Michael Spencer’s book, Mere Churchianity, is a much needed plea for Christians not to find their identity in their church membership or attendance, but in their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Spencer begins the book with a story of a young woman who worked at Dairy Queen. Spencer took a youth group into the Dairy Queen one night and created chaos for the workers there by the way they acted and the way they left the restaurant. The young woman was a member of the church and wrote Spencer a letter. She explained that for the past year she had been an atheist because she had been convinced that everything about Christianity was wrong because of the way she saw Christians, like him, act. This was a defining moment in Spencer’s life, and made him rethink everything about his life, his ministry, and his “Jesus-shaped spirituality.”
The book consists of three major parts. The first, titled “The Jesus Disconnect,” explains how people have left the church (the institution, or building) because of the way so-called Christians act. The second, titled “The Jesus Briefing,” looks at the real Jesus we see in the Scriptures, and what true faith is (or what Spencer refers to as “Jesus-shaped spirituality”). The next section, “The Jesus Life,” looks closer at what a life of faith looks like, and the last section, “The Jesus Community,” identifies what these faithful lives should look like in a community of believers, called the church.
I thought that the book was okay overall. It was nothing new in my opinion. We have had countless people, especially throughout the last decade or so, identify anything and everything that is wrong with the church and how it needs to change. Spencer doesn’t necessarily add anything new or groundbreaking, yet it is still good for us as Christians to be reminded of and challenged with.
There are two major problems that I had with the book. The first was Spencer’s negative use of the term “evangelical.” On pages 25-26 Spencer said, “Evangelicalism has become the sworn enemy of biblical Christianity.” That is an extremely broad statement, especially for a group such as the evangelicals who are so incredibly diverse. When reading further and seeing that what Spencer means by the term “evangelical” are people like Joel Osteen or Benny Hinn, I would agree completely. However, there are many other faithful evangelicals who do not have anything at all in common with these men (just look at the ETS – The Evangelical Theological Society.) Later, on page 56, Spencer says that these evangelicals should come up with the AEV (The American Evangelical Version of the Bible). He goes on to give 9 points that this version would have to include. Again, Joel Osteen would probably agree with all of the 9 points that are listed here, but I would be very careful in saying that ALL EVANGELICALS believe these, because one would be hard-pressed to find even a few men at the ETS meeting who would affirm 2 or 3 of these points, let alone all 9. Overall, I just thought Spencer’s broad characterization of evangelicalism as a whole was very misleading and unfair. He should have been more specific.
The other major problem that I had was Spencer’s strong negativity towards the church as a whole, and his contradiction at times of whether one should be involved and part of the church or not. There are many statements that seems Spencer is calling for an abandonment of the church as we know it today. For instance, he said on page 57, “For many of you, leaving the church may have been the most spiritually healthy thing you ever did,” and later on page 114 he said, “If you are a church leaver, I don’t want to drag you back. I have a better idea: find yourself in God’s great and diverse purpose.” Now while that sounds all well and good on the surface, I believe it is a very dangerous thing to license people to clearly disobey Hebrews 10:25, where the writer tells us not to forsake meeting together. I think there is a clear and strong teaching in the New Testament that the local church is the bride of Christ, His presence in the earth until He returns. Are there things we need to change and re-examine? Absolutely! But should we affirm people forsaking the local church altogether? I do not think so. Spencer even seems to contradict himself later on when he said on page 154 that “the church is a community that the Holy Spirit uses to bring individuals to mature Christ-likeness and genuine Kingdom usefulness.” This clearly goes against his saying that leaving the church may be the best thing you’ve ever done.
Overall, I think that it is clear in the book, especially in the last section, that Spencer does not want people to abandon the church completely; he just wants a reform in the local church and a return to the Jesus-centeredness that we see in the New Testament. I want the same thing, and I think that his effort in pointing this out was valiant; I just think he could have chose his wording more carefully sometimes and been a little bit less negative and condescending towards the church as a whole.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Blogging for Books review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 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.”