Wow, what a great concept. A pastor takes an atheist(no I did not use a capital "A") to a number of churches for feedback and perspective. This book is a must read for any Christian in any church denomination, and quite an enjoyable read. I very much respect Jim Hendersons open mindedness and focus on this project, allowing full attention to Casper and listening to what he had to say, who had quite a lot of good input and observations to be looked at. I also found Casper to be rather humourous at times, and his anecdotes on different church cultures, techniques and attitudes, quite enlightening.
As a Christian myself, I also learned something from it. I have a lot of "secular" friends myself. In reading this book, I think we need to realize that conversation with others, is probably one of the more important keys, instead of trying to debate and prove our faith. Some of us need to take a look at our pompous "Im Christian. Do you want to hear all I have to tell you why Im right and your not" attitude. Instead listen more and if they find a relationship with Jesus, all the more better, if not, You still may have made a new friend and without offense and bad taste. And beyond all the talking, our actions should also speak for themselves.
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What do you get when a pastor pays an atheist to go to church? This was a fresh look at a number of prominent US churches written from the perspective of a pastor and church researcher and an atheist. My favorite line was from Casper - "is this what Jesus told you guys to do?" - after seeing a lights / fog show church service. This is good for anyone involved in 'doing church' and concerned with what others see in Christ and the Church when the look at us!
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This is a book that makes you think about the impression your church gives to both Christians and non-Christians as well as asking if it is meeting the needs of either. Contains good insights, but keep in mind it is only 2 men's opinions not an in-depth study.
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This is an excellent book for helping people that have been churched all of their lives to look at their church from the view of someone that is not familiar with the church. Sometimes when you have only seen things being done one way year after year you never challenge it with the question of Why do we do this? or Does this work? Casper brings these issues and many other ones right into our face which is great. Why do we have a church and what are we trying to do in our churches of today. Casper gives us tremendous insight into the way a person feels and what they see when they first arrive at your church. I do find though that Casper seems to say the same things over and over again about each church and maybe sometimes judges a little too harshly. Not a book for everyone.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Really a good read but keep things in perspectiveSept. 3 2007
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I just finished the book today (and this is my very first review). It's a quick read. Not much as far as in-depth analysis. In reality it's only the first impressions of someone who is not familiar with church culture. In some ways it feels like the script from a reality tv show. Funny, interesting, but something of substance is missing. That being said, I think what is worth thinking about the book are exactly those first impressions, particularly the line, "Is this what Jesus told you guys to do." That, I think is, how the book cashes out. But I must admit I was torn...
One one hand, there are certain ancient traditions that Christians still practice today (the sacraments) that would be hard for any person outside of the Christian community to completely understand. In fact, it would be presumptuous for us to conclude that someone who is not a follower of Christ would understand theological concepts such as substitutionary atonement, imputation, justification, and sanctification. And before you shut me out because these concepts are "theological" - two things. First, pastors used to be sort of the theologian/philosopher/shepherd in their local community. They were less concerned with lights, smoke machines, and what have you, and really concerned about the state of people's souls. Second, these concepts work themselves out in how we live the Christian life in practical and often mundane ways. There's no way around this.
On the other hand, I agree wholeheartedly that some of the practices that are a part of church today are not ancient but are new and in my opinion, kind of goofy. Some of the things that made Casper squirm are the very things that make me squirm. As a pastor I think there is much to consider here particularly when it comes to forcing community on people in sappy ways or giving the appearance that we are always happy, or as Dallas Willard likes to say, giving the impression that Christianity works in some sort of superficial magical way. We neglect the deep work of the Spirit in revealing both our virtues and vices that are deeply habituated in our hearts and minds.
I still get the feeling that I'm in on a postmodern conversation. For instance, "I love the teachings of Jesus. I love the teachings of Buddha." I'm not sure how to make sense of that. There are other hints that the Christian faith is not necessarily a reservoir of knowledge but rather one simply accepts it by faith. I'm not comfortable with that. I certainly understand why Jim would hold back and not "befriend" Casper so as to debate him about the nature of truth. I agree that we are not looking for certainty (like Descartes) but the tradition of Christianity is that you could know certain things were true without acting like a pompous jackass. If you're confused read J.P. Moreland's chapter 5 in "The Kingdom Triangle."
That being said, I think the book is worth reading. In fact, I laughed out loud in quite a few places agreeing wholeheartedly with Casper's thoughts. It's given me pause to think about ministry, my heart in all of this, and most importantly God's heart for people.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
A Must Read for serious ChristiansApril 24 2007
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Jim and Casper Go To Church is a delightful and "fun" read that is loaded with challenging "zingers" that force the reader to stop and think about how Christians and the church is perceived by those who do not believe in God. Amidst the smooth and easy going conversation about their common experiences at various churches, the authors make salient points about the state of the church and Christians in the west. Each church visit seems to present a different challenge and identify a major hindrance to those who are not in the church. The book drips with integrity, honesty, and relationship. Jim and Casper seem like good friends. Both come across as very honest and forthright with a deep sense of integrity. Through out the book, when the authors want us not to miss the point, they step outside the story with "Defending the Space" commentary. These make for great discussion times.
I found the book convicting when Casper put to Jim the question, "Is this what Jesus told you guys to do? Having pastored for over 25 years, I found myself rethinking many of the practices that we employed all in the name of Jesus. At times I was embarrassed at the things we did. I was convicted as I considered Casper's question which all Christians and vocational church workers need to answer? It begs us to ask the question "What really is Jesus asking his followers to do?
As a seminary dean, I teach a course on missional leadership. I will be placing this book on my recommended reading list. The reason why is because this book will help the students understand more fully the mission of the church and gain valuable practical insight into what it means to be the "sent people of God." The implications of the experiences of Jim and Casper need to be taken seriously by all those involved in vocational ministry.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Really great for what it is.April 7 2010
O. D. Stanley
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Jim and Casper Go to Church is an excellent book for what it is. My fear however is that the message of the book will be brought too far outside of its original context and be misapplied to a context to broad to be useful and potentially damaging. But I emphasize again, the book is GREAT for what it is.
Here's what it is. Jim Henderson is a minister who's made many atheist friends. One of these self-described unlikely friendships is with Matt Casper and atheist who works in the area of marketing. Curious about what churches seem like to atheists, Jim and Matt team up to visit a variety of churches around the country. They discuss and document their reactions to these different churches in this book. I'll get to some of their observations a little later.
My fear about this book is that well-intentioned ministers will read the reviews of the churches in this book and automatically think that they've got to change the way they do church because of these reviews. I believe it must be reiterated that these reviews are the opinions of TWO individuals and do not necessarily represent a widespread opinion about today's church. A perfect example is Matt Casper's critique of the worship service at Saddleback Church. When Jim Henderson questioned Matt about why he didn't like the professionalism of the song service, Matt responded that it would be good for "people who like American Idol" (p. 4). Now, I'm no fan of big production worship services where professionalism overtakes authenticity, but it should be noted that "American Idol" is one of the top rated shows in the country and it's fairly obvious that millions of people are fans of American Idol. From a strict marketing point of view, it would seem that Matt's opinion of the worship service would be a minority opinion among those that the Church is trying to reach.
So that's what I mean about the books limitations. When you boil it down, Jim and Casper Go to Church contains the opinions of two men. One is an atheist and one is (quite frankly) an often cynical minister. I'll get back to the cynicism in a bit, but my point here is that neither of these opinions seem to be representative of what most people think either in the World or in the Church. For a pastor or leader to rearrange their ministries based on the opinion of these two men seems like it would be a misapplication of the information. Such a misuse of the context could possibly lead to dangerous changes that would work in opposition to their intent.
That being said, there are some conclusions I found in the book that, in my opinion, transcend the context of these two men and point out some lessons that just about all churches can benefit from. First is the idea that people, ALL people, are looking for connection. During their visit to Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, a member said to Jim and Casper, "I came here and really connected with the community and then with God." (p. 27) The old paradigm of people getting saved and then joining the church happens less and less. In today's culture, people want to join the church first and then possibly make the God connection. They're looking for a horizontal community before they're looking for a vertical one. I believe this attitude can serve as a help rather than a hindrance in evangelism as ministering the gospel of Truth through relationships build in community will lead to stronger commitments with more staying power. Today's churches need to reach out to people with an offer of community if they're going to draw the unchurched. This point is emphasized by Casper while at the Imago Dei church in Portland, Oregon when he said, "Imago Dei is not trying to get you to join them, so much as they're trying to join you." (p.95) Or as Jim wrote, "Jesus gave us a mission. I don't remember reading anything in the Bible written to missing people telling them to "go into all the church." They don't have a mission to adjust to us; we have to adapt for them. It's called the Incarnation." (p. 149)
Another idea that I think transcended the context of these two opinions is the idea of the importance of music. While at The Bridge church in Portland, Oregon, Matt the atheist is greatly moved by the music of the worship service. Matt says that the music appeals to him on a "higher" level and goes on to say, "There's something about music and art that is not entirely easy for an atheist to explain." (p. 109) There is something about art in general and music in particular that can break down walls that we've built between us and God. It's not about perfect harmonies or slick presentation. The music that breaks down walls is all about sincerity, connection and an understandable, meaningful message. In my opinion, churches should think less about sound equipment and performance and more about authenticity and openness in worship. The idea of worship in spirit and truth proposed by Jesus will draw many people, both saints and sinners, to the foot of the cross.
The appeal for money, especially in larger churches, was one of the off putting aspects of the churches Casper and Jim visited. Even if this kind of appeal works among the masses, Casper seemed to hit the nail on the head when it came to the ethics of such shake-downs. While visiting Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, Casper says, "They make appeals to people's greed, selfishness, envy, pride: `You're gonna get rich, you deserve abundance, you're better than nonbelievers.' ...Instead of talking honestly to people, they appeal to people's basest natures: greed, fear, prejudice. ...I don't think it's a very Christian (thing to do)." (p.123). The way we appeal for finances to promote the Kingdom of God should not be based on what works. It should be based on what's righteous. Our appeals for finances should be opportunities for discipleship. If we can't get as much income with that kind of appeal, than we should learn to live with less.
Another question that Casper raised as he observed these churches was, "is this what Jesus told you guys to do?" In other words, was it Jesus' command to the Church that "the most important thing they should be doing is holding church services"? (p. 148) With the emphasis that's placed on that Sunday morning meeting, it seems that's what we think. In answers to criticisms that they only visited the Sunday morning services of those churches they were critical of and not the small groups, Jim wrote, "When they make it as easy and convenient to experience small groups as they do Sunday services, then they can cry foul, but until then church will have to live and die based on what happens on Sunday morning in the big room." The lion share of discipleship for our churches is going to take place in Sunday Schools and other small groups, not in Sunday morning services. Until pastors are ready to sacrifice some of the ego boost of the big crowd and invest more time and energy in smaller groups, we are hampered in our ability to follow the Great Commission.
These were all excellent ideas I got from Jim and Casper Go to Church. However, there are a couple of points that made me feel a bit uneasy. The first is the cynicism I mentioned earlier. Truth be told, I enjoyed Jim's cynicism in the book, but I don't think that was the best part of me. I know that there are people who hold up their cynicism as a badge of honor, but for me it is a dragon that I must fight and slay daily. To automatically assume ulterior motives and expect the worse from people may keep us safer and make us feel superior, but it also builds a wall to connecting with people. I also think it can limit our reception of what God has for us.
The second thing that made me uneasy is Jim's mission to help Christians "become more `normal'" (p.xxv). We are called to win the lost, to grow in Christ, to worship God, to connect with our fellow believers and to serve others. Nowhere in the Scripture to I see normalcy as something we're called to. The difference I have here with Jim may be one of semantics, but there are things about a life in Christ that are ANYTHING BUT normal! We are called to be separate, to be light and salt. Being normal for me brings to mind being the same as the World, and that to me is a bigger problem than any of those addressed in the book. What I like much better is Jim's idea that the purpose of his ministry is to help Christians "not be jerks." (p. xxii)
Jim and Casper Go to Church is an excellent examination of a number of churches in the Evangelical world and highly recommended. I would, however, encourage everyone to read it in its context and apply its truth only when looking at very similar context.
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Contemplating 'Christitution'May 13 2007
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Henderson, Jim and Casper, Matt Jim & Casper Go To Church - Frank conversation about faith, churches and well-meaning Christians."
In his book, The Danger Habit (1) Mike Barrett writes: "And God needs some of us to be change makers, not routine sustainers, to live dangerously, not just enjoy reading about it, to pioneer new ways of thinking and living because the old ways are tired and boring." In my opinion, this quote succinctly characterizes the Jim Henderson's heart, motives and mission in life today --- the quote also captures the essence of his most recent book with Matt Casper, Jim & Casper Go To Church - Frank conversation about faith, churches and well-meaning Christians. This book is a first impression consideration of the U.S. institution of Christianity, or Christitution (my term), it's practices, adherents, rituals, structures from the perspective of an outsider (Matt Casper) and Jim Henderson (however you might characterize Jim beyond what I've said above, I'll leave that to you. Admittedly, this writer has a good deal of respect for Jim as a person and as a provocateur who desperately desires a more practical, biblical impact from those who claim the name of Christ).
It is noteworthy that this book is a BARNA book (Yes, George Barna) - Now an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers Inc. Perhaps this is a recognition by Barna that broadening the distribution channel through other, like-minded authors, the message the Barna Group has been attempting to deliver the past 20 plus years, can be even more effectively delivered by leveraging the Barna brand within the publishing industry to champion voices who would not be heard without the Barna endorsement --- I certainly hope so.
The soul of this book is captured in the Introduction, authored by George Barna: "Few religious leaders have any idea what it's like for an outsider to break into the holy huddle. Most churched people have been so immersed in the church world that they have completely lost touch with what it is like to come through the church door and try to fit into a place that has very distinct habits, language, goals, events, titles, architecture, traditions, expectations, and measurements." --- Enter Jim and Casper, a Christian and an atheist.
The book then rolls through a journey that includes visits to Saddleback, The Dream Center, Mosaic (Erwin McManus - L.A.), Willow Creek, First Pres in Chiocago, Lawndale, Jason's House, Imago Dei in Portland, OR, Mars Hill in Seattle, The Bridge in Portland, Lakewood in Houston and the Potter's House in Dallas.
The authors suggest that "This is the story of what happens when two guys with polar opposite worldviews go to church together" (p. xxix). Honestly, that's not the impression I took away. At Jim's own admission, "when two people begin to rust each other, they can learn to like each other. And when that happens, the rules change --- and then people change" (p.xxx). There's no question in my mind that these guys are a heck of a lot more "like-minded" in their "worldview" (whatever that is) before, during and after this endeavor, than the quote above would lead the reader to believe. It's not as if Matt (age 37) had never been to Church. He attended the Catholic Church during his youth and went to a Catholic university where he "began to become an atheist in college."
The critics will have a field day over this book (probably intentional, knowing what I do about Jim). I can hear them now, "Gimmicky, amusing, predictable, more mocking in the name of Jesus, an "extraordinary attempt" from a guy (Jim) whose last book possessed a central theme throughout that thumped the notion and need for "ordinary attempts." From purely a sociological, methodological standpoint, one could hardly consider this endeavor to be representative of what is commonly referred to as a prudent example of "participant observation."
To be fair, imagine that you arrive home one evening and there are two guys you've never met seated in your living room. They have their laptops open and are observing your family in action. You ask them "what are you doing?" They reply, "We're writing a book. He's an orphan and I'm a family guy. We're writing a book about the American family." You exchange niceties with them, change out of your work clothes and have dinner with your family. You hear the front door to your home close and see these two guys driving away down the street in their rental car. They were in your home approximately two hours and their impressions now become part of a book about "Jim and Casper Go To Family - Frank conversations about family, homes and the well-meaning people who hang out there." By the way, you never had any opportunity to review what they put in print, prior to publication --- no dialogue after-the-fact whatsoever. You get my drift...the means often define the result.
If one maintains the objectivity that is essential in reading a work like this, there are a myriad of terribly important observations and questions that arise within the book - observations and questions that legitimately demand debate. These issues are impregnated within the following excerpt: "Casper's question --- Jim, is this what Jesus told you guys to do? --- haunts me, insults me, and provokes me. We need to do better than this. We need to honestly admit that in fact, Jesus didn't care a whit about church services. He cared about loving and serving others and introducing people to a personal God who not only loves them, but more important, likes them" (p. 151).
Jim writes, "People need to hear the stories of everyday Christians helping others. People need to see us put into action what we say we believe" (p.151). Well, if that's the case, the focus of Jim's next book might be delving into these two statements. Look for Jim's next book entitled "On A Mission From God - Real Stories About Real People In Your Neighborhood Helping Others - Acting on What They Say They Believe." Perhaps the venue for this next book will be your own living room.
This book is something Christitution needs more of. Buy it. Savor it. Pray about it. Then act upon it. Change. Grow. Be challenged. Thanks to Jim and Matt for irrigating the pastures of Christitution with challenging ideas. Will this change the ways we flock together, our grazing practices, our behavior as observed by those who wander into the pastures of faith? Perhaps new ways of growing in spiritual sustenance are emerging outside the confines of the existing mainstream structural pastures of Christitution in the U.S.? Then again, maybe it's all about us, the sheep who need to change, as Jim says: "We are the ones who need to change---not our guests" (p.149).
Don't expect Joel Osteen to consider vacating the Compaq Center just yet.
These two fellows have forged a friendship based on mutual trust and respect. While they embrace very different world views, Jim and Casper have built relational bridges that allow open, honest and revealing communication. We benefit from that transparency and are beneficiaries of their interesting adventure. Some thoughts:
Based on similar historic experiences, I share Jim's aversion for certain aspects of what I might call the "Charismatic Circus".
Casper, like so many atheists, suffers the indignities of being pigeon-holed by those who do not understand atheism.
In several cases, my first impressions of some congregations did not match either one of theirs. (Willow Creek in particular.) While I share the some of the same concerns that Jim does, I feel that he might be painting evangelicals with too broad a brush.
Read this for what it is: frank first impressions from initial visits to these congregations. It should not be used to make broad or final judgments about any of these communities of faith.