Home > Book discussion > Book discussion: Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer, part 4

Book discussion: Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer, part 4

This week’s discussion on Chapter 4 of Michael Spencer’s book Mere Churchianity, titled A Christianity Jesus Would Recognize, is where the author defines what he means by the phrase Jesus-shaped spirituality.

Here, he gives a definition. It is a “way to talk about three things that deeply matter, even to people outside the church:

  1. Jesus
  2. Having a genuine experience of God
  3. Figuring out how a life gets transformed”

Spencer then asserts that people who have left the church are not ones who have completely left the faith. Jesus is still attractive to them, to know God would be the greatest gift one could receive in this life, and the church is no reason to become “hopelessly cynical about God.”

He talked and wrote about Jesus-shaped spirituality, he says, “to help people stop being sabotaged by religion and start thinking about Jesus again.” To the point where he “press(ed) Jesus as the center of the conversation.”

Moving on, Spencer returns to his idea of what someone would be life after spending three years of their life with Jesus. Here, he does so by asserting that “most Christians” aren’t comfortable with the concept of Jesus defining pretty much everything we think, are and do.

Spencer brings up illegal immigrants – who very much remain in the news even now – as his example of the different ways that Christians “invented a spirituality that has Jesus on the cover but not in the book.” The various ‘answers’ he gives as representative of the evangelical church fit it almost perfectly; his answer to that is simply, look at Jesus.

Yet, the church doesn’t look to Jesus. Instead, it looks to “political pundits shock jocks, and culture warriors to tell us what to do.”

This leads into Spencer’s question of whether the church we are a part of looks like the church of Jesus’s day and reflects His example…or if it reflects what those who profess to be His disciples want it to be.

He clearly does not believe that the church reflects Jesus, though he reminds us that we have myriad examples of Jesus teaching and guiding His disciples, how he developed them into leaders, what they did in His presence and away from it, and on and on.

After giving more examples of how the church interprets the teachings of Jesus in the modern day (all of which reflect the self-centered view Spencer believes evangelicalism holds), Spencer speaks to those who have left the church. And he gives a couple of provocative quotes:

“I seriously doubt that what you are walking away from resembles the movement Jesus started….I (guess) what you walked away from bears a superficial resemblance to the way of Jesus…(and) bears more than a passing resemblance to one of the religious systems that Jesus repudiated.”


“For many of you, leaving the church may have been the most spiritually healthy thing you ever did.”

Please keep in mind a couple of things:

  • Spencer is referring to the church at large here in the U.S., not necessarily to your church.
  • He himself was a member of a church in his last few years on earth, so it was not as if he stopped going to church.

His critiques here are of the evangelical world in general, the one where Jesus junk and superstar pastors preaching on beds about sex in massive auditoriums that look like the Christian version of the mall seemingly eclipse the Lord they claim to serve.

  1. Another Voice
    July 23, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Is it possible to share a couple concrete examples he had in mind when he said “look to Jesus” as to the illegal immigration issue?

    Other than the obvious – that any Christian should not hate illegals, not use them as the scapegoat for all of life’s troubles, should empathize with their plight and the like..(and I recognize many fail in this regard)…nevertheless, I have a hard time understanding what he was getting at here.

  2. BrianD
    July 23, 2010 at 10:28 am

    “For vast numbers of typical American Christians, their immediate instincts are to either argue a political position or look for a way to end the conversation.

    ‘What does Jesus have to do with illegal immigrants?’ an uncomfortable Christian might ask. ‘That’s for the politicians to decide.’ Or a person might ponder, ‘What does my favorite radio talk-show host say about this?’ Or she might try to research the position that is held by a leading Christian she’s heard about”

  3. Another Voice
    July 23, 2010 at 10:32 am

    So Brian, do you think the idea he suggests is ‘doing our own homework’ as it were? First recognize that Jesus has something to say about EVERY issue and problem in society, and then prayerfully seek through the authority of Scripture what those answers might be – as to our own Christ-centered convictions?

    In other words, stop just looking to the rabbis to tell us what to think.

    Am I in the ballpark?

    I am guessing he does not offer specifics as to what in fact Jesus would say about how to handle this issue.

  4. BrianD
    July 23, 2010 at 10:39 am

    I’m sorry, AV. I totally misunderstood your question. Thinking about a number of things right now.

    “So where do we look for the key to a Jesus-shaped answer….well, how about looking at Jesus?

    Jesus was an expert on including those who were officially excluded. He knew all about illegals, at least as far as first-century Judaism was concerned. His personal outreach to the people whom religion officially avoided was one of the most distinctive and shocking things about Jesus…(example) He kept tearing down rules and traditions by saying hated Samaritans were okay and despised tax collectors were loved by God.

    …Jesus knew all about showing that the Kingdom of God includes outsiders. Peter…called Christians ‘aliens’. We are living on earth, where in an eternal sense we don’t belong. We are temporarily living away from home, having been displaced from paradise.

    As aliens and strangers on earth, we…should figure out how to live in the world as ‘aliens’, which Peter declares us to be. And we should realize that we can learn much from the outsiders whom Jesus included.”

  5. Another Voice
    July 23, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Thanks Brian. I think the key (and no doubt this too is what Spencer is getting at) is the heart of Jesus towards other people. That needs to stay at the forefront.

    This issue is one where I think I could competently argue “both sides” by throwing out Scripture verses left and right. And that is the problem it seems to me.

    Most Christians have some sort of political leaning, and thus look to the verses that support their already established viewpoint. To an outsider hearing these claims, it would seem the Bible sends a contradictory, or at best, a mixed message.

    Yet, we know Jesus is not contradictory in Himself. He must have a perfect will for this issue, as with all issues.

  6. cHad
    July 23, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Chapter 4 built upon Chapter 3 nicely. Chapter 3 gave us a scaled down version of ‘Velvet Elvis’ with an emphasis on Christocentricity. Chapter 3 called us to challenge our Biblical/Traditional view of Jesus and 4 challenged our cultural/philosophical/political views of Jesus. Good words so far.

  7. BrianD
    July 23, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Thanks for the kind words and feedback, Chad and AV.

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