Saturday, May 17, 2008

Review of “Jim & Casper Go to Church” by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper.

The church staff has just finished reading this book, a few weeks ago I think, and like many of the books I read, this one was recommended to me by several of them. Usually I’ll grab a used copy of whatever book they’ve recently read from the bookshelf where someone has discarded it, but this time, I couldn’t find one so I borrowed Wilson’s. It has his name in the front cover and some notes and highlights here and there. The interesting thing is that I obviously got something different from it than he did because of the things he highlights and the notes he wrote. I considered using a different highlighter and highlighting my own stuff, but I decided I was too lazy to find one.

This book is about a guy and his atheist visiting churches. Jim actually has at times paid people to come to church and gotten their opinions about what to do better, and it becomes glaringly obvious in the first chapter that what Christians think attracts non-believers is actually the thing that they may dislike the most. It ends up being a tickle me Elmo show, preaching to the choir. Elmo is meant to be tickled; it doesn’t really help anyone or accomplish anything. Coincidentally, the first church they visit is Saddleback, and Casper’s reviews are the most telling. He says things that all Christians know but choose to ignore because they like it how it is or because it’s comfortable. I’ve read the Purpose Driven Life book, and it taught me a few things, but like Casper says, where’s the call to action? We talk about our faith being lived out in our works, but besides not breaking the rules, where does that leave us? It leaves us doing nothing bad, but also nothing good.

As I continued reading, Casper’s words often struck me much more than Jim’s did. He was very straightforward and honest, not hiding things, not beating around the bush, very blunt, like me. He saw through all the B. S. and whitewash that we regular churchgoers just accept as normal and don’t even notice. It brought to my mind the prayers that pastors and others pray before and after the sermon, or at other places in the service. They sound so fake. They sound like an extension of the sermon, if the sermon was about King David, surely the prayer would mention something that we should do, either like him or not like him. Where’s the honesty? If I am ever asked to deliver a message, forget you congregationers, I’m gonna be prayin’ for me. “Oh Lord, help me not to crap my pants or wet myself or sweat through my shirt up in here, stretch forth your mighty hand and keep me from saying something really stupid.” Not something worthless like “Thank you Lord for the example of [Bible character] [doing something/not doing something], let us [have/not have] the [trait] [like/not like] [him/her].”

One of Casper’s most common references was to the lack of a charge to do something, or the lack of hearing what others were doing. I agree with this wholeheartedly. My favorite church memories are of missionaries and others sharing their stories, the things they have done, the things done to them, the miracles they have seen or experienced. I love to read what others do to change the world, not just Mother Theresa or Shane Claiborne, but even non-Christians like Gandhi or even Ed Begley Jr. You see, the heart of Evangelicalism is action, and that’s why politicians can’t get things done, they can be pro environment and preach all day long, but they will never get people to change like say J. Matthew Sleeth can because he actually lives what he preaches. He, Mother Theresa and Ed Begley actually made sacrifices in their lives to match what they believe. Who would ever think of a real live movie star riding a bicycle to the set because he doesn’t believe that the best way to get there is a car. I want to know what the faithful are doing in Honduras, East Asia, Albania, and wherever else they are because that will give me an idea of what I can do. Because following Jesus is not simply about believing something. If I am believing that I am following someone down the road, but not actually moving, then I am not actually following am I? I believe the way to get people to do things is to ask them to do things. Why do kids slave and work to their limit and get yelled at by a football coach? They sure aren’t getting paid. They need something do accomplish, and the church is the same way. Contemporary churches are languishing in their comfort, in the “bless us, love us, make us happy” mentality. And that’s because that’s not the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, he taught us “your will be done, only give us what we need to do it.”

I used to think my faith would never be fulfilled unless I led someone to Christ. But eventually I came to understand that God’s plan may or may not involve anything I plan or expect to do. However, many in the church think that their sole purpose in life, no matter how unsuccessful they may be is to “win souls for Christ.” I can appreciate the enthusiasm, but you will be held accountable at the judgment for those you drive away I believe. This is something Casper works through in the book. He sees that many times, Christians only have non believing friends as projects. The only reason they keep them around is to try to convert them. That is no friendship at all.

Another common thing in contemporary Christianity is the notion that we have to pray some kind of prayer to accept Jesus into our heart and “get saved.” Jesus didn’t work that way. He just walked up to the tree and said “Zaccheus, I’m coming to your place tonight.” I don’t know how much of the conversation isn’t recorded, but interestingly enough, Jesus never tells Zach to ask himself into his heart. No prayer, all Zach does is offer to pay back all he has taken and to help the poor, and Jesus says he has salvation. That’s all it took from Zach. Jesus didn’t even tell him to be baptized. All Zach had to do is repent and to do what was right and to do the kinds of things Jesus did and he was in. Now of course, I say “all he had to do” and it ends up being in a sense way more than simply praying a prayer, but that is my whole point. True faith in Jesus was never just praying a prayer and showing up to church, maybe tossing a fiver in the plate once and a while. True faith in Christ was and has always been a radical change in your life, your way of thinking, and I’d say in a sense, who you are. Salvation is simple, but it should not be made easy, it is also hard, but it should not be made difficult. A single prayer or full-blown legalism, either way is not the real way. The right way is what Jesus said, “follow me.”

Later on was the chapter about Emergent churches. Here I think Jim needed to do a little more research because the two churches he visited were not really all that emergent, and Mars Hill especially. Imago Dei was closer, but still not on the caliber of some of the others like Mars Hill Bible. At any rate, I don’t know if any of the three churches even claim to be part of the movement anyway. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Imago Dei, and this book is no exception. Casper found it very refreshing, a church in an old building, a video of restoring a park, sermon on giving in a real way and stuff like that. It was practical and relevant. Mars Hill on the other hand was more fundamentalist, more focused on not sinning, and mentioning sex a lot as Driscoll tends to do. I do listen to Driscoll quite a bit, every week generally, but I don’t really agree with him on a whole lot of things. I do understand what he has to deal with being in one of the centers of modern “Rome” as it were. These are the people needing “spiritual milk” as Paul would put it. However, he is quite rough, he used to be known as the cussing pastor and he is definitely Calvinist. But he is a good teacher. But like what Casper was looking for, I like the calls to action, and Mars Hill doesn’t support too many missionaries that I know of.

And finally were the mega churches of Joel Osteen and T. D. Jakes. These two churches tend to typify all that non-believers find hypocritical or off-putting about the Church today. It’s all about the glamour, the hugeness, and mostly, it’s all about you and your money. I agree with Casper when he says that it’s pretty hard to come up with “God is gonna make you rich” from the bible. There’s the problem of having a camel and a needle to fit him through. Leave it to an atheist to figure out the obviousness of that one. This section of the book is where I pretty much disagreed with Jim. He came from a Pentecostal background and could relate to T. D. Jakes’ church and how black people tended to use money to show they had overcome diversity. But what does that do for God’s work in the world? Sure, it makes them American, and shows they have over come American racial problems, but Christians are Christians first, not Americans first. Additionally, poverty and adversity is not only attached to people with dark skin, I know because I’m pretty darn white and I grew up poor. Poverty is not about lack of money, but I’ll explore that one at some point in the future.

In conclusion, it is Casper’s question that really tells the point of the whole book. “Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?” Wow, it hits the heart. We love us some church, but Jesus never mentioned church. He mentioned the congregation. He mentioned the poor, the downtrodden, the disadvantaged and the religious. WWJD. Again, leave it to an atheist to really put meaning to a Christian cliché, which is what has become.


No comments: