A “Best Spiritual Book of the Year.”
Spirituality & Practice

Finding God Beyond Religion: A Guide for Skeptics, Agnostics & Unorthodox Believers Inside & Outside the Church

An accessible guide to a meaningful spiritual life that reinterprets traditional religious teachings central to the Christian faith in ways that connect with people who have outgrown the beliefs and devotional practices that once made sense to them.

Tom Stella
Foreword by The Rev. Canon Marianne Wells Borg

6 x 9, 160 pp | 978-1-59473-485-4

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Take Your Understanding of Church Teachings from Limiting to Life-Giving—& Free Your Faith to Flourish

“No longer sustained by easy answers, we may find ourselves standing before a three-pronged fork in the road: we can wander in the direction of conventional beliefs and practices, we can reject God and turn away from religion altogether, or we can embrace our uncertainty as an invitation to a more vital understanding of both God and religion.”

from the Introduction

Do you describe yourself as “spiritual but not religious”? Whether young or old, church connected or not, are you spiritually restless for an authentic faith life but do not find conventional religious teachings pertinent to you?

This accessible guide to a meaningful spiritual life is a salve for your soul. It reinterprets traditional religious teachings central to the Christian faith—God, Jesus, faith, prayer, morality and more—in ways that connect with people who have outgrown the beliefs and devotional practices that once made sense to them. It helps you find new ways to understand and relate to traditional, narrowly defined Christian “truths” that honor their full spiritual power and scope, and opens your mind and heart to the full impact of Christian teachings.

“A remarkably clear distillation of wisdom about what it means to be Christian in the twenty-first century.”

Marcus Borg, best-selling author, Speaking Christian and Evolution of the Word

“Essential reading for all spiritual seekers—and for all of us who live with big questions! Issues a compelling invitation for us to examine and enlarge our understanding of God and how we are of God. Highly recommended.”

Nancy L. Bieber, teacher; spiritual director; author, Decision Making & Spiritual Discernment: The Sacred Art of Finding Your Way

“Urges readers not to let religion of any denominational flavor become a stumbling block to a profound encounter with God. Tackles head-on thorny topics too often avoided in fuzzier writing on spirituality.... Forward-thinking ... a cup of cool water to the spiritually dehydrated.”

Publishers Weekly

“Profound and personal ... challenges our familiar yet often unsatisfying approaches to prayer and belief, and moves beyond to the very heart of the divine experience. You need not agree with everything within to be able to answer this call to awaken and embrace the passionate spiritual life.”

Rev. C. K. Robertson, PhD, Canon to the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church; author, A Dangerous Dozen: 12 Christians Who Threatened the Status Quo but Taught Us to Live Like Jesus

“Stella shares the fruit of a lifetime’s spiritual evolution and experience as he freshly interprets nine central dimensions of Christian faith. Many readers will find him a wise spiritual friend.... Highly recommended for seekers of a mature faith and spiritual community.”

Rev. Tilden Edwards, PhD, founder and senior fellow, The Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation

“[Offers] the best insights of the most thoughtful theologians, poets and mystics.... Catholic Christians, take heart. Here’s a book to vitalize faith. Protestants, secularists and persons put off by religion-as-usual, welcome.”

The Rev. Dr. James W. White, PhD, minister emeritus, First Congregational UCC, Colorado Springs, Colorado

“Fluent [and] compelling.... Exceptionally cogent spiritual guidance.”

American Library Association Booklist

“Saves a new searcher many years of wandering, and reminds a fellow-traveler of the crucial insights from major spiritual stars, adding one—Stella himself.”

Carolyn Jane Bohler, author, God the What?: What Our Metaphors for God Reveal about Our Beliefs in God

Foreword xi
Introduction xv
1. God Beyond Religion 1
2. What Becomes of Prayer If There Is No God? 13
3. From Belief to Faith 27
4. Jesus: The Way, or in the Way? 39
5. Why Didn't Someone Tell Me I'm a Mystic? 51
6. Inspiration Is Not Dictation 65
7. Morality As Right Relationship 77
8. What Problem of Evil? 89
9. Church with a Mission, Mission with a Church 103
Epilogue: A Spiritual Epoch on the Rise 115
Acknowledgments 119
Notes 121
Suggestions for Further Reading 125



What are you hoping to communicate to those who read your book?
I would love to have my readers sense the spiritual meaning of religious truths. The timeless teachings of all faith traditions are rich. They have the power to liberate our minds, transform our hearts, and motivate our actions. But there is a conventional way of understanding doctrine and entering into devotions that amounts to a kind of sleepwalking. There is a spiritual depth both within and beyond ourselves that religion (from the Latin words re ligare, meaning “to rebind”) is meant to connect us to. I hope my writing serves to wake people up to that depth.

The subtitle of your book indicates that you write for those who feel marginalized when it comes to organized religion. Why is that your target audience?
Because I am one who struggles with institutional religion/church, I am sensitive to those who share that struggle. I sometimes refer to these people as “spiritually homeless and hungry.” There are a growing number of folks who, because they question and/or reject the religious beliefs and practices that once held meaning for them, are no longer part of a faith community. In my experience, most of these people hope to find others who share their questions and who hunger for an interpretation of things religious that will feed and nourish their souls.

In your book you use the term “mediocre mystics”. This seems like an oxymoron; can you clarify what you mean by that term?
My friend Jim Finley says that mystics are those who undergo a transformation from which they emerge with a realized sense of oneness with God, others, and all creation. I believe that everyone is one with God, others, and all creation, but not many of us walk the earth with that awareness. We are mystics in that we share in that oneness. We are mediocre in that we are estranged from, ignorant of, and blind to that reality. What’s important to remember is that our unconsciousness does not lessen the Truth of the union we are a part of. Our mediocrity is the human condition. With few exceptions, we are all out of touch with the divinity within—what Thomas Merton refers to as our True Self.

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Chapter 1

  • What are your earliest impressions, thoughts, images, and feelings regarding God?
  • In what ordinary aspects of life do you stumble upon the Holy?
  • How has your concept of and relationship with God grown? What is your current view of God? What are the catalysts that have influenced your concept of God?

Chapter 2

  • How did you pray when you were a child, and what did you expect from the act of praying? How has your prayer practice changed since you were a child?
  • How do you know when your prayers are answered, and how do you explain it when they are not?
  • How does the notion of appreciation or presence as a form of prayer resonate with your personal prayer practice?
  • What aspects of interpersonal relationships do you experience as a dimension of prayer?

Chapter 3

  • What religious teachings that you learned through a specific religion or church do you no longer believe? Why?
  • How would you articulate the distinction between belief and faith in your own words? How it is similar to or different from the distinction described in this chapter?
  • What role, if any, has doubt or questioning played in bringing you to your current beliefs about religious truths? What role, if any, has it played in deepening your spiritual life?
  • If faith is a way of living that involves trust in God, life, and love, do you consider yourself a person of faith? Why or why not?

Chapter 4

  • How did you view Jesus when you first learned about him?
  • When you consider Jesus from the perspective of low Christology�that is, with an emphasis on his human attributes�does the perspective of low Christology conflict with the belief that he was or is divine? Explain.
  • Why or how might it be true that humanity and divinity are inseparable?
  • In what ways might you claim that Jesus was unique, different from anyone before or after him?

Chapter 5

  • Why, despite the radical sound of it, might you say with confidence that you too are a mystic?
  • Identify a time in your life when you felt “all is well,” as Julian of Norwich wrote, despite the outward fact that it was not.
  • Who, if anyone, related to you in such a way that you felt special to, exceptional to, loved by, or close to God?
  • What aspects of your self do you encounter when you look within?

Chapter 6

  • Presuming that you have been inspired, describe how it felt and what it led you to do.
  • When you first encountered the Bible, what did you learn about its authority?
  • In what ways has the Bible shaped your life? How has its message made you a better person?
  • In what biblical stories and parables can you see yourself?

Chapter 7

  • Describe the feelings that accompanied your first exposure to moral teachings. What positive purpose do moral teachings like the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule have in your life?
  • Describe a time in your life when being true to the Spirit may have required you to go beyond the law.
  • What life lessons have you learned? What meaning have you discovered by experiencing life’s ups and downs? How would you put into words the “moral” of your life?

Chapter 8

  • How do you try to make sense of the fact that evil is so ever-present?
  • What, if any, incongruence is there between your notion of God and the existence of evil?
  • How has your experience of life’s difficulties affected your beliefs about God? Have you ever experienced the loving presence of God in the midst of suffering? If so, describe what that was like.

Chapter 9

  • What reforms do you think are needed in your religious tradition and/or in churches in general?
  • If you once belonged to a church, why did you leave? What would be required in order for you to return to communal religious practice?
  • What is your experience of church regarding cultural life versus religious or spiritual life?
  • Which have you heard more about from the pulpit, “good and evil” or the idea that we are spiritual beings?