This should be quite a bit shorter than the previous seven reviews I wrote about Pastor Chris Jackson’s book Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church.
The first part of his book seems to be Pastor Jackson’s acknowledgement of how the Church can be a hurtful place, how Pastors, lay staff, and regular members can be heavy-handed instead of open-hearted, and why thousands upon thousands of people have legitimate reasons for walking away from their local churches if not their faith in Jesus.
Jackson was reasonably transparent in describing how he’s been hurt in church and how he has sometimes caused hurt.
Then he attempted to lure his disenfranchised readers back into church using a number of incentives. One was his belief in a third Great Awakening, a national or even world-wide revival of the Church in response to the moral nosedive of current western progressive culture.
He also described how desperately God loves each and every individual Christian as if each person were His favorite son or daughter. He emphasized how each person was born into this day and age to fulfill a unique role in God’s plan of redemption.
But we can only fulfill that role if we are not only part of the universal Church, but fellowship at a local church. Yes, church can be a pretty uncomfortable place and people can be mean or just plain thoughtless. If one church doesn’t work, go to another. He makes it sound pretty simple.
I read a number of the reviews of this book at Amazon.com. Those who didn’t like the book or who were lukewarm to its message said that it didn’t speak to the specific reasons they left, and I have to join this group.
I left church, not because anyone was mean to me, but simply because my theological and doctrinal viewpoints were so different. Hashkafah is a Hebrew word without an exact English equivalent, but basically it’s one’s worldview, specifically regarding your ideology and the reasons behind your ideology. My “Hashkafah” was inconsistent with that of my local church and after two years, the two viewpoints weren’t even beginning to mesh.
I had spent most of that time meeting regularly with the Head Pastor. We developed a friendship, or so I thought, and we each shared our own personal understanding of the Bible, Jesus, and how God’s redemptive plan was supposed to work. As it turned out, he was trying to convince me to change my mind and adopt his viewpoint and I was doing the same thing.
When he preached from the pulpit against my specific viewpoint, I knew I was being asked to change or leave.
Parting was on good terms, but I haven’t heard from anyone at that church since the day I left. At first, I thought Pastor might keep in touch, but he never called or emailed.
Pastor Jackson encouraged people to make amends and either return to the churches they left or find another church to join. The one thing absent from his book is exactly how to do that. He didn’t develop a “re-entry” plan. He just pumped up his audience with how important they were to God and God’s plan, how important the Church is in the next great revival, and how, to be a part of it all, his readers needed to go back to church.
But like I said, he didn’t describe that process. It didn’t help that I disagreed with some of his key interpretations of the Bible and the full purpose of how God plans to redeem the world. In fact, at many points in his book, he reminded me of why I left church in the first place, not because the people were unkind, actually, most of them were very compassionate, but because I was totally alienated among them, a “stranger in a strange land,” if you will. I could only attempt to force a square peg into a population of round holes so long.
I downloaded and read Pastor Jackson’s book, not because I was really looking for a way back in, but because a friend of mine expressed his concern that I was without regular fellowship, as if being alone in my faith opened me up to some sort of “spiritual predator.” I re-examined my original decision using Jackson’s book as a lens. In the end, the view showed me what I’d seen in my local church before.
The Church contains a large number of kind, good-hearted, gentle people who desire to serve Jesus and to preach the gospel message as they’ve been taught. But a church is as much a culture as it is anything else, and I learned (or re-learned) from Pastor Jackson’s book that “church” is not my culture.
I’m sure his book serves his target audience well. It just didn’t serve me, at least not in the way he probably intended.