Mere Churchianity – A Review

mere_churchianity1-1Many connected to the blogosphere will know of the Internet Monk, Michael Spencer. His first and, to date, only published book is Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality. The unfortunate thing is that, right before Mere Churchianity was released in June 2010, Spencer passed away due to cancer. He never was able to hold a copy in his own hand.

Yet his legacy continues through his book and through the Internet Monk blogging community. Still, as I mentioned recently here on my blog, I am teaming with Michael Bell, from the Internet Monk community, to produce a second book from Michael Spencer. It involves a collection of about 1000 pages of Spencer’s work on the Gospel of Mark (his life-long project), editing this down and producing a kind of layman’s commentary on Mark.

Thus, I felt it important to engage with Spencer’s first book, Mere Churchianity.

Obviously the title, Mere Churchianity, is a play off C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity. While Lewis’s work was an introduction (and a kind of philosophical apologetic) to the Christian faith, Spencer’s book is an introduction to a kind of Christianity that he challenges throughout the book – church-shaped Christianity. He describes churchianity as ‘the do more, be better, look good for God’s sake variety’. And Spencer feels this is the prevailing type of Christian faith within American evangelicalism.

While the book challenges this churchianity perspective, Spencer also writes to those who are also fed up with this ‘brand’ of Christianity, who have left or are considering leaving the church, and desire something more authentic and deeply-rooted.

He remarks:

Mere Churchianity is written for people who have come to the end of the road with the church but who cant entirely walk away from Jesus. In the wreckage of a church-shaped religious faith, the reality of Jesus of Nazareth persists and calls out to them. Im talking to those who have left, those who will leave, those who might as well leave, and those who dont know why they are still hanging around. (p4)

Michael Spencer believed these people are leaving the church because the church is leaving Jesus. Hence, it’s time to refocus – away from church-shaped spirituality and back towards Jesus-shaped spirituality.

If one is looking for a particular kind of churchianity being challenged, this would probably be a good descriptor:

We may be thought of as lost, but we aren’t that far away from being exactly where we should be. We simply have to admit the three-ring circus were living in isn’t Jesus’ way of making disciples. Consumer Christianity is not what we see in Scripture. Buying a version of the faith is not the approach taken by the Holy Spirit to prod us toward Jesus. None of the Jesus-shaped people in history followed a slick, entertaining, success-driven, celebrity-oriented path to faith and discipleship. A road populated by massive churches, loud music, smooth-talking preachers, media, and meetings is not the road to Jesus-shaped spirituality. (p195)

Yes, this is not what God had in mind. I’m sure Spencer, as I, does not have a problem with reaching people within our cultural context. There’s nothing wrong with modern instruments, PowerPoint slides during teaching times, and offering a good cup of coffee to those in our gatherings. It’s not even terrible to have a website or Facebook page. But there is a point when all of this goes too far, especially when we believe our power to draw others is found in these things rather than the Spirit of Christ.

No doubt as people read Mere Churchianity they might be turned off by Spencer’s ‘tone’. He’s calling forth in a kind of John-the-Baptist-like fashion. His words are truly hard to swallow at times. Not only that, but many can walk away thinking Michael disregards church as any part of the normal Christian life. However, there are a couple of things I believe worth noting:

  • Spencer is not dismissing the importance of the church, the body of Christ. He’s opposing the let’s-play-church model.
  • Spencer believes that, rather than guilt-tripping people because of their consideration of leaving the church or Christianity altogether, we need to give people space to work this out in their own lives. I’d agree, believing that our Father is not controlling nor a guilt-tripper.

And rather than only pointing out the bad, Michael takes time to show what Jesus-shaped spirituality practically looks like:

  • Jesus-shaped spirituality is both personal & communal
  • Jesus-shaped spirituality is mentored
  • Jesus-shaped spirituality is saturated in the Scriptures
  • Jesus-shaped spirituality grows in the context of service and the gospel
  • Jesus-shaped spirituality is found in relationships

Imagine a community of people, imagine the estimated 2 billion professing Christians worldwide, walking in something like these points described above? We’d probably see something beautiful, almost as if Christ were still here today. Ah, but he is to be – by the Spirit of God working amongst the people of God. We are Christ on earth as the Spirit empowers us. It might reach more people than our seminars, conferences, concerts and gadget ploys combined.

Michael Spencer’s thoughts are worth bringing to the table in helping the evangelical church, or the whole church for that matter, move forward into Jesus-shaped spirituality. And I look forward to shaping his thoughts into a commentary on the life of Jesus as seen in the Gospel of Mark.


Photo by Michael Patton & the Reclaiming the Mind Ministries team.

3 thoughts on “Mere Churchianity – A Review

  1. There’s a nice double entendre here, when you think about it.

    If I remember correctly Lewis titled his book mere Christianity to make the point that mere basic despised Christianity is truly amazing, even though Christianity seems so lost.

    The church isn’t just a congregation in a building. It’s all sorts of people active everywhere: at work, home, socially; among those who’ve left, in different religions or a-religions. Such is mere churchianity.

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