Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I’ve sometimes been taken to church by well-meaning relatives and friends trying to convert me, so I thought I would like to read Real Church: Does it exist? Can I find it? by Larry Crabb. Thomas Nelson sent me a copy as part of the Book Review Bloggers program.
This is not a typical book. It begins with the author acknowledging that he felt inspired and alive during a liberal service in a church that embraced even people of different beliefs and lifestyles, although he’s a conservative and evangelical. That was honest of him. I also never expected to read the following:
After fifty-plus years of calling myself a Christian, I sometimes teeter on the brink of atheism.
I’m not sure what to make of this. The author comes off as devout in his faith in the rest of the book, so I’m not convinced of his flirtation with the Dark Side. For instance, he admits that God does not always answer prayers and this is sometimes very hard on the people doing the praying, but some level of unhappiness and suffering is necessary in this world to make us search for God. I’ve got my own thoughts about that, but I’ll move on to the main theme of the book, where I’m more in agreement.
What makes a real church? According to this book, not a Prayer of Jabez-type attempt to gain a better life, nor a constant emotional experience of God, nor a focus only on saving lost souls and keeping them in a suitable condition for heaven.
I don’t want to go to a church that believes Jesus came to earth only to get me into heaven when I die and to keep me good until I get there.
That’s quite a step away from the emphasis on conversion that I’ve seen in a lot of other Christian literature.
Larry Crabb believes a real church is one which recognizes the failed and fallen nature of everyone, without making this either a priest-to-confessor thing or a spectacle “where shamed sinners reveal all their secrets while grace-imitating voyeurs look on with empathy”. A real church is one which emphasizes a relationship with God, but one which surprises you (rather than the comfort of a situation where you always know what God is going to do, because he always agrees with you and gives you what you want).
A real church also recognizes that we’re all addicts to something – with some people, it’s a tangible addiction such as a dependence on a drug, and with other people, it’s less obvious because it’s a dependence on approval or attention, and this can even work for them under the right circumstances. There’s more that I won’t summarize because this review would be even longer if I did, but I found this book a refreshing and humble take on churches. I don’t agree with the theology, but I agree with the psychology.