Monday, July 02, 2007
Jim and Casper go to Church review
Earlier this spring, I attended a seminar dealing with various views of the afterlife as part of my graduate program. As is the case with most discussions, the class moved from talking about faith to American culture. And I am not even sure how it happened, but before long, someone brought up the North American church. And people were not impressed.
You have to understand that a majority of the people in the class were not Christian. At least not Christian like you and I understand the term. Most were spiritual, but they were not right-wing, evangelical, W. Bush-backing, Bible-Belt followers. So in the midst of the mild debate, one person told a story that shocked the rest of the students. She explained that she knew a guy who knew a guy that told her that he knew of a church in Texas that had a Starbucks in the lobby. The class was appalled. I thought the guy next to me was going to fashion a whip, find the church and chase the caffeinated Christians out screaming, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers!”
With this conversation still fresh in my mind, I happened to pick up a copy of Jim and Casper go to Church at the CIY Station last week. It is a short little book and a good read if you desire something that will make you think about the way that we do church in North America. Ultimately I encourage you to pick up a copy and make up your mind about it, but I can’t let you get away without putting in my two cents first.
The premise of the book is captivating to say the least. A minister (Jim) of 30 plus years hires an atheist (Casper) to attend several of the nation’s best known churches and give his honest opinion about what they encounter. The book reads a lot like a Michael Moore documentary. In every chapter you turn the page looking to see which high profile pastor they are going to bash next. You think to yourself, “Oh, it looks like your goose is cooked Erwin McManus.” Readers will no doubt sit on the edge of their seats as these guys expose all of the little imperfections of the churches we all wish we started/worked for/attended.
You have to realize that the very premise of the book encourages readers to be cynical. Of course, most worthwhile reads can cause this attitude. Yet really, how beneficial is it to me if an atheist does not have a good worship experience at Mars Hill? I’m honestly not that concerned what an atheist thinks about a worship service in the first place. But before you write me off as closed-minded, here is what I mean.
There is a difference between an atheist and a typical non-Christian that may wander into a church building. An atheist has already done the research and has a philosophical reason for his/her un-belief in god. I’m sure they would disagree with calling it a belief system (atheism is unbelief) but it is at least a worldview. But because of Casper’s unbelief, I am unsure what critical critique he can give on how people he disagrees with worship a God he doesn’t believe in. He is ultimately not attracted to the church because he doesn’t believe in God, not because he thinks the drums are too loud. The two sides work from completely different perspectives. All of the characteristics he dislikes have to do with customer service and friendliness of the greeters. Sure, these are important for any church. But they are also important for any Wal-Mart.
Maybe that is part of the point of the book. Perhaps our churches look too much like Wal-Mart from both sides of the fence. Jim and Casper attended churches of all sizes and, across the board, Casper hated the mega-church style. I have always thought it was funny that non-believers have a certain way that they believe church should be (who’s closed minded?) and Starbucks and fog machines typically don’t fit into that mold. This also reminds me that most things we do in church (rock walls and coffee bars) are to maintain customers, not attract new ones. I am sure a lot of non-Christians are thinking, “Why join a church for a coffee bar when I can continue going to my favorite one down the street without ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’?”
Time and time again, Casper was attracted to the congregations that had a presence in the community. He wasn’t impressed by the things that impress a lot of church-seeking (he wasn’t a seeker, so again, how valuable is his opinion?) people are impressed by. Rather, community service impressed him. Routinely he wanted to know what these people were doing… not just what they believed. Christianity should be about action (Jesus would agree) not just about a belief system. Of course, don’t throw away the doctrine. Actions are fueled by doctrine, not the other way around.
So was Jim and Casper go to Church the best book I have ever read? No. But it was a worthwhile read that should get you thinking about the American concept of church. Jim ran the theme of “defending the space” throughout the book. He also plugged his website quite a lot. Anyway, he encourages Christians to maintain dialog with non-believers and value communication over apologetics. After all, progress, and ultimately conversion, cannot be made without the security of open dialog. And I know a great coffee shop where that can take place.