Book Review – Real Church

I am not sure why, but writing book reviews always gets put on the back burner. I guess there is more important things to talk about than what books I have read.

But not too long ago, maybe a few months now, I ordered a copy of Larry Crabb’s newest title, Real Church (well, because I am a bit behind on posting this article, his newest is now 66 Love Letters). He is head of New Way Ministries.

Larry Crabb has remained one author I do enjoy, with Connecting and Becoming A True Spiritual Community specifically standing as two of my favourites from him.

It is my understanding that, as a clinical psychologist, Crabb had everything tightly boxed with regards to understanding people. But some years ago he had this kind of epiphany that every person and every situation does not fit into a box and, not only that, but that there was something deeper set within each Christian making each available to meet the brokenness in another, rather than just the ‘qualified’ pastor of counselor. And, if that deeper stuff of the Spirit were to come out and be shared with others, it could revolutionise the lives of people. I think this epiphany started showing up in his well-known book Inside Out (though I have not been able to read that one yet).

Real Church stays true to Larry Crabb’s message, but it is now couched within his thoughts on church. He makes clear that he is dissatisfied with church, but not in an overly negative and complaining way as some can be. He is just honest that he is not interested much in what ‘church’ has to offer today.

He starts out by sharing a short story about a Christmas Eve service he and his wife attended, but in the gathering of a more liberal church. From that, he writes:

My Christmas Eve experience left me asking a question with new urgency: What church do I want to go to? Conservative? Liberal? Evangelical? Mainline? Big? Small? Liturgical? Charismatic? Reformed? Seeker-sensitive? Emergent? Or maybe a kind of church that is marked by other things.

I began 2008 with that question burning a hole in my mind and heart: The church I want to go to – where is it? What is it? What church would compel me to attend? What kind of church service would I hate to miss? What church would I feel privileged to be a part of?

After some introductory chapters, Crabb pens three reasons that would make him not want to be a part of a church:

  • It will make my life better
  • It will show me how to change my world
  • It will offer salvation and help for righteous living

Now, those three bullet points above can leave someone scratching their head, at least the last two points. But he spends time sharing why ‘church’ is not solely about those things in and of themselves.

Hmm, maybe he got me started on the question of how to build correctly.

He is not against those three things, per se. But he does not make them of first importance.

The first point is easily debunked in that it isn’t always about a ‘better life’, as in the Osteen Your Best Life Now. With regards to the second, he cautions against a more emerging view that it’s all about ‘changing our world’ and getting people to ‘follow Jesus’ in the sense of acting like Jesus. Such is good, in its proper context. But he makes very clear that, without conversion and new birth, it all counts as nothing. [As a side note, Larry Crabb is not some emerging-basher.] He challenges the final point by saying that it’s not just about ‘saving souls’ so people go to heaven when they die, nor that the purpose right now is to simply be morally good.

He sees that church is beyond these things, and I agree whole-heartedly.

Sections two and three flow together, with the second section being about the church that he really wants to be a part of. He gives three points of focus:

  • One that knows he is not ok and neither is anyone else
  • One that acknowledges where the people are and meets them there with truth
  • One that understand his need to talk to God about all that’s going on inside him

Maybe those ideas are a little disguised as to what he really means, but, simply stated, Larry Crabb wants something authentic and something that deals with deeper things, not just surface things. He wants real truth for real people, not nice conversation and programmes. I guess he would not be satisfied with the ‘hi and fine’ church.

In section three, he shares four marks that would draw him into a church:

  • Hungers for the truth that sets addicts free
  • Respects the necessary ingredients in the remedy of addiction
  • Finds contentment in wanting what Jesus wants
  • Is mission-energised

In all, what he really wants is what he calls connecting. Again, this is where real people really share with one another out of the eternal Spirit that lives in them. People willing to move past the surface spiritual stuff and go deep. And very Christian has this opportunity, not just the professionals, since all are Spirit-indwelt.

He wouldn’t deny the reality that we need to laugh, talk about football and play board games. But he really has a passionate desire to see real, authentic life-giving relationships.

There are a couple of ‘negatives’ with regards to Larry Crabb that I point out. He does seem to emphasise brokenness a bit too much. Now, I do preface this by saying I think we need to be honest about our brokenness. Ninety-nine out of 100 times, we will hide what’s really going on. So I appreciate Crabb’s challenge and want to see more openness amongst the local body.

But he can over-emphasise it at times. He does speak about the power of Christ in us, working in us, making us new by His Spirit. But it seems he speaks about that a lot less than he does about being broken.

Again, I appreciate such words from him. So that is why I put quotation marks around the word ‘negative’. I think most Christians know about their brokenness. They just don’t want to share. So we need to open our hearts, even with just a handful. But most Christians are not aware of what the Bible teaches about our identity in Christ as Spirit-indwelt, gospel-believing, new creations. And I do have a passion for that understanding as well.

The second ‘negative’ is that most of Larry Crabb’s writings are similar. He has a similar message in most every book. Each book says it a different way, with a few different emphases. So that is helpful. But in the end, I know what Larry Crabb is going to say, since I’ve read about six of his books.

I don’t think he is trying to feed American consumerism by churning out books. I believe he has not succumbed to such an appetite. But I know Crabb’s message.

Still, I appreciate devotional type books like his. Therefore, I can pick up a copy of one of his books for about $15 and read the 200 or so pages as a refreshing drink of water (since my head is in theological books or dealing with pastoral concerns a lot of times). I even have read a few of his books more than once.

So, here lie my thoughts on Larry Crabb’s [second] most recent book, Real Church. But I would first recommend you read Connecting or Becoming A True Spiritual Community. From my perspective, those two stand as his greatest contributions thus far.

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