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Everyman Meets Jesus at Jack-in-the-Box

A Moody prof's unlikely spiritual journey.
2007This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

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 ...

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