review: saving Jesus from the church

Saving Jesus From the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus
by Robin R. Meyers (HarperCollins, 2009) hb, 243pp
After the service, we stand in line, listening to “Good sermon, Reverend” a hundred times (all of which can be erased if just one person says, “Good morning, Reverend”) … (p.2)
Meanwhile, the most urgent question of all goes unasked: What kind of God did Jesus reveal? … How can our faith become biblically responsible, intellectually honest, emotionally satisfying, and socially significant? (p.7)
Organized religion is now so dysfunctional that amateur atheists are writing bestsellers. It’s easy: we wrote the script for them. It is no winder so many mainline churches are dying. They have so long lived in maintenance mode that they have lost their prophet nerve. They have put so much energy into survival that they have forsaken their responsibility to be places of free and fearless inquiry and radical hospitality as well as spiritual sustenance. (p.9)
Recent studies show that only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments and only half can cite any of the four authors of the gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Three-quarters of Americans believe that the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves,” when in fact Ben Franklin said this. (p.20)
One thing every pastor knows is that knowledge is not redemptive. Indeed, sometimes we can know the truth, and it will not set us free. Ask a smoker … (p.21)
… no matter how clean and well organized our garage, we still die. (p.50)
Henry David Thoreau put it best in Walden: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” It is the second half of that famous quote, less well known, that intrigues me with regard to teachers of alternative wisdom. They appear mad only because the conventional wisdom of their time is so fully and uncritically accepted by everyone that any challenge to it is what appears desperate; in fact, it is that mass resignation that is the true desperation, according to Thoreau. (p.51)
Those day laborers who don’t show up in the eleventh hour will be paid the same wage as those who have labored all day proving that God is God, not the Chamber of Commerce. (p.52)
He [Jesus] is reported to have gone ballistic in the Temple one day, turning over the tables and driving out the money changers with a whip. Today he would be arrested as a public nuisance and ordered to take anger-management classes. (p.53)
Perhaps no single argument for the existence of the “historical Jesus” is more persuasive than this: if the Jews were going to make up a story about how the messiah would look, act, and die  this would not be the story. (p.61)
Docetism, which asserts that Jesus was not a man at all, but merely God masquerading as a man, is the dominant heresy in the church today. (p.71)
Easter was God’s “yes” to a peasant revolutionary, and God’s “no” to the Roman Empire. (p.91)
It seems ironic that the church urges people to study the Bible critically and view the scriptures as normative for faith and life, while at the same time requiring them to believe nonbiblical or postbiblical concepts … (pp.99-100)
… we want the Bible to give us simple answers, not richly textured metaphors, songs, poetry, prayers, dreams, and maddening parables  but marching orders. We turn biblical symbols into theological propositions and dazzling metaphors into dreary ecclesiastical mechanisms. Biblical wisdom is replaced by doctrinal armor. Hearts “strangely warmed” become bony fingers writing new commands. (pp.105-106)
Take a look at much of the church today, and you will come to a sad but inevitable conclusion. Faith for millions really is about believing stuff in order to get stuff. (p.108)
Over a lifetime of ministry, I have come to believe one thing without reservation: most of the dysfunctional things we do are compensatory. Whether we realize it or not, we are always trying to prove something to someone. (p.112)
We can no longer afford the luxury of a church that is bent over its writing desk but cannot find its boots and gloves. We cannot just go on decrying the hypocrisies of our time, like sheep getting together at annual meetings to pass resolutions against the wolves. (p.119)
The movement of ministry for Jesus was threefold: question, action, and assignment. What do you want me to do for you? Go; your faith has made you well. Now “pay it forward.” (p.125)
Today the cross is quite literally wrapped in the American flag as if there were no contradictions between the world’s only superpower and the symbol of God’s power made perfect in weakness. (p.127)
To “obey” is to recognize that the gulf between concept and capacity is so vast that, left to our own devices, we will almost always do what we feel like doing, even as we espouse noble thoughts about the need to do more. True discipleship is about obedience, because it is about not being in control all the time, but rather trusting that to act under love’s obligation is to be more free, not less so. The alternative is what we have now: the gospel as neutral energy blessing the world as it is. (p.149)
… preaching is not telling people what the Bible said, but fearlessly sharing with the congregation what the Bible has caused you to say. (p.150; quoting Joseph Sittler)
“Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt. 5:42) I know of no one who follows this command. I have yet to attend a conference for clergy at which, walking down the street with my colleagues, ministers of the gospel emptied their pockets for every beggar. (p.155)
Without a unifying metaphor, a grand plan, a model for the shape of the future, human beings begin to atrophy in a self-absorbed soup of gamesmanship and greed. (p.167)
… thoughtful people will ask, so what’s wrong with [Joel] Osteen’s gospel of kindness to others, positive self-esteem, leaving past mistakes behind, and material blessings? Don’t we all want these things, however we seek them or justify them, and isn’t much of the critique of the prosperity gospel tinged with simple envy at its remarkable success? So what if he never mentions sin, suffering, or self-sacrifice? Isn’t that what turns people off about organized religion? The answers to these questions depend upon what one believes about the meaning and purpose of religion to begin with. (pp.191-192)
One of the convenient truths about the prosperity gospel is that it either attracts people who are already wealthy but want more with less guilt (our name is legion) or promises a miracle for those who are in desperate straits and on the verge of financial ruin. Either way, it plays on anxiety. … consider how odd this message is compared to … Matthew 6:31-34. (p.193)
The operative question … is not “Do you love Jesus?” but, “Has Jesus ever been a radically disturbing and transforming presence in your life?” (p.219)
We must all stand up together now and tell the end-times preacher, “Methinks thou doth enjoy this fear-mongering too much.” God is in it for the long haul. (p.220)
… the gospel deserves to be called “good news” [because] It is a call not to accept a formula for salvation, but to act on an unearned inheritance: that we are created by God, children of God, beloved by God, and accepted by God. (pp.220-221)
Robin R. Meyers and I look at and perceive the Bible in two very different ways. Robin can say:
The belief that the Bible is the unique revelation of God, containing the literal words of God and defining faith as a set of beliefs that are required now for the sake of heaven later, is not only indefensible, but socially, politically, and now environmentally fatal. (p.218)
It’s no big secret that I’m more like the opposite of that statement.
But, you’d be sadly mistaken if you assumed Robin grew up thinking the way he does now. Quite the opposite actually.
Born a minister’s son and raised in a parsonage, I spent my childhood in the conservative Church of Christ, where no musical instruments are allowed in worship. (p.1)
Now pick your jaw up off the floor and keep reading.
Robin Meyers is a very good writer. He sums things up well in just a sentence, weaves multi-page stories that you simply cannot put down, and knows precisely when it is best to do either. Transparent and bold, thoughtful and clear, he clearly cares not a wit who does or does not agree with him, but clearly cares for all of humankind. His sense of humor is delightful and he’ll sneak up on you with it. He excels in the ability to describe, making him quite quotable. Robin is truly a wordsmith.
So, will you enjoy this work of his? No, not at all if scholars, theologians and writers such as Borg, Funk, Crossan, Spong, etc. make you instantly reach for your blood pressure medicine. Such are quoted or alluded to frequently. But I dare say that if you have come to the place in life where you can read three paragraphs and not have to agree with every word said in order to continue reading and benefit, you will definitely find gleanings in this field. Robin’s thoughts on the unhealthy bleed-over of patriotism into faith and his analysis of the prosperity gospel (ch.9) are some of the finest I have read anywhere. Are you made uncomfortable by portions you do not agree with at all? Well then, you know what to do: simply nibble the corn, stop when you hit cob, shift over, and repeat.
I enjoyed reading this book. It’s full of thought and is thought-provoking, the way a good book should be. It was well worth my time. However, it won’t stay on my shelf. It’s headed back to where it came from: Half Price Books.