Friday, July 23, 2010

Book: "Saving Jesus from the Church" (Robin Myers)

Title: Saving Jesus from the Church
Author: Robin Myers
Published: NY: HarperCollins, 2009.

Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following JesusThe title of the book troubles me. It suggests that Jesus, the Savior of the world Himself needs to be saved. It conjures up in my head images of Batman & Robin saving Gotham City from its enemies; or some super-hero battling against evil villains to save helpless victims in the land. I was initially intrigued by such a grandiose statement. As I read on, it appears that the author has an axe to grind against the conservative-right-wing-politically-vocal voice that puts compliance over community. The truth is that, Myers's approach is to provoke readers in such a way that they understand why Myers is calling for a change from institutionalized religion to a relationship-based community of Jesus-followers. Semantics are particularly important so that we can clearly understand which camp Myers is referring to.

What the Book is About
Change. Myers argue that the Good Name of Jesus has been much maligned by Bible-thumping, compliance-based religion. His basic point is this:
Once again, religion at its best should be biblically responsible, intellectually honest, emotionally satisfying, and socially significant.” (22)
His chorus goes like this: Say 'no' to the institutional church, but say 'yes' to Jesus.
By 'biblically responsible,' Myers argues for a shift:
  • From Faith as mere belief TO that of living it;
  • From Using the Cross to condemn 'original sin' TOWARD forgiveness and 'original blessings';
  • From Christianity as Condemnation TO Compassion;
  • From Discipleship as Observance TO Obedience;
  • From Justice as Control TO that of Covenant;
  • From Self-Righteousness in God TO Relationship.
He makes clear his preference for the kind of Christianity he wants. It is that kind of church where:
  • There is no hierarchy, and where people rich/poor, young/old, from all walks of life can sit together and worship Jesus;
  • where sexual orientation, science and communion matters not discriminated against some believers; 
  • where all are level, without distinction from one another;
My Comments
I understand where Myers is coming from. In his eagerness to promote his brand of open Christianity, of liberally questioning the traditional creeds under the guise of scholarship, he may have unwittingly thrown away the baby with the bathwater: Tradition. It is easy for him to disregard tradition like what he did in the book. However, it does grave injustice to the reasons why the traditions are there in the first place. While I think Myers has a point against institutionalized religion, his brand of 'following Jesus' needs a stronger theological base. In other words, if he is genuinely interested in 'saving Jesus from the church,' he should be more precise in his critique of some church people, scholars or theologians who are dead against liberally discrediting the creeds. The latter borders on sacrilegious treatment of the tenets of the faith. One example is his perjorative treatment of the Bishop of Durham, NT Wright, who argues passionately against 'higher criticism,' which tends to put self above the authority of the Bible. Myers could have tried to give argument against argument, instead of simply shrugging it away and blame Wright for being one who 'protest too much.' (152-3)

There are some good points to take from the book. One of my favourite chapters is the part where Myers wax eloquent over the need to put justice and community together.  He also has strong arguments against the prosperity gospel, sharply criticizing Joel Osteen's  teaching as reversing Matthew 6:33. Christians should seek the kingdom first and the things they need will be given to them. Instead, Joel Osteen reverses it, and turns one's humble request for 'our daily bread' into manifold earthly riches and physical health.

Will I recommend this book? I would, but cautiously. For those of us who are already struggling with Church, this book only adds fuel to our disappointment with church. For those of us who understands the limitations of Church structure and leadership problems, it is a good wake-up call to avoid becoming too insistent on religious conformance that we ignore the importance of relationships. For everyone else, read the book as : "Saving Christians from Churchianity." This is a more accurate title.

Rating: 3 stars of 5.

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