What I'm Reading These Days, Part 2
Well, as promised, I plan to tell you about another book I've finished recently, Jim & Casper Go to Church by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper (Tyndale, 2007). This is an intriguing book: it pairs a pastor-evangelist-church consultant with a professing atheist as they travel America and visit well-known as well as obscure evangelical churches. Most of the book is a debrief of their experiences; we get to eavesdrop on a conversation that is direct, respectful, and sometimes, painful. This is refreshing: too often, especially in church circles, we tend to beat around the bush, avoid awkwardness, and put a good spin on our real opinions. Here, there are no holds barred, particularly as Henderson (the Christian) creates a safe space for Casper to share his thoughts in straightforward, if brutally honest, ways.
You may remember Henderson from earlier news reports: he's the Christian who successfully bid for a man's soul on EBay! What I like about Henderson is that he models a genuine, dialogical approach to evangelism. Rather than telling, he asks. He listens. He even apologizes for historical Christian abuses and insensitivities, where appropriate. Above all, he stresses the importance of honest relationship, what he calls "defending the space", that sacred space of trust between two people genuinely seeking to know each other. Too often this space has been crushed or obliterated by Christians heaven-bent on saving souls, rather than doing the hard work of relationship, with all its messy engagement.
Jim and Casper go to eleven churches, to be exact. Their visits include the famous megachurches of America (Saddleback, Willow Creek, and Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church), the hip emerging churches (like Erwin McManus' Mosaic, Imago, and Mars Hill), some older mainline churches (like First Presbyterian of River Forest, IL--ouch), and at least one mega racial-ethnic church (T.D. Jakes' The Potter's House in Dallas). It's great to listen in on their dialogue, particularly Casper's opinions. He's very alert (allergic?) to showiness, shallowness, and pretense of any sort--possibly reflecting his age (30s). He repeatedly asks about "action"--how are churches and Christians seeking to serve the poor, the homeless, the needy? He's not as impressed by a fancy building or state-of-the-art technology or music as he is by humble service in the community. Through the course of the book, Jim and Casper help us glimpse some of our blindspots (forced friendliness in our greeting of visitors, manipulative displays of emotion in sermons, predictable song pairings, etc) and they show us the importance of a Christianity that serves, rather than shouts.
Jim and Casper Go to Church is a great read for Christians who've either purposely or accidentally stayed too long in the Christian ghetto. It's refreshing to hear how we're viewed from outside and to have a book like this model for us ways of conversing that are real and not manipulative. One thing each of us churchgoers might consider: why not follow the authors' lead and invite a non-Christian to church solely for the purpose of evaluating how we're doing? Henderson did this (and even compensated the atheists!). Then humbly ask our visitors for their honest response. Could be insightful. My review of the book: Two thumbs up! Pair it with another of my favorites on culturally-appropriate evangelism, Finding Common Ground by Tim Downs, and you've got some challenging, inspiring reads.