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1.0 out of 5 stars Just Plain Bad Theology, August 26, 2008
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This review is from: So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore: An Unexpected Journey (Paperback)
Jake Colsen is the author of So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore. Jake Colsen does not exist. Rather, he is a pseudonym for the combined work of Dave Coleman and Wayne Jacobsen. You may recognize Wayne Jacobsen as one of the founders of Windblown Media, the company that published a little book called The Shack--a little book that has gone on to sell well over a million copies. As The Shack has found international renown, it has pulled in its wake Windblown Media's two other titles, both of which are written or co-written by Jacobsen.

So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore is a story about a man named Jake who is an associate pastor at a fast-growing mega-church. In the book's early pages he encounters a man named John whom he comes to believe may just be the Apostle John. Overhearing what John teaches he realizes quickly that his Christian faith is almost hopelessly rote and anemic. "Although I had been a Christian for more than two decades, I had no concept of who Jesus was as a person and no idea how I could change that." This book covers a span of months or years which sees him grow from a pastor of immature faith to a man of wisdom and mature faith.

The book is framed around continued encounters with this character John. In fact, almost every chapter begins with Jake thinking or worrying about a particular issue, only to have John quickly and mysteriously materialize. John helps Jake overcome his fears and his questions and then disappears to leave him to think about and to implement the things he now knows.

The predominant theme of the book is issues surrounding the local church. The overall teaching is that the church as most Christians understand it is a human institution designed primarily to gain and to protect power. The Bible, according to the authors, does not teach that Christians should be part of any kind of institutional church. This is not to say that we should leave mega-churches to join smaller house churches; rather, we should abandon this kind of church model altogether. While the authors do not clearly or precisely share what Christians should or can do in its place, it seems that it would look something like this: "Instead of trying to build a house church, learn to love one another and share one another's journey. Who is he asking you to walk alongside right now and how can you encourage them? I love it when brothers and sisters choose to be intentional in sharing God's life together in a particular season. So, yes, experiment with community together. You'll learn a lot. Just avoid the desire to make it contrived, exclusive, or permanent. Relationships don't work that way." By the book's closing pages, Jake has left the church and now meets irregularly with an irregular group of people from his community. This is presented as being a form of authentic spirituality that is closer to the biblical model than that which is practiced by the vast majority of Christians today. It is the better alternative to church as most Christians know and experience it.

Of course I would be drawn to this model, too, if my church was anything like the one Jake comes from. His congregation is much like a drunken fraternity. The pastor is an angry man who holds tightly to his power, who expects people to lie to protect his reputation and who is having an abusive affair with a vulnerable congregation member. The members of the church are petty and divisive, heartlessly shunning those who disagree with them, demanding immediate restitution for any perceived wrong, persecuting children who do not properly memorize their verses, and fighting for positions of prominence within the local church. Overall, the authors give an exceedingly negative portrayal of the local church. It is a portrayal that includes all the stereotypes so treasured by those who hate Christianity. The church members are hopelessly ignorant, able to recite chapter and verse but knowing nothing of the "heart" of Scripture. Hence even two lifelong pastors react with apparent shock when they learn that "church" in the Bible primarily refers not to an institution but to a people (as if no Protestant has ever bothered to distinguish between the visible and the invisible church). Against this brutal portrayal of Christian community, the authors present their alternative. And needless to say, it looks awfully good in comparison.

While So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore is theological fiction, the reader may well note that there is little reference to the Bible. Because it is fiction we might not expect to see direct references to particular passages (and, indeed, we do not) but there is little by way even of indirect references. John assumes a certain knowledge of Jesus and common sense spirituality and uses this as his bridge to the hearts and minds of the reader. Rather than saying, "The Bible says this..." he tends to say, "This is what the church is like... Doesn't my version look better?" And of course, with such a dysfunctional church in mind, it really does look better. He looks to the New Testament church on occasion, but is awfully selective, taking only those elements that further his case.

Though Jacobsen does occasionally affirm that institutional churches may do some good, the theme of the book comes through loud and clear. In the appendix Jacobsen says, without any apparent trace of hyperbole, "I can tell you absolutely that my worst days outside organized religion are still better than my best days inside it." And from cover-to-cover, the book is heartlessly negative towards the local church. Christians should, and perhaps even must, withdraw. But the case is made through emotion and through false comparison. Those who hold closely to Scripture may affirm some of what Jacobsen teaches in this book, but they must reject its overall message.
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Tracked by 5 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 35 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 27, 2008 8:24:30 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 27, 2008 8:28:03 AM PDT
J. Fincher says:
I must comment on this. This book answered questions that my heart was ALREADY asking.

I came out of one such church. I am 45 and have been in the Baptist denomination all of my life. My wife and I left our home church after 17 years, the last 10 as deacon with 2 of those years as Chairman of the deacons. We had almost the EXACT same experience as Jake did in the book. Although I wasn't paid staff, when we told the pastor and his wife (who we THOUGHT were our friends) that God was telling us to leave, all was good until the next Sunday when we were mentioned from the pulpit in a less than flattering fashion. Needless to say, we have lost friends over that fact that we are now considered "disloyal".

I am done with the Baptist denomination and it's emphasis on works and performance. What I got from this book is that we are to seek HIS way for us to assemble - not just cling to man's traditions. I'm SICK of tradition. Where is the working of the Spirit in it? He is vibrant and VARIED!

Granted, I have a limited, narrow view through Baptist glasses. But for me, at least, Baptist (especially Indepentent Baptists) fit the "institutional" model described in this book.

As to the theology, no it doesn't quote a lot of Scripture, but I got NO sense of error. The bottom line is this - let HIM lead!

Also, I really don't get your point about authorship or the publisher. They are clear about how it was written as a collaboration between 2 people. And so what if they use the same publisher as did The Shack? I could probably guess you didn't like that one as well. The Shack AND So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore both shatter the illusion that institutional religion has created, and that image is NOT pretty.

Posted on Aug 28, 2008 3:00:12 PM PDT
Readalots says:
Hey Tim:

Thanks for your candor with this cogent review. As usual, you give us what we need to know about the book in question. Keep it up!

Posted on Sep 15, 2008 1:32:12 PM PDT
JenKoko says:
As a lifelong practicing Catholic I fail to see why this book would offend. It's long been known in my church that there is a distinction between ritual/tradition and faith (i.e. our relationship to God). The traditions of an organized church are supposed to facilitate our faith, but can be corrupted to supplant faith. The fictitious church in this book does the latter and thus becomes just as the Jewish church was in the days of Jesus.

Posted on Oct 5, 2008 6:44:38 PM PDT
I read this book after reading The Shack. I am 53 years old and became a Christian in 1978. My background is mainly Pentecostal-Charismatic, but I have never allowed my church circles to dictate to me who to listen to or what I can read. There's no way I can even begin to relate here the total crap I went through in about 25 years of church. No, it was not all bad. But the amount of pure bull and downright sloppy theology I have had to unlearn in order to get some kind of realistic grasp on the Christian life is just plain sad.

I have not been the member of a church for at least 5 years now. I don't like that. I would prefer to belong to a congregation, and I know there is no perfect one. But before I join myself again to a group of folks who love religious fantasy far more than they make genuine efforts to be image bearers of god in the world, I'll not go back. I was not particularly satisfied with the "solution" of this book either. Friends have excoriated me for not going to church. But they can't say I didn't give it a shot. I'm not just a church criticizer who only attended on holidays. My wife and I were once youth leaders and I was even asked to be an elder in one congregation I was part of.

I certainly have my own share of defects and faults. Congregations I've been part of had their positive and negative aspects. But one thing they all shared was a truncated view of what it meant to be Christian that I never saw in Scripture. Generally, they all mistook morality for being biblical, and to ask them to have the spirit of the Berean Christians in Acts would be asking too much. It got so going to a charismatic church was like going into multiple McDonald's and expecting the menu to be different. I'm sure there are congregations where there is a genuine effort to mirror God despite the problems that will always attend any gathering of sinful human beings. I just haven't run into one. At this point if I were to find one I wouldn't care what the sign over the door said as long as it was orthodox.

Posted on Oct 7, 2008 5:27:14 PM PDT
Bart Breen says:
What a surprise. Tim Challies doesn't like a book that challenges his narrow reformed views and offers to save us all the trouble of reading and thinking through the message by trusting his take on it and not read the book.

Posted on Oct 12, 2008 10:40:54 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Oct 12, 2008 12:08:55 PM PDT]

Posted on Oct 14, 2008 1:17:45 PM PDT
Tim, it's just a fictional book. Yeah, it's what they use to promote their theology, but that's their right. They're choosing to use a story to relate what they feel about church, which I'm pretty sure Jesus did quite often (see: parables). And as far as I can tell, they don't really delve into any theology. The Bible doesn't say too much on megachurches, so it's hard to be unbiblical when talking about them. Do I agree with everything they say? No. But open your mind and try to understand someone that feels and thinks different than you do.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2008 10:15:49 AM PST
Yeah, imagine Tim on being critical--suprise suprise!!!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 1, 2008 4:21:51 AM PST
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 1, 2008 4:23:06 AM PST
Yes I see some truth to your criticism, but this doesn't cover it all. He does make some worthwhile points to keep in mind. Curious...
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Tim Challies
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Location: Oakville, Ontario

Top Reviewer Ranking: 534