife) for your kind review. I really appreciate you taking the time to read it…

    • Marty Duren

      Joan-
      The pleasure was ours. Thx for the visit.

  • Beverly Brown

    Love this review of a fine book.

  • Beau

    Marty

    Do you have a book recommendation for me?

    I’ve been a Christian all my life and still attend with my family. But I’m intellectually losing my faith. Lewis’s Mere Christianity was the text that made me strong for years, but now I see too many holes in Lewis’s logic. Christianity and religion is making less and less sense to me. Please understand. This is not something I’m proud of … on the contrary, I feel as if I am going through a grieving process for the loss of my faith.

    I have a strong desire for a book that helps me find the reason to believe again. A sound approach.

    Any suggestions?

    • Marty Duren

      Beau-
      Thanks for stopping by, and for your openness.

      I would recommend the book reviewed in the article. Joan does a great job of articulating how she went from atheism to faith. It is the opposite of the direction you are dealing with, but I think you’ll find much similarity.

      Second, and perhaps surprisingly, I would recommend two books by two different agnostics/borderline atheists. The first is The Devil’s Delusion by David Berlinki. Berlinski does not set out to prove the existence of God, rather to demonstrate that the current arguments to the contrary are insufficient to accomplish their goal. The second is Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate by Terry Eagleton. (That one is reviewed on this site, a few months back. Use Books -> Non-fiction at the top.) Eagleton is a Marxist, but looks pretty honestly at how Western churches have covered up so much of how revolutionary Jesus did and said really was. I don’t agree with all of either of them, but the writing is excellent, and I come away with my faith strengthened by both.

      Finally, a book that has helped me on several occasions, Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron.

      Please feel free to email me through the contact link if you’d like to have a non-public conversation.

      • Beau

        Thank you so much, Marty. I’ve been browsing your posts and I appreciate your perspectives. I thought you’d be a good person to ask. I’ll look for these titles now.

        • Hi Beau. Would love to send you a free copy of Flirting with Faith if you’d like a copy. You can email me your address at joanpball@gmail.com. In the meantime, be gentle with yourself. I think faith is a creative journey. Artists will tell you that any painting, book sculpture is born with its creator toggling between faith and doubt. Learning to live in the tension between the two is the mark of great artists and, I believe, people of deep and sustained faith journeys. I’m a recovering alcoholic and will steal a term I learned there…don’t quit before the miracle happens. Give yourself permission to believe for awhile without believing. As the Holy Spirit to bridge the gap between your heart’s desire to stick it out and your head telling you to go. A little scary…and liberating.

          Peace.

        • Beau

          Joan

          Thank you so much for the offer and the wisdom. I think that’s where I am right now. Believing without believing. Thanks for the permission to live there a while and the wisdom to ask for the Holy Spirit’s voice. I can afford your book, so I’m going to buy it online, so you can save your copies for someone who can’t.

          And Marty – if you’re listening – maybe that means I should refrain from diatribe’s against ID science for a while. sorry