Every so often, a book comes into my life and acts like the hand that shakes a snow globe, disturbing all of the molecules of my existence and rearranging my internal landscape. My college Intro to New Testament class textbook, Henri Nouwen's Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, Parker Palmer's To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey, and a handful of others have gone beyond being engaging or thought-provoking to being truly transformational forces in my life. To that short list, I'll now add a new one: Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus by Robin R. Meyers. It's a book that really should come with a warning label on it, like, "This book will either change your life, your ministry, your faith, your friendships, and just about everything else...or, you'll be too afraid to let it do so!"
Meyers, the pastor of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City and the author of four books, surveys the state of the church and of contemporary Christianity--conservative and liberal--and doesn't think much of it is in sync with the message of Jesus. The bottom line for Meyers is that the church has overemphasized belief rather than actions that indicate one is following Jesus, and each chapter points us in the right direction.
Meyers is very solidly on the progressive end of the theological spectrum, and his book does a fine job of deftly skewering more conservative forms of Christianity or biblical interpretation. But those on the left should be well-prepared for the regular roasting they receive as well. This passage is fairly typical:
"In a world today that is desperate for something real, many megachurches today are like Disney World plus God, while too many mainline churches are serving up bits and pieces of the Great Books Club. One wonders which fiction is most cruel, that all your dreams can come true if you pray the "Prayer of Jabez" or that discipleship is the same thing as enlightenment...The first question any churchgoer should be asked and expected to answer is: What are you willing to give up to follow Jesus?" (p. 145)
Each chapter contrasts "common" Christianity with a progressive, uncommon understanding of Jesus' teaching. They cover a lot of territory:
* Jesus the Teacher, Not the Savior
* Faith as Being, Not Belief
* The Cross as Futility, Not Forgiveness
* Easter as Presence, Not Proof
* Original Blessing, Not Original Sin
* Christianity as Compassion, Not Condemnation
* Discipleship as Obedience, Not Observance
* Justice as Covenant, Not Control
* Prosperity as Dangerous, Not Divine
* Religion as Relationship, Not Righteousness
This prophetic book would make an ideal resource for group study (and it really begs to be read in community) though unfortunately no discussion questions are included. Consider it especially for a summer Sunday school class, a staff study, a young adult study, and a congregational study. The book does assume the reader is at least somewhat familiar with contemporary progressive biblical scholarship (i.e. has moved beyond a literal understanding of scripture), so little time is spent exploring the ground that has already been superbly covered by scholars like Borg, Pagels, Brueggemann, Levine and others (see his ample endnotes for many other great books). Instead, Saving Jesus consistently does a fine job of summarizing the scholarship and then moving on to the question which so often is neglected: "So what do I/we do now?" There is no "step by step guide to following Jesus" here, but if read carefully (especially with others), Meyer's work will undoubtedly help us all stop pretending to be followers of Jesus so we can save Jesus from a church which has for too long distorted his message.