Michael Spencer ran the influential blog The Internet Monk until his death in 2010, and Mere Churchianity: Finding your way back to a Jesus-shaped spirituality (WaterBrook Press, 2010) is the summation of his life’s work as an apostle to the church leavers. His focus in this book is on helping those burnt out by what he called churchianity (the “do more, be better, look good for God’s sake” (p. 5) attitude found in many churches) find a way to follow the Jesus that they aren’t willing to give up on. Spencer wrote that the “purpose in writing this book is to talk to you as someone who is willing to follow Jesus, not as someone who has decided to give up on Jesus” (p. 198). It isn’t a book for people who have decided to make up their own pick-and-choose spirituality, and Spencer isn’t necessarily anti-church. In fact, as long as a church is making disciples of Jesus who are equipped for ministry in their individual lives then he is all for it. On to the analysis:
- At times Spencer seems to be on a soapbox when he describes “mega-churches”, and he doesn’t seem to see any value in a mega-church, even though there are mega-churches who do a very good job equipping disciples and providing for the “least of these”, two things that he suggests are very important for a church to be doing.
- Spencer states explicitly that “a road populated by massive churches, loud music, smooth-talking preachers, media, and meetings is not the road to Jesus-shaped spirituality” (p.196). This broad rejection of a certain outward form of religious expression leads to the question, “does a road populated by tiny churches, no music, halting speakers, no electricity and informal gatherings make up the road to Jesus-shaped spirituality?” Spencer would reject this as well, but his apparent vendetta against mega-churches distracts him from the truth that he proclaims elsewhere in the book: Jesus-shaped spirituality takes the Jesus of the Bible seriously and lives in connection with him, doing what he said to do in community with others as well as in times of solitude with God.
- Spencer is Jesus centered and mission of God minded.
- He addresses real difficulties with Western Christianity, namely that it often looks very little like Jesus and often produces almost no disciples who take the gospel into their workplaces, homes and recreation and who are often unashamed liars who aren’t in touch with their continued brokenness.
- He reaffirms Jesus, as presented in the Bible as the revelation of God to humanity.
- He gives those who have walked away from churchianity a way that they can find themselves in the mission of God to the world.
- He is specific about what the “Jesus-shaped life” looks like, and his description relies much more on Scripture than statements of belief. It is Jesus centered and Kingdom driven.
- Easy to understand and gets under your skin enough to keep you reading.
- Spencer rightly stresses a balance between being involved in a community of disciples and personal solitude with God.
Overall an encouraging read for those burnt out by religious forms from someone who honestly loved Jesus and was passionate about people being citizens of God’s Kingdom.
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.