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.
(1) Barrett, Mike The Danger Habit, Multnomah Publishers, A Division of Random House, Inc. Copyright © 2006 by Mike Barrett, p.28.