Or rather, what I learned from a Christian and an atheist who went together to evaluate many churches.
The book is Jim and Casper Go to Church. Overall, I enjoyed the book. Granted, the book is the perspective of only one person (or rather two people), and they only visit the churches once. Nevertheless, their comments can still make you think.
A few key points I took away from the book (not necessarily the authors’ key points). . . They are not necessarily new, but they stood out (I include a few example pages, but others could be found):
- Most people don’t want to be argued/debated/contrived into Christianity. This is a lazy approach to ‘evangelism’ (some examples, pages 22-24, 35, 45, 48, 74, 129). Often it’s best to be silent and listen.
- Instead of ‘outreach’ (reaching out to bring people them in to church) consider ‘inbreaking’ (joining them where they are). Again, this is about building relationships (p. 95, 164). Ever heard of adopt-a-block?
- The whole congregation makes the church what it is, not just the pastors. If people aren’t engaged, it won’t seem like they care. If they don’t talk to people, people won’t feel welcome (p. 55, 57-58).
- In general, churches could spend more time showing and talking more about what they (individuals and groups) are doing to live out their faith (I mean during their Sunday services, but this could go for day-to-day too) (p. 67, 150-151).
- Worship songs (and sermons) need to have some substance to them, no matter how well they are delivered. Without content, delivery doesn’t matter (p. 54, 124, 126, 128).
A key point the authors made that really stuck out:
-Regardless of the style or form of a church (emerging, traditional, mega, seeker, etc.) and how unique a church claimed to be, they all followed the same general formula: music, announcements, money, sermon (p. 131).
Questions I have:
- Is the big “show” of a Sunday church service okay (lights, cameras, [fog] . . . action). Is this an acceptable form of contextualization, or a waste of money? (p. 118, 148, 154, 159-160)
- Do the above forms of Church simply feed the consumerism that the church preaches against? That is, does the church enforce the idea that we are here to give a good time/good product to the consumers who attend our church? (similarly, p. 136)
- Why do Christians have to be told to greet people (a greeting time in the service)? (p. 5).
-Remember, these are just questions, NOT conclusions.
Things I questioned in the book:
- The divide they presuppose (sometimes) between belief/faith and action (p. 45, 94). Faith and belief leads to and supports action. If I didn’t believe the elevator would hold, I wouldn’t get in it.
- The way the atheist (Casper) sometimes evaluates the church as though the church exists to meet his needs and to make him feel comfortable (the consumeristic mindset again). While this is part of the seeker sensitive model, it seems to me that the church gathers (in part) to worship God, and that this wouldn’t always be that welcoming/comfortable to someone who is not used to that tradition. [This is point is largely influenced by the thought of my wise ‘boss’].
- Often the evaluation of churches focuses on how well or at what level they are relating to one another (p. 82, 115, 163). While this is important, we gather for other reasons too (for example, to relate with God).
- The division between faith and knowledge both authors hold to (p. 110, 144-145, 166-167). While belief in gravity and belief in God do differ, neither are without a sense of ‘faith.’ I have faith/believe that this world is real (in gravity, etc.), in a similar way I have faith in God. Have these authors not seen The Matrix?! Further, faith is not “just hope and trust.” There are experiential and historical reasons to believe in God and Jesus Christ.
- The authors presuppose Christianity wasn’t meant to become a religion and was not a religion until about 300AD (the age of Constantine) (p. 18, 157). The latter (at least) is simply false. True, Jesus and his very first followers did not view Christianity as a new religion; they did however view it as part of Judaism. It was not until some non-Christian Jews started persecuting the Christian Jews (very soon after the death of Christ- read the book of Acts) that Christianity was viewed as a separate religion (plus the fact that many non-Jews started becoming Christians). Christianity was a religion nevertheless (this is all before 100AD).