Mere Churchianity

Mere Churchianity by the late Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk, is an intriguing, entertaining, and provocative book.

Much of what Spencer writes resonates with me. He grieves the state of American evangelicalism. He believes that the church today has little in common with Jesus--the Jesus of the Gospels. He promotes a "Jesus-Shaped Spirituality." The sections and chapter titles of the book show some of his emphases:

Part I: The Jesus Disconnect

1 "When Church Signs Lie"
2 "The Jesus Disconnect"
3 "What If We're Wrong About God?"
4 "A Christianity Jesus Would Recognize"
5 "What Does Jesus-Shaped Spirituality Mean?"

Part II: The Jesus Briefing

6 Jesus or Vinegar
7 What We Can Know About Jesus
8 Accepting the Real Jesus
9 What Jesus Is Doing in the World

Part III: The Jesus Life

10 Jesus, the Bible, and the Free-Range Believer
11 It's a Bad Idea to Be a Good Christian
12 When I Am Weak
13 Leaving Behind the Church-Shaped Life
14 Jesus, Honesty, and the Man Who Wouldn't Smile

Part IV: The Jesus Community

15 The Good and Bad of Being Alone
16 The Evangelical Sellout
17 Following Jesus in the Life You Have
18 Some Help for the Journey

It is a book worth reading, though often too acerbic in tone for my taste. It is true to the title ("Mere Churchianity") than to the subtitle ("Finding Your Way Back to a Jesus-Shaped Spirituality"). It offers encouragement to the many people (including himself, though not his wife) who have more or less given up on churches and congratulates those who leave the church in order to follow Jesus (claiming, rightly I think, that many churches long ago left Jesus). But therein is a flaw. Spencer's personal experience often depicts images of the church being the church to him, while he claims all the while to have left the church. He promotes a vision of the church that is not confined to pulpits and chapels, but is slow himself to recognize THAT church in action, even in his own life.

Spencer's life and ministry was one of often-helpful critique of churches, and this book is often insightful (though less often helpful). It would be an interesting exercise to contrast Spencer's view of the church with that of, say, Anne Lamott (who is far from a traditionalist, and as such is someone he cites as an influence on him). It seems to me that Spencer loves Jesus, but not churches--not even the Church--which strikes me as an impossibility. For all its imperfections, particularly in American culture, and for all our admitted disservice to Jesus and his Gospel, Jesus loves the church. He wants it to change, I am sure, in pretty much all the ways Spencer points out. And nearly all of us can afford to break down walls and break out of our narrow, backward ways of doing "church" (I'm even writing a book on pretty much that subject right now!). But I tend to think a "Free-Range Believer," as Spencer calls it, is no more pursuing a "Jesus-Shaped Spirituality" than those who earn Spencer's disdain.

Still, as I say, the book is worth reading. And others may find it more constructive than I did. Because that's often how God works.

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