Thursday, October 4, 2007

Casper the friendly atheist

Allow me to put on my educational hat for a review. I freely admit that it is much easier to critique a book than it is to write one.

Book review: Jim and Casper Go to Church

I recently read a new book, Jim and Casper Go to Church, and it has sparked my thinking related to church growth. Jim (a former Pentecostal preacher) hired Casper (a self-proclaimed atheist) to attend church services with him and give his impressions of the services. The premise of the book was irresistible to me as I wish to see the church from the blind side of Johari’s window. I enjoyed the case studies in this book, but I think the authors went too far with their applications.

Jim and Matt’s book was worth the read for me because it made me think, but not for the reasons the authors intended. All truth claims must be evaluated before acceptance into the core of church life. I think that this book fails to provide compelling evidence of truth for most churches.

From a research standpoint the book says more than it is able to say. The authors exhort all Christian churches to do a number of things based on their observations in a few churches. The application of qualitative research (by definition) is limited to the cases included in the research. It is the rough equivalent of observing a handful of mushrooms in the wild and concluding that all mushrooms are perilous.

My greatest concern from the book is that the authors make truth claims while telling the Church that there is no Truth. Readers are supposed to accept absolute truth claims from two authors (neither of which qualify as experts outside of their own life experience) who argue that Christians should stop making absolute truth claims. (Yes, that is a self-contradiction.)

One would expect Matt (as an atheist) to assert that Christians have no right to claim Truth, but why does Jim champion the same cause? I believe that Jim honestly thinks that he is doing churches a favor by telling us that we are offending atheists by claiming that we have Truth.

The simple suggestion of this book is that if we are going to be effective in reaching people like Matt Casper, then we must abandon our truth claim rhetoric in our church services. The end result would be church services where no truth claims are made, and the only rallying force would be to meet humanitarian needs. This book is about a hundred years too late. Mainstream, liberal churches have been using this approach for a century now. (I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

I appreciate attempts to help churches become more effective in reaching people with the Gospel. I hope that we continue to try to understand different perspectives of unique individuals. Perhaps we can soften our approach, but now is not the time to soften our message.

5 comments:

James said...

As always, great insight. I wish you had the time on your hands to post more often. Your closing comment spawned two comments from me. You know me. I've always got something to say.

"I appreciate attempts to help churches become more effective in reaching people with the Gospel...Perhaps we can soften our approach, but now is not the time to soften our message."

Why should I believe a Gospel that a church is unwilling to stand behind as the truth? Either in whole or in part. Christ is the absolute Way and Truth, we can never sway from it or the truths present in the Bible.

Hopefully the book's intent was well meaning, but based on your review, missed the mark.

I do agree with softening our approach. I for one will not respond to someone in my face screaming (remember your football days) and telling me my shortcomings. Unfortunately, that seems to be the approach that many in Church leadership have decided to take today.

We can soften our approach, approach society with a message of love and not fail to do as we are called.

Two things I've learned in my years managing people:

1) Whether I ask a subordinate to do something, or order them, the meaning is the same. They are expected to comply. It is all in the delivery, and trust me, there is a difference in how they respond.
2) When you focus on negatives, whether it be a problem employee, problem client, or just a bad situation, you fail to recognize a lot of good going on around you. I've lost good employees by spending way to much time trying to correct a bad one. Your attitude tends to sour, and you may not want to believe it, but you communicate/apply it to everyone/everything, not just the problem.

Again, Thank you!

Brian said...

Couldn't agree more, Scotty. The whole "truth claims" thing is a problem for many in our society. They claim no absolutes, then promote their version of "tolerance" as an absolute. And even then, they sit in judgment of those who are supposedly intolerant. So they become intolerant of the intolerant. Just as self-contradictory.

For the church to change the message so as not to offend is akin to the social conservatives voting for a social liberal because they think he has a better chance of winning the election. Even if he does win, what has been won?

Like you said, the mainstream churches have been losing people by the boatloads since disconnecting from Truth.

If the message has no truth claim behind it, why should one follow it? Simply for pragmatic reasons? If so, what happens when it stop working? What happens when Paul's thorn isn't removed? Or Peter is crucified upside down?

I must admit, I'm in a bit of a revolution in my life. And that point of pragmatism is one of the places in which I think the movement I come from and no longer claim is wrong- preach messages that work so as to reach people with Christ.

While I believe messages must connect with daily life (they did for Christ), the point isn't what works, but what's right. Otherwise, we have a whole generation of baby Christians wondering, "How is God going to serve me today?" And trying to move them from that perspective to one of maturity and service is not, in my humble opinion, done well very often.

Thanks for causing me to think through some of this. As always, I could be totally wrong!

Peace,
Brian

21k said...

Thanks for your responses. It seems that the common tension that we face is a challenge that has always existed for Christians. We struggle with presenting the Gospel to people in authentic ways without unnecessarily offending people.

Our communication methods are paramount. In management, you want to communicate the plan while respecting the people who are part of the organization. I agree that we are more transparent than we sometimes realize.

I share the sentiment about going through some theoretical revolutions. I have been going through some changes myself over church growth issues. I think the whole movement is going to experience a paradigm shift in the next few years.

Brian said...

I agree, Scotty. I'm not sure if it will be the current emerging church that will take over or not, but I like the missional aspect and emphasis.

Thanks for letting me comment.

James said...

Seems perhaps that we have become polarized in our Churches these days.

Either don't offend anyone, or Condemn everything.

I know I'm painting with a broad stroke, but as your standared, "back row" Southern Baptist, I feel the same way I do as a Middle Class American looking at my political choices. Does anyone see things from my perspective?

From the back pew, it sounds like you're both on the right track. ;>)

By the way, I liked Brian's comment about intolerant tolerants. I've laughed for years at the notion that people claim to be open minded, but are adamant that closed mindedness is wrong. Hmmmm.