Friday, December 10, 2010

Review: Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

I was in seminary when I first read Michael Spencer's blog Back in the day, I was working through some major theological truths that were rocking my world. Theology of Worship with Dr. Holmes was challenging everything I had previously thought about church, worship, ministry, and even the doctrine of salvation itself.

Doing some research for that class on organizing and leading a worship service, Google took me to the IMonk's essay on Christless preaching. This essay has shaped my preaching and teaching ministry since that time. I am now and always grateful for it.

In April of this year, Michael died. But before the cancer destroyed his body, Michael wrote Mere Churchianity. What a way to end one's pilgrimage.

In his later years, Michael became disenchanted with what what he called "church-shaped spirituality" or "churchianity." This is the false form of Christianity that pervades much of evangelicalism today. Instead, he called us back to a "Jesus-shaped spirituality." For all his flaws and struggles, Michael consistently looked to and pointed others toward Jesus. That is what makes this a very good book.

I am in the group Michael is criticizing. I am a pastor in an evangelical, (informally) institutional, Baptist church. Much in my life and ministry has distracted people away from Jesus. My work in youth ministry often replaced Jesus with some cool fad. I was (and in many ways still am) enamored with doctrinal correctness and stiff theologizing. And I can contribute to the problem.

But Michael urges me to keep Jesus at the center, in my life and in my ministry. While I may not agree with Michael's solutions, or even his diagnoses of the problems, I do agree that the answer is always Jesus kept front and center. Or, to say it better, Jesus followed and loved supremely.

I urge church leaders to read Mere Churchianity as a diagnostic tool. Is your church and ministry shaped by Jesus, or by the institution of your church? Michael urges me, and I hope you, to make it all about Jesus in a real way.

Some favorite quotes from the book:

Jesus-shaped discipleship produces people whose lives, habits, commitments, and words resemble Jesus more than the cultural ideals of comfort, convenience, and economic prosperity. (p. 15)

When you view evangelicalism from a distance, it becomes clear that almost all the problems can be traced back to evangelicalism's unquestioned commitment to be successful and relevant. (p. 25)

Wrong ideas about God are, themselves, false gods. They are idols just as much as a graven image. (p. 34)

When I first began to think about Jesus-shaped spirituality, I would ask this door opening question: If I spent three years with Jesus, how would I feel about...? The question is appropriate and revealing, no matter what the subject or issue happens to be. How would Jesus shape me in this area if he deeply influenced my thinking and living? (p. 42)

You can't have a Christian experience, in a church or outside one, without Jesus. (p. 49)

It's pointless to be cool, because trying to make Jesus sexy is a waste of time. (p. 79)

Faith is a lack of contentment with what I am, but a sense of satisfaction with what God has given me of himself in Jesus. The mark of saving faith is not just resting passively in the promises of the gospel (though that is exactly what justification does), but it's an ongoing war with the reality of my condition. (p. 146)

...sanctification consists, in large measure, in seeing our sin and acknowledging how deeply and extensively it has marred us. (p. 149)

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