Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Mere Churchianity, a Review

I had never heard of the Internet Monk prior to receiving this book, nor had I heard of Michael Spencer, the name he went by outside the blogosphere. No, I chose this book for two reasons: One, the title, Mere Churchianity, was clever and Two, I was interested in this so-called "Jesus-Shaped Spirituality." So the book arrived, I discovered it was published posthumously, and I dove in to see what this was all about.

To say I was immediately hooked would be misleading, though I was. For one, the author told a story at a Dairy Queen on Hartford Road, which, coincidentally, there was a DQ on a Hartford Rd just a few miles from my house. The story was a sad, indicative reflection of many modern youth groups and how they react outside of the church. But the sincerity of Michael Spencer's voice was heard: there was a problem with our churches.

A few pages later I discovered that Spencer grew up in the town I now call home, a small(ish) city in Western Kentucky. To make things even more interesting, his family still abides in these parts. So learning that Spencer was a local might have buried the hooks even deeper into me, assuring that I continue reading.

Yet, even without these coincidences, I would have had no problem finishing Mere Churchianity. The subject is something I believe is vitally important in our current, fast-paced, instantaneous society, and Spencer highlights many of the same problems I see all around me.

Churchianity is the art of shaping one's life after the church, as opposed to Jesus. Some may find this discrepancy negligible or a matter of semantics, but it's not. Look around. How many churches are truly following Jesus? How many pastors are standing in their multi-million dollar buildings wearing their fancy clothes and proclaiming that Jesus wants us to "have our best life now"? How many church goers are bigots? Racists? Homophobes? It doesn't take a genius to know that the word "Christianity" carries negative connotations, that all Christians are judgmental and close-minded. While this is untrue of all Christians, largely, to the rest of the world we're a religion that is intolerant of anything that doesn't fall under the OK of our set traditions and customs, most of which originated from the church, not Christ Himself.

Jesus was the ultimate example of love and humility. Who did He spend most of His time with while He was in His ministry? It wasn't the religious folks, that's for sure. No, He hung out with prostitutes, liars, thieves, tax collectors, Samaritans, and all the other lowlifes of the times. Jesus said in Matthew 9, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." How does this compare with our churches of today?

Largely, this disconnect is the focus of Spencer's Mere Churchianity. The book was written for people that had left the church or were thinking about it, people that were dissatisfied with how things were going, people that wanted a REAL church, not a group of hypocrites.

I found myself shaking my head at many of the things Spencer was saying, agreeing that we need to be REAL and dependent on each other, as the early church. There were some things that I disagreed with, of course, and I recommend reading these types of books with a critical & careful eye. Still, for the most part, Michael Spencer was absolutely right. Our churches are screwed up and are too busy focusing on things that don't matter and ignoring the One who does.

I very much enjoyed this book. My copy has notes and underlinings all over the place. Spencer wrote conversationally, but with conviction and honesty. This is the kind of book I wish more people read so as to see that we're not all judgmental and uncaring. I can recommend this book for the target audience (those leaving or thinking about it), but also for the lay church attender as well. The argument is urgent, and if churches don't start fixing things, I fear for the future of the bride of Christ.

*This book was received from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing in exchange for an honest review.


contemplatrix said...

good review. Unfortunately, I see an ever growing audience for this book.


Kristopher A. Denby said...

'While this is untrue of all Christians, largely, to the rest of the world we're a religion that is intolerant of anything that doesn't fall under the OK of our set traditions and customs, most of which originated from the church, not Christ Himself.'

Good point. But the notion of intolerance is built in to the religion in the concept of salvation. And when it comes to Christianity, that's pretty hard to get around. Kind of like the religious equivalent of saying "My daddy can beat up your daddy!"

This is something that I really struggle with, I have to say.

logankstewart said...

@L: As do I, friend, as do I, though I sincerely hope otherwise.

@Kris: Not sure I'm following. I don't see intolerance being built into the idea of salvation at all (if that's what you're saying). In fact, I see salvation as the ultimate example of tolerance and acceptance. God, infinitely wise and all-knowing, sees our sins and failures. While He doesn't tolerate (or abide) sin, He does tolerate us, the weak, human vessels He created.

Now, if we're talking about God tolerating other religions, yeah, that definitely boils down to a "daddy vs daddy" thing. It's so subjective and ultimately dependent upon faith (though many want to make it dependent upon how it makes them feel and the security it provides). For me, I worship the God of the Bible, the Father of Jesus, not because of how I was raised or for "fire-insurance", but because I want to. I have to believe that He created the universe and everything in it and that He is the only Truth worth believing in.

Does that mean that I think other religions (note, not denominations) are wrong? Yes, but only if they believe that Christ is not the only way to heaven. Is that comforting? No, but I believe in my heart that the truth of Christianity and the Bible is impossible to dispel, and held against any other religion, the Truth would be clear.

(Though, to be fair, no matter what, eventually there must be a faith component involved, be it in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, science, or anything else. Nothing can fully be understood, I don't think.)