by Andrew Taylor-Troutman
Wipf and Stock Publishing, Eugene Ore. 120 pages
reviewed by Lori Archer Raible
How is a typical pastor, serving a smalltown church, full of average people living normal lives in an ordinary week, novel worthy? In his third book and debut novel, author Andrew Taylor-Troutman puts time in its proper place. “Grace is found in the ordinary if you are awake and paying attention.”
“Earning Innocence” is a pause from the frenetic pace of life and creates space for the reader to take a breath and consider how God is at work in our relationships for redemption and peace. As he captures the intimacies and realities of everyday life, Taylor-Troutman proclaims an alternative truth to the current polarizing debate of what it means to live as people of Christian faith in community without apology or explanation.
With only a little more than 100 pages, one who expects a quick glimpse of a two-dimensional Instagram snapshot will be pleased to discover she is being drawn slowly into a masterful oil painting of deep shadows, colorful landscapes, full senses and intricate shading. The author is an image painter with strokes of generational depth and detailed relationships.
The story of Reverend James Wheeler and those he loves is brushed upon a layered foundation of theological integrity. Not only does the author trust the reader will understand the theology, but he makes it further accessible through the experiences of his characters. This makes “Earning Innocence” a rare gem for the church.
As the main character James Wheeler journals, Taylor-Troutman’s identity as a pastor is also revealed. “Whether spelled or spoken, sung or prayed, words are my medium. People look to me to paint, however imperfectly, some vision of the mysteries of life.” It is within this intimacy that the author earns both the trust and respect of his readership. One will appreciate being drawn into the intimate spaces of a pastor’s heart, as the interwoven nature of a pastor’s love for those he serves is revealed. For better or worse, in life and in death, from generation to generation, each character has a unique story. Some are heart wrenching and others are ridiculous, but the pastor knows each of them and carries them with humility and hope. However, it is within the depths of his own story, his own family, his own struggle, where the power and grace of Christ’s church comes to light. This is a refreshing truth for both pastors and congregations to consider.
“Earning Innocence” is for Sunday afternoons on the porch, coffee shop chats, book clubs and small group studies. A seven-day structure invites at least seven discussions as stories of grace, prayer, salvation, community, forgiveness and redemption fold into one another.
This is a book to engage, not consume. Most of all, “Earning Innocence” draws the reader in deep, slows her down and invites her to consider her own story as a part of God’s greater narrative.
It’s almost biblical.
Lori Archer Raible is a pastor at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. She also serves as a co-chair for Next Church.