Recent Books on Church Life

Recently I’ve received a whole raft of books for me to check out. The best by far was The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus by Bruxy Cavey. He’s a Toronto pastor of a church “For people who aren’t into church.” His premise is that Jesus came to make us irreligious by superseding the basis on which religions thrive, and invite us to a radical life in him. “Blue Rose Tuesdays” (Chapter 3) in the book is worth the price of admission and makes a powerful point how the attempt to find life through ritual will always end up in incredibly weird places.

And I love his point about religion is not really for the God we’re trying to serve, but for our own self-interest. I loved this quote:

The religious system of Israel (like any religious system today) was repeatedly used as a spiritual hideout for people with the guilty conscience. Rather than change how they live, the people of Israel simply added a little religion to their lives, to keep everything in balance. Like the godfather going to Mass on Sunday morning or going to confession before returning to his life of crime, religious systems make it all too easy for self-centered people to find complete familiar rituals without experiencing a change of heart or committing to a life of love.

Though occasionally he lapses into the vocational clergy habit of talking down to the reader, I love the premise and Cavey shares some wonderful insights. Many of you will enjoy the squirming he has to do in the end to make sure his religious system isn’t counted as one, and that people are encouraged to a set of priorities that he strains not to call rituals. I found this part a bit sad. It is easy to identify religious activity in others and yet exempt our own. I like the core of this book, though, I just wish he’d been able to take it further.

I also received Becky Garrisons, Rising From the Ashes: Rethinking Church. I was actually excited about getting a woman’s perspective on this, but unfortunately it’s mostly a rehash of the emergent conversation and that done through interviews and emails. If you care about that conversation you’ll find it a solid resource. However, it is difficult reading because the question/answer stream of consciousness approach makes it choppy. I would have preferred her to act more like a journalist and synthesize these approaches into a more readable narrative. But if you want to know more about the church views of Brian McLaren, N.T. Wright and others in the emergent conversation, you will find it very helpful.

Life After Church: God’s Call to Disillusioned Christians by Brian Sanders is an interesting read as well. He handles well the frustrations of people seeing through the failures and fantasies of organized religion and treats their concerns with empathy and compassion. That part is very helpful. But unfortunately he has another system he thinks is an answer to the malaise of organized religion. I like many of his priorities, but you’ll notice him harking back to the familiar lists of Bible reading, fellowship, mission and honoring leaders. There’s some good chicken to eat hear, but you’ll find some bones as well. In the end he encourages people to stay if at all possible, but also makes room for people to leave it and find other expressions of church life. In summary, he says if you can’t find something to participate in freely, you owe it to the rest of us to start your own and show us how it is done. That’s not advice I’d want people to take seriously. If systems could replicate God’s work on earth, you’d think we’d have discovered it after 2,000 years.

Take This Bread by Sara Miles was an interesting read, but I just couldn’t find the passion to finish it. It’s the story of another liberal finding here way to the reality of Christ. I was led to believe this would be similar to an Anne Lamott read, which got me excited. But, alas, it doesn’t have near the humor that gets me through a Lamott book. Don’t get me wrong. This is a personal story and one who really demonstrates a heart for the poor and marginalized in our society and how Jesus met her there and how she continues to pour out her life in the wider culture. It’s an honest, passionate story of grace. I’m sure many of you will enjoy it more than I did. It just felt like a story I’ve read dozens of time and other books on my shelf beckoned me away from it.

Now I’m reading The American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. Every once and a while you’ve got to break out of the ‘church’ books and read a bit of history!

Also, Sara and I are taking a few days off at the end of her spring break to escape for a few days. So, if it takes a while to get an email response or get or order filled, you’ll understand way. We’re looking forward to a brief break. Also, if anyone needs a CD duplicator, we have upgraded ours and are looking to resell the old one. Email me if you’re interested. I’m not sure how safe it is to mail this delicate equipment, so it will help if you’re close by…

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6 Comments
  1. Bones March 26, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Wayne,

    Thanks for your comments on the books! I was just able to get a copy of Cavey’s book a week ago, and finished it this week. I’m glad for your perspective on it. For someone coming from within a system, I felt like Cavey has come to some amazing insights, and as I am sharing his book with friends, I think it is going to assist me in helping them to dialogue on the real issues of religion vs. relationship, and can be a bridge to the Jake book and others that clarify more of the practical outworking of that paradigm shift.

    Bones

  2. Bones March 26, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    Wayne,

    Thanks for your comments on the books! I was just able to get a copy of Cavey’s book a week ago, and finished it this week. I’m glad for your perspective on it. For someone coming from within a system, I felt like Cavey has come to some amazing insights, and as I am sharing his book with friends, I think it is going to assist me in helping them to dialogue on the real issues of religion vs. relationship, and can be a bridge to the Jake book and others that clarify more of the practical outworking of that paradigm shift.

    Bones

  3. Myra Jackson March 27, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Thanks so much for the book list and your perspectivtive on them. I’m craving, digging and searching to get to the bottom of this horrible feeling I have about the organized religion we are in. It helps me to read!! I’m glad to know I’m not crazy and that other people share some of my same perspectives. Difficult position though as I’m “supposed to be a minister’s wife”. Enjoy your brief get-a-way, I’m in deperate need of one of those 🙂

  4. Myra Jackson March 27, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Thanks so much for the book list and your perspectivtive on them. I’m craving, digging and searching to get to the bottom of this horrible feeling I have about the organized religion we are in. It helps me to read!! I’m glad to know I’m not crazy and that other people share some of my same perspectives. Difficult position though as I’m “supposed to be a minister’s wife”. Enjoy your brief get-a-way, I’m in deperate need of one of those 🙂

  5. paulina March 30, 2008 at 11:44 am

    Hi
    Not sure if you’ve read Chip Brogden’s “The Irresistible Kingdom”. It has helped me on my journey to rediscover the gospel of the Kingdom as Jesus preached it and also understand how ‘Church’ today has taken our ‘relationship with Jesus’ and turned it into a ‘religion about Jesus’. He writes on what the real body of Christ – the ‘Ekklesia’ looks like and how to distinguish between that and the false system of religious worship that calls itself Church. Very insightful for someone like me who has been foolishly trying to reconcile the two all her life!

  6. paulina March 30, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Hi
    Not sure if you’ve read Chip Brogden’s “The Irresistible Kingdom”. It has helped me on my journey to rediscover the gospel of the Kingdom as Jesus preached it and also understand how ‘Church’ today has taken our ‘relationship with Jesus’ and turned it into a ‘religion about Jesus’. He writes on what the real body of Christ – the ‘Ekklesia’ looks like and how to distinguish between that and the false system of religious worship that calls itself Church. Very insightful for someone like me who has been foolishly trying to reconcile the two all her life!

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