Takeaway: Moving the church and Christianity away from polemics means moving toward Christ. This a great book about being a Christian, not just looking good in Church.
Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition
The late Michael Spencer wrote this book with the many who have already left the church clearly in mind. There are…”Millions of people who could no longer believe in the God of American churchianity — whether Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant, Pentecostal, charismatic or evangelical.”
The key for him is not fixing the organization of the church, but the rediscovery of Jesus. He is well aware of some of the others that have also gone down this road. But I also think he starts with an assumption that is very important. “I need to make it clear that no one, and certainly not me, knows all there is to know about Jesus. Neither is there complete agreement about everything that is known and everything that is true about Jesus. At the same time, it’s a ridiculous misrepresentation to imply there’s not a remarkable consensus among Christians on what we can know about Jesus.”
Spencer is after the person that is Jesus, not our own projections (the Dr. Phil Jesus, the Che Guevara Jesus, similar to what Imaginary Jesusis talking about.) “Jesus wastes no time letting you know he’s not Protestant or an American. The more time I spent with him, the clearer it became that he didn’t seem to have a strong opinion on card playing, movie watching, dancing, or other demonized “worldly” influences. I’m still somewhat in shock to know that the wine Jesus made in John 2 wasn’t Welch’s grape juice. At age twenty-one, I had to admit that my church-shaped faith wasn’t always a dependable guide to Jesus.”
At the same time Spencer is not against the church. He just knows that churches can move us toward being a ‘good Christian’. But being a good Christian is not really what we should be after. “The exhausting effort to be a good Christian denies Christ. If you insist on securing your own holiness and acceptability, you disqualify yourself from receiving anything from Jesus. He came to earth to save sinners, not good Christians.”
“We need our brokenness. We need to admit it and know it is the real, true stuff of our earthly journey in a fallen world. It’s the cross on which Jesus meets us. It is the incarnation he takes up for us. It’s what his hands touch when he holds us.”
The major weakness of this book is that most of the time is spent diagnosing the problem. I think most of us agree there is a problem. The question is what to do about it. In many ways this is a very similar book to Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurection. But they have very different results. While Peterson pretty much says there is no spiritual growth apart from the church. Spencer’s focus is on why the church often causes people that want to grow to leave. I think the books can be read together and harmonized. But it would not be easy. Peterson says no church is perfect, but the church is what God gave us to be his body on earth. So find a church, commit to it, live with the people there, serve them and grow with them. Spencer says the church often detracts from Christ. So find Christ and when Christ and the church differ go with the Christ.
I think the problem is that for Spencer too many people focus on hearing what the church has to say and not hearing what Christ and the Holy Spirit say through scripture. For Peterson, he seems to think the problem is that too many people want to avoid messyness and try to do church on their own. I think both are right, but it is not easy to try to walk the narrow line of seeing church as a place to serve, build community, listen to scripture and still not become enamored by the organization and activity of the church. Both agree the purpose of the church should be about discipleship, not building an organization.
Both are fairly skeptical of large churches because the lack of personal relationship. Neither says you should not be in a large church, but they suggest it might be harder to work through the pagentry and buracracy that accompanies the large church.
I think this is well worth the read. And I would encourage a read in fairly close proximity to Practice Resurection. I think they are both made better with the flavor of the other.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for purposes of review.