August 15, 2007
Jesus Without Religion & Life After Church
We were apparently in a grandiose mood when we titled this season’s Likewise books. Coming soon to bookstores (and bookshelves, one might hope) everywhere are two books making bold statements about some of the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith.
First up is Jesus Without Religion, by Rick James, the king of faith-filled funk. Rick wrote his book as an attempt to look at Jesus through the text of the Bible and the culture of Jesus’ era, rather than through the institutional constructs put in place by centuries of church. Not that he has anything against church; Rick simply wants to get down to the nitty gritty: What did Jesus say, what did he do, and what was the point?
The only thing standing in the way between you and Jesus now is Rick’s Robin-Williams-esque sense of humor, which peppers each page and salts each assertion:
Genre is everything. The merit of the phrase “eggs, chili powder, prune juice and Captain Crunch” can only be assessed by learning whether the genre is that of a grocery list, a poem or a recipe. It’s a coherent grocery list, a lousy poem and a vile recipe.
To understand a particular section of the Bible, you simply must identify the genre. . . . Jesus’ . . . explanation for speaking in parables . . . is similar to the rationale behind a poem. The shocking truth is that Jesus doesn’t want everyone to understand him. Yes, that’s what I said, “Jesus did not want everyone to understand him.” . . .
In cloaking the truth in parables, Jesus allowed for people to be in a process, to be on a spiritual journey, to remain neutral if they chose. The parables are a dog whistle, piercing to the faithful but muted to the masses, graciously allowing the unready to avoid an out-and-out, final confrontation with the truth.
Pretty clever, huh? We see Jesus being controversial, then we see why. Add a little Captain Crunch and everybody’s happy.
On the heels of Rick’s book comes Life After Church: God’s Call to Disillusioned Christians by Brian Sanders. Brian is, and is writing about being, a leaver: in love with Jesus but dubious about the institution that carries his banner. Brian’s point is that many “churches” haven’t earned the title, or they’ve lost their way over time. It’s time to be honest, he challenges, and make lucid the hope that God calls us to as the church.
This isn’t, of course, some blanket permission to sleep in late on Sundays or to slander pastors and denominations or to sanctify your stool at the local bar. Brian’s helping us to understand what church really is and then pushing us to live into that understanding. You can do that where you are, within an existing church, or you can begin something new and revolutionary; either way, it needs to be done.
Try to be the church. Pray and serve and organize and dream and plan and give and welcome and sacrifice and form community and have conflict and reconcile and lead and share Jesus and behold and study and pray and teach and baptize and love and be a neighbor and meet needs and know people, all kinds of people. Be the church. Don’t be a victim of the structure you were born into; be a leader. Treasure Jesus, know him, study him, and then you will know yourself, who you were meant to be; then you will know the church and what it is meant to be. The vision God has for his bride is the same as the vision he had for his Son. It is the redemption of the world and the ushering in of the kingdom of God.
Brian’s book is a manifesto of sorts, a call to vital faith for people who feel their faith being gradually eroded.
These are only the latest books to emerge from our Likewise line. Plenty more where that came from, so keep us in your sights.