I don’t normally write book reviews for this blog, but this book more than deserves one. I will begin with a brief synopsis followed by my personal reaction.
According to the back cover of the book, “one in four young adults claim no formal religious affiliation, and church leaders have long known that this generation is largely missing on Sunday morning.” But, “[Michael] Spencer discovered the truth that church officials often miss, which is that many who leave the church do so in an attempt to find Jesus.” With this thought at the forefront, Michael Spencer, the former Internet Monk, holds no punches and dives right in.
He begins by citing and defining what he calls a “Jesus Disconnect” present among, especially, young adults. After sharing a story about an incident that occurred at a Dairy Queen after a youth group meeting one night where he and his group trashed the place and left and the girl at the register saw it all and wrote him a letter telling him that, because of his self-righteousness and the way his group behaved, she would never go to church again, he lays out, in no uncertain terms, that it just might be us that is the problem, not the unattenders. Those who leave the church see that there is no connection between the life the Jesus we claim to believe in commands and the way we actually carry that out. We claim to believe in Jesus, but we find excuses not to act like him.
During this section of the book, he begins using the phrase “Jesus-shaped spirituality” to describe how our faith should play out in the real world. He then, in part 2, begins to define that spirituality.
He starts by sharing with the reader the real Jesus, the one of the Bible. He doesn’t bash on things like the Jesus Seminar or seeking to find the historical Jesus. That isn’t the place for this. He is speaking to Christians, and Christians find the Jesus of their faith in the Bible, so he defines Jesus using the Bible solely. This Jesus, in some ways, looks nothing like what we have been taught that He is supposed to look. This Jesus is not white, middle-class, Republican, or any of the misconceptions we have about Him. He is purely and perfectly and completely God in the flesh. In fact, Spencer states time and again that we see God most fully in the man Jesus; that Jesus is God’s final revelation of Himself to humankind.
After defining Jesus, part three begins to dismantle the idea of being a “Good Christian.” He says we shouldn’t try to do that. Spencer goes to great lengths to make it clear that Jesus came to set us free, not give us a whole new set of rules to follow. Yes, he says, we’re going to sin and we’re going to fail miserably. He quotes Martin Luther, who said, in essence, “Sin, and sin boldly, but confess Christ even moreso.” Our salvation is found in Christ alone as found in Scripture alone. Or, as Michael Spencer says it in the book,
Jesus-shaped spirituality…comes in one form only – in the form of Jesus as we find him presented in Scripture.
He then calls for those leaving the church in search of Jesus to find a community of people seeking to live out a Jesus-shaped spirituality. He goes on to describe how that may look, saying that it may not look like traditional church. It may be a group at a pub, 10 people in a house singing praise choruses, or a more traditional setting. They are out there, and one should seek out the community of the faithful.
The book ends with a journal entry from the day that he found out that he may have cancer. Even then, his faith in a Jesus-shaped way of life was unwavering.
This is one of the most important books to come out in a while. It may seem like more of the same, and in many ways it is, but one thing stands out: he doesn’t just dismantle everything, but he also gives a plan for putting it back together.
What stands out the most, though, is Michael Spencer’s passion for his faith. He loved Jesus with all that he was and he wanted others in on that as well. This book calls us to that life. It calls us to put our faith in Christ alone. It calls us to live as Jesus lived because, if you are truly His disciple, it will show in your actions. And it isn’t a hard thing. Study Jesus. Put your faith in Him. Show it by your deeds.
Mere Churchianity is a fitting end to a life that impacted so many people. His life and ministry is summed up in this book. Yes, it will hurt to read. Yes, it will get in the way of a safe and secure existence. Yes, it will put a damper on any agendas you may have. But isn’t that what Jesus came to do? To quote a professor I had in college William Bromley,
Far from being an invention to make men feel comfortable, this God comes to men to disturb them, to upset the pattern of their smug, self-centered lives. With no hint that to obey will exempt them from the ordinary hardships of life, he demands their unconditional surrender to his sovereign rule, their death to their pride and self-will.
This is the kind of God we worship, and the kind of Jesus we have in the Scriptures. Are we content with mere churchianity or do we wanna actually be like Jesus? That is Michael Spencer’s question to all of us.
If you love Jesus or want to love Him more, read this book.