A pastor facing a spiritual crisis receives counsel from a man who may be St. John.
So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore has a lot of great insights into the crippling effect that the legalism of religious obligation can have on anyone’s faith. I was with the book for the first two-thirds, nodding my head in agreement as John enlightens Pastor Jake about seeking life and salvation from God, not from rituals like Sunday morning worship or weekly Bible study. Jacobsen and Coleman’s critique hits square at the heart of big churches offering a gazillion programs, and those worshippers who think that activity is the goal of life in Christ.
Ultimately, I felt like their theology did not take the reader deep enough. The last third of the book contains John’s ideas about the life of the body (and therefore the authors). Basically, believers should seek intimacy and fellowship whenever even two or three are gathered together. Agreed. But then he goes on to imply that out of these casual get togethers, true church will arise. The authors have John break bread and pour wine in an allusion to the Eucharist, without actually administering the sacraments. And here is where they lost me. The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is more than just an activity–it’s a sacred act that cannot be taken alone and that must be presided over by an ordained minister of the Gospel.
Through John, the authors suggest that priests aren’t necessary, that any believer can act as a priest to another. It’s best not to ordain anyone. I disagree with this completetly. Jacobsen and Coleman fail to engage with the rich theology of the royal priesthood, as prefigured by the Levites and Melchizidek, and as realized in Christ then passed on to his followers. The priest (or minister or reverend or pastor) is more than just a leader. He is called to stand in for Christ, and this happens most transcendentally at the communion table.
Furthermore, it’s a bit cavalier to suggest that spiritual growth will necessarily be stunted by structure. Sure, ritual can become obligation, and obedience turn into legalism. But the distortion of sin doesn’t mitigate the rightness of the forms that God has given us. Just like we can’t make Christ anyone we want him to be, but have to look back to the foundation laid out in the Old Testament for reference, we also need to look back to the way that God established worship in the OT to understand how we are to practice our faith now. God has altered the terms–the blood of Christ, not animal sacrifice–but the essential forms remain. We come to his temple to bring our sacrifice of worship. Why? Because God is holy.
Lastly, I think that this book suffers under the same error that permeates contemporary Christianity, that feelings are the best indicator of spiritual health. Feelings are fickle. We’re told that we will know we are abiding in Christ by the fruits of the spirit–love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are not feelings, they are actions pointed out into the world. I don’t deny that feelings are powerful and worth dealing with, but as a friend of mine once put it, a believer should look inward only to repent.
It’s a fine balance. As I mentioned at the top this book does make a lot of good points about spiritual deadness. It just doesn’t get all the way to an answer.