When I picked up the book Mere Churchianity by the Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, I was drawn to the book’s title. Not necessarily in a good way, more in terms of wondering “Who is this guy who thinks so highly of his own writing that he would label himself as C. S. Lewis’ equal?”
Then as I read the book description, I found myself intrigued. I am very familiar with the movement of people who are leaving the church. Whether it is that they question whether they are welcome because of the cliques that often seem to drive the church body or because they question the apparent values of “the church” (bigger, better, glitzier), the fact remains that I know an awful lot of people who are questioning “the church” as it exists today.
So, with a bit of skepticism and a bit of intrigue, I read through the book.
Overall, I would have to say I was not impressed.
The basic principal of the book is that Christians need to be living a life centered on Jesus and not on “Christianity” as the church teaches it. In other words, get into the Scriptures, realize who Jesus actually is, and live based on that criteria instead of the “rules of religion” that most (at least Spencer seems to indicate “most”) churches preach instead. I don’t entirely disagree with this concept. I have seen too many churches in which the rules and regulations are more important than people. I have seen too much show and to little reality. The problem is that I have also seen Christians in these churches who are following Christ. Do we condemn all people who attend church buildings because that automatically means they are not following God? I would hope not. But that’s what Mr. Spencer seemed to indicate in this book. And I have seen an awful lot of people who have left the church because they didn’t want to follow biblical principles—but it was easier to blame the church than to examine their own beliefs.
I found Spencer’s logic a bit off from the beginning when he uses the story of the Prodigal Son as his basis for his arguments. In this story, he describes the son who did not run away and have to be forgiven by his father as being a “strait-laced, do-the-right-thing, outwardly conforming” individual. OK. Yes, this son did not run away. He did not squander his inheritance. And yes, he did struggle with the blanket forgiveness his father displayed for his younger brother. But it’s stretching the story a bit for Michael Spencer to simply assume that just because the son stayed where he was, served his father to the best of his ability, and didn’t need a big party or show of forgiveness, he was therefore only “outwardly conforming” or “strait-laced” or any of the other derogatory angles Mr. Spencer portrayed him as.
Unfortunately, as this story of the backbone to the rest of the book and gets referred to over and over throughout the rest of the book, it makes the rest of Michael Spencer’s points a bit suspect.
In fact, the first two chapters of this book give a nutshell representation of how the rest of the book went for me. (To read just the first chapter--the Introduction--click on this link: The Dairy Queen Incident). I would read one chapter and find myself thinking that I agreed with this Internet Monk. He had some thought-provoking, biblically sound points. But then the next chapter he would go on to say things that were not so reliable, in fact were not even always logical, and were often more blanket statements that would be great for someone who might be reading the book simply looking for somebody to back up their personal resentments.
Short summation: If you want a book that will challenge you to go back to the basic principles of Christianity—CHRIST—and to be wary of getting caught up in the man-made rules and ideas of what the church is, this is a great book to read. But read with caution. Evaluate every statement. Consider the logic of it. Reread the scriptures mentioned yourself and make sure that what he saying actually is biblically based and not just personal opinion.
Final Note: If you’re not familiar with Blogging for Books, it is a book review program in which I got a free copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for reviewing it.