Home > Book discussion > Book discussion: Mere Churchianity, part 2

Book discussion: Mere Churchianity, part 2

We’re continuing our discussion of Michael Spencer’s book Mere Churchianity, picking up on themes from Chapter 2, which is titled The Jesus Disconnect.

The first theme Spencer addresses is that of many evangelical Christians failing to see the problem of non-Christians distancing themselves from the church, wanting very little to do with it or the Christians who comprise it.

Spencer then addresses the first thing I think of when I hear a statement like that: of course pagans won’t want anything to do with Christianity nor Christians. It’s an understandable, and easy, response to have, and it can kill the discussion right then and there.

You have to frame it in such a way that the discussion goes beyond the obvious. Why do non-Christians want nothing to do with Christians and the church? Why do non-Christians seem more open to Jesus than His followers? Is it their sin, or is it ours? This I believe is what Spencer is aiming to address.

Some time ago, Spencer wrote a series of threads on his blog involving the “coming evangelical collapse” that were later compiled into an essay for the Christian Science Monitor.

One of the responses, Spencer says, was from evangelicals who replied by saying everything was alright by pointing to their prosperity.

But how does that prosperity account for the growing trend of people abandoning the institutional church in America? Not necessarily their faith, but the institutions they came to faith in and spent years in before finally walking away?

One factor Spencer points to is evangelicalism’s tendency to be culturally relevant, and what he calls a “misdirected brand of spirituality and community that is being promoted by the most successful evangelicals”.

He then follows up with a potentially provocative comment: “Evangelicalism has become the sworn enemy of biblical Christianity…it’s more like a fraternal lodge with its own language, rules, requirements, rituals, and secret handshake”. Then he comments on people abandoning evangelicalism en masse for Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or no belief at all.

Evangelicalism, Spencer charges, has abandoned Jesus. And people in turn are abandoning evangelicalism because of its disconnect from Jesus.

Spencer gives examples of what contemporary evangelicalism sellsprovides tofor its customersmembers and attendees:

  • Financial prosperity
  • Good sex
  • Patriotism

And what of the concept of community, as presented by many evangelical churches?

Is it like the community Jesus gathered around Himself…or not?

Spencer is asking if what the evangelical church presents as Christianity actually representative of Jesus, or consumeristic religion….like a pecan pie without pecans.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book myself, and my opinions are my own and not those of the author nor the publisher. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  1. Joe B
    July 6, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    I need to read this book, if only because of the title. I have long held that evangelicalism has abandoned Jesus, largely by substituting an abstract formula for the Jesus of the Gospels. (You can imagine how poular this makes me in my evangelical church.)
    Unlike Spencer, I do NOT see this mass migration of evangelicals to catholicism and orthodoxy and other high-church brands. I think this is an illusion of the blogoshere. And while I am sure there are bright spots of faith in those high-church brands, I see no basis for the notion that those groups are any more true in their devotion to Jesus.
    People who feel personally offended by their experience in evangelicalism are likely to see its warts most vividly, and the same would be true of those who feel cheated by Rome or the Main-Liners.
    In my eyes, they both wear the “Scarlet C” of churchianity, which is just a stylized figure of the “P of Pharisaism” and the “S of Sadduceeism.” And remember, what was the common ground between theses natural enemies, Pharisee and Sadducee? That’s right…they agreed that Jesus was ruining everything. and they killed him.
    SO! Let’s not deliberate whether to be High-Church or Low-Church, Pharisee or Sadducee. Let’s shoulder the cross that proclaims the kingdom of God is at hand, and that Jesus is the King!

  2. BrianD
    July 6, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Joe, thanks for the kind words!

  3. Joe B
    July 6, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Good sex? Brian, did you say “good sex”? That is hilarious, and I have to admit it is not the first thing that springs to mind when I think about my evangelical church!

  4. BrianD
    July 6, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    No, Spencer said that in the book.

    Google “Ed Young” and “sex challenge”. Or visit http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/dear-ed-young-jr and http://www.kinnon.tv/2008/11/jr-ed-young-knows—sex-sells.html for the skinny.

    Yes, some churches have actually done this sort of thing.

  5. Joe B
    July 6, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Gotcha. Mixed feelings about this “Dear Ed Young” post. First, because it is sooo full of envy and unfair aspersions (like coersion of reluctant wives, and sexual athleticism, etc.) But second, because I feel that same bitterness toward Ed Young, Inc., and all his glittering ilk (may God forgive me.) Still, it’s a real stretch to cite a wacky publicity stunt like this as an example of “what’s wrong with evangelicalism”.

  6. BrianD
    July 6, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Joe, I have heard my share of “how to have a good marriage” and “how to do _____ in ______ as a Christian” sermons. Thankfully no church I attended ever pulled a bed out on the platform and had the preacher preach from it during his sermon 😯

    And I commend Spencer’s book to you.

  7. Em
    July 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    “Christendom is now talking different directions – a good part of the time against others called Christians and not much about the Lord – ‘finding a precarious living,’ as someone said of the people of a certain island, ‘by washing each other’s clothes.’ But suppose we should come together at the place of our common Lord and would with one joyous voice witness of him, what would happen – what?”
    E Stanley Jones’ “Christ of the Indian Road” – 1925

    just sayin 😉 God keep

  8. BrianD
    July 6, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Thanks, Em!

  9. jlo
    July 6, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Brian, really enjoying your review and the book. Once I’ve had a chance to digest it I’ll post more, just wanted you to know I’m out here and I’m listening.

  10. BrianD
    July 6, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    jlo, thanks!

  11. Another Voice
    July 6, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    BrianD – How exactly is evangelicalism defined in this book? As you know, there is no one definition agreed to by all.

    I confess, I am having a hard time relating to the statements in this entry when I look at the world around me – as well as my own personal experiences B.C.

  12. BrianD
    July 6, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    AV, I haven’t yet come across a working definition of evangelicalism in the book, and I’ve never really found one at Internet Monk. It’s like he assumes the reader has the same working definition of evangelicalism that everyone else does and knows what he is talking about.

    I’ll have to email Chaplain Mike and ask him if he could point me to a definitive, Michael Spencer definition of evangelicalism.

    You and everyone else needs to know that I’ve only read halfway through the book…the reason I’m doing this chapter by chapter is I have not yet had the time to sit down and read it all the way through.

  13. Another Voice
    July 6, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Thanks. It would help.

    For example, saying evangelicalism is seeking to be culturally relevant….well, depends on the church…unless one has a specific definition of evangelicalism I don’t relate to. It is a pretty big umbrella term, and thus seems to me to be hard to make blanket statements towards.

  14. BrianD
    July 6, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    He seems to define it more in the negative – the post-evangelical circus, for example – than in the positive.

  15. BrianD
    July 8, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Mike Mercer, one of the caretakers of Michael Spencer’s website, emailed me and said he is looking for a definition of evangelicalism by MS.

  16. jlo
    July 8, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    BrianD, you are a faithful servant.

  17. BrianD
    July 8, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    Thanks, jlo…hope I didn’t create a ton of work for Chaplain Mike!

  18. Greg
    July 14, 2010 at 12:53 am

    Just bought the book today. I look forward to reading it.

  19. BrianD
    July 14, 2010 at 8:16 am

    Greg, don’t kill me if you don’t like it! 🙂

    Seriously, hope you enjoy it, and that it is helpful even if you disagree with the author.

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