you don’t want to go to church? you’ll get this book – but will the alternative help?
SO YOU DON’T WANT TO GO TO CHURCH ANYMORE, Jake Colsen (Lifestream Press)
I think i want to write a proper review of this book – not sure when, what with one thing and another on at the mo. But i read this recently and was completely captivated for most of the 1st half and then immensely frustrated by the rest. I think it is one of those books that will make waves in churches (it came out in 2006) after a while as an internet ministry etc (check out the “author’s” website – http://www.jakecolsen.com/).
The author Jake Colsen is a pseudonym for the two writers – Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman, both pastors. It is written in a novelised form, but is clearly seeking to communicate theological truth. The story is powerful – Jake is an assistant pastor who is facing the agonies and frustrations of pastoral ministry. All completely udnerstandable and recognisable. A ‘chance’ encounter with a mysterious stranger called John leads to a series of encounters throughout the book (is he the apostle John who would never die? (cf John 21:23) – we never really know but Jake is certainly drawn to that conclusion!). The underlying quest and heartfelt cry is for reality and honesty with God – John helps Jake face up to what it’s like REALLY to trust God with the daily and mundane as well as the challenging and unusual. It is all about God’s overwhelming grace, his forgiveness, his love and above all his sovereignty over all the twists and turns of life.
When Jake’s daughter is in hospital with severe respiratory problems, John walks into the hospital waiting room to find Jake struggling with the agony of watching his girl in pain. Let’s pick it up mid-conversation:
‘…happiness is a pretty cheap substitute for being transformed into his image, wouldn’t you say?’ (said John)
‘I know! But this isn’t easy.’
‘No one said it would be. But you make it even harder on yourself when you think God is against you! What if you knew he was right in this with you, leading you to the life you’ve begged him for?’
I had to think about that for a moment. ‘Then i certainly wouldn’t be so overwhelmed.’
‘No you wouldn’t. And you’d still be able to enjoy his presence while he’s working this out. You’re missing what ever writer of the New Testament proclaimed – even though God does not orchestrate our sufferings. If you walk with him through it instead of pushing him away with blame or accusation, you’ll be surprised at what he will do.’
‘But i still don’t know how i’ll pay this hospital bill.’
‘But he does, Jake! He’s already working that out. The fact that you can’t see it yet doesn’t alter that reality.’
A CRY FROM THE HEART
So far so good – there’s lots of really helpful practical stuff in here. I think it is a cry from the heart of those who’ve been damaged or alienated by churches and church leaders. And i really appreciated this books honesty. It’s just that the big bugbear throughout the book is ‘institutional church’ with lots of form and programmes but no content or reality when it comes to God. And of course, this book is not written in a vacuum – in a way that is simply no longer the case in the UK, this book is reacting to American church-going culture, full of nominalism and ‘religion’ but without the reality of a relationship with God. Fair enough. But what is the alternative – it’s almost as if Christians need to be rescued from church. Well again, fair enough – churches can be a total nightmare, with spiritual competitiveness, judgmentalism, backbiting and even cruelty at every turn. It is not without reason that someone once said that the Church is the only army that attacks its own wounded.
BUT HOW DO WE RESPOND?
The problem is that Christians still need one another, still need to meet (however organised or not) and still need input, encouragement, leadership and direction. What emerges in the book is what i guess is a sort of Californian ex-hippy alternative church – which may well be appropriate in California. But my fear is that it throws too many babies out with the bathwater – of course it is right that institutionalised Christianity is dangerous to spiritual vitality. But i don’t know how you create an alternative without the potential of the same problems always being there. A Church that tries not to have programmes and leadership will (unless they’re acutely aware of the problem) invariably find that the fact of not having programmes will itself be the source of its dryness and deadness. The church is a fragile and fickle being – but God still seems to want to build one, in whatever form in whatever culture. Sure there is always the need for radical thinking – but let’s not kid ourselves that turning our backs on how things have always been done will necessarily create something better. So i enjoyed this book but was frustrated by it. So what do we do about it? If you’ve read it, please comment…