Leatherbound Terrorism by Chris Kratzer is a study of his personal journey from restrictive conservative Evangelical Christianity to a liberating understanding of God’s unconditional Grace.
Kratzer exposes the reader to an adolescence riddled with sickness, tension, and exploitation from those he trusted including his family. He desire to gain approval from his father leads him to create a distorted image of God.
A extended stay in the hospital as a child results in a spiritual experience where Kratzer’s feels a closeness to the Christian messiah Jesus. This encounter will later lead him to feel called into ministry, first in a mainline denomination. Kratzer’s first few years in this setting are described as difficult. After 5 years serving in congregational ministry under intense scrutiny Kratzer admits, “that the allures of conservative Evangelical Christianity were pimped in my direction.” (40) To him, there was a method to conservative evangelicalism which promised success. He read the right books and attended the right conferences, only to come back to the notion that he was essentially living a lie and faking his faith. Kratzer’s observation from other leaders in this camp was the same. “Everyone was faking it just like me - not because we wanted to, but because, truth be told, as I was discovering, that’ the best one can do while on the religious treadmill of conservative Evangelical Christianity.” (49)
This cycle would finally break Kratzer one evening at his bedside. Sitting beside his wife he told her to pack her things and take the kids and leave him. He was suffering emotionally, spiritually, and physically. His conservative Evangelical faith was telling him this was punishment from a god who was constantly disappointed. “I was a disappointment to myself, a perceived burden to others, and a barrier to the life my family deserved.” (55) In this crucial moment Kratzer describes seeing an image of Jesus. This image of Christ embraced him fully not for the works he believed were important and essential, but instead for who he already was; a beautiful creation made in the image of God. In this moment, Kratzer believes he came face to face with the God of grace. “It wasn’t a theology, philosophy, or a new way of thinking; it was a person - Jesus.” (55)
This moment spurs Kratzer to reflect back on the damage his conservative faith caused him, and others he ministered to, while a conservative Evangelical pastor. Now, being equipped with a Gospel of Grace, he moves forward in affirming those on the margins of society while challenging those who wish to perpetuate systems rooted in power and privilege.
I took Leatherbound Terrorism as both a confessional and redeeming work. Kratzer comes unabashedly hard with “bullet point” type paragraphs. His message seems urgent and I sometimes felt as if he was repetitive in some areas. Yet, the takeaway is worth these dragging moments. In the same spirit as Brennan Manning, Kratzer really does believe “all is grace.”