So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore

The cover invites you to take a walk... on the wild side. Well, maybe not that wild a side.

So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore: An Unexpected Journey
By Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman

Is religion killing faith? Does church cause people to abandon Jesus? Why is it that churches demand more and more involvement from people, but those at the center of the maze often feel emptier than the ones on the outer circles?

Jacobsen and Coleman use an interesting narrative to answer these questions and they come up with a brilliant mixed bag of answers.

Jake Colesen is a minister in a megachurch. One day he meets John, who speaks about Jesus as if he’s a close personal friend. Jake and John strike an immediate friendship, but over the next four years, John’s observations about church and faith lead Jake on a very unexpected journey. Eventually Jake leaves the ministry and every form of organized religion, and instead simply forms relationships with other believers in a loose fellowship.

I was skeptical of the book when I first picked it up, but figured it was worth a read, if nothing else than to get into the mind of a different view. The first few chapters blew me away at its keen observations of megachurch and nondenominational life. The authors are able to pinpoint how so often such churches steal the Gospel and instead glory in the Law. The character John points out some very subtle maneuvers that lay on guilt instead of freeing with forgiveness.

Having identified the problem correctly, I eagerly read on to see if the authors would proffer a good solution.

Alas, no such luck.

The authors enjoy quoting the Bible, but seem to have no confidence in the ability of the Word to work. In fact, Bible study and the Gospel rarely make appearances past the first few chapters. Instead, the gathering of saints in and of itself becomes the solution to every problem. Note, though, that it is not in any formal worship situation, but through relationships. There ought not be leaders among the body of believers, but only those who are more mature teaching those who are less mature.

Rather than urging those who realize their churches thrive on Law to find a church that in fact thrives on Gospel, the best solution is to go alone and chase after Jesus. Eventually, God will join them with fellow travelers with the same passions. Matters such as good doctrine and false teaching are never mentioned.

In fact, the book replaces Law with Law: If we’re doubting, then we need to trust God more. The authors do not point to the faithfulness of God for comfort, but our need to trust more.

Also, Jesus will speak to us and let us know if we’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing. He’ll let us know in our heart if we’re in the right spot or if now is the proper time to leave an established church and strike out on our own.

It’s really too bad that the authors took a great beginning and turned it into such terrible advice. Of course if someone is in a church that thrives on law and guilt they need to get away. The heart of Christianity is the Gospel, the unrestricted forgiveness of Christ, not the insistence that to be forgiven we must put in X hours at church or have a family life that looks like Y.

The answer isn’t to go it alone, though. It’s true that while searching for a Gospel-oriented church, an individual might be alone for a while. It’s also true that it is good to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. That relationship should not flow through the church. The church should facilitate and encourage that relationship, though!

And shepherds who oversee the flock, who teach and warn against false teachings, who encourage and love, are blessings from God.

Having a tight-knit group of Christian friends is also a blessing that should be encouraged. However, that is not the replacement for formal gatherings of believers around the Word and Sacraments!

This book is a case of a doctor correctly diagnosing a disease and prescribing a different disease as a cure. It may fix some symptoms, but in the end, the patient may well be worse off.


5 thoughts on “So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore

  1. This is a huge problem and, for some, an excuse. People are so anti-institution and haven’t been shown the truth. If they knew the truth, they would know the blessing of a church that teaches Law and Gospel.

  2. It’s truly sad when people can use the church, Christ’s bride, as an excuse to stay away from Jesus. However, just like in real life, when one spouse acts terribly, it gives the other spouse a bad name.

    It’s just one more reason that we need to point to Jesus and not to congregations. On this earth, believers will continue to sin and disappoint. We’re still sinful! Ah, but Jesus! He does not disappoint. He will fulfill what we need.

  3. I had no idea megachurches were so into the law. I generally thought that they were all huggy feely fluffy Gospel only. But either way, I would not want to go to a church that was too much one way or the other. They’re supposed to be balanced for a reason.

    And someday I will read Walther’s Law and Gospel that’s sitting on our shelf…

  4. Joy, just to respond to your thought about megachurches – It’s hard to say that megachurches as a rule are one or the other, or even bad altogether. The thing is, virtually all megachurches bill themselves as “non-denominational”, but in fact that’s not very accurate; usually they either began as a particular denomination, or the pastor running the show has a particular denomination he grew up in and is influenced by, etc. So, they have a denomination, they just mean that they choose not to admit to it. Or perhaps, better to say not a “denomination”, but a “theological tradition.”

    So, depending on the theological tradition of a given megachurch, you may have a very liberal pastor (*ahem* Rob Bell *ahem*) who is emphasizing the Gospel to the point of ignoring the Law entirely, or you may have someone much more conservative who follows the Reformed tradition of emphasizing the Law over the Gospel. Or you may have a church where for the most part Law and Gospel are used very appropriately, and with proper balance.

    I don’t know about the author of the book Luke has reviewed and how accurate his information is about megachurches being mostly all about Law. I have a hard time believing that he’s visited enough of them across the country to make that kind of sweeping statement. Then again, one thing I’ve noted is that pastors who write books about church and theology often aren’t held to very rigorous standards of research and peer review, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he made that thought up entirely out of his own experience, which might include involving himself in as many as half a dozen churches (which is reasonable, considering how much you would need to involve yourself to actually make that kind of criticism).

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