Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Jim and Casper

I recently finished the book "Jim and Casper Go To Church" and wanted to blog a bit about my thoughts. The book is co-written by these two guys, Jim and Casper. Jim is a former pastor who has written books and curriculum on evangelism. Casper is a proclaimed atheist. The book is the summation of the two of them traveling around the country going to different churches and conversing about the things that they see and experience. Jim's premise is that for most of us who have been in the church for a while, we need a fresh set of eyes to look at things and to be brutally honest about the things that they see. The point being that an outsider's perspective (the very person we ought to be trying to reach) is often very different than those of us on the inside. To be honest, I hate that language - outsider, inside, etc. I hate drawing those lines, but for the sake of understanding the book that's how I think Jim himself would say it.

Anyway, the book is a great read. They go to some of the most well-known churches in the country, including Saddleback, Willow Creek, Potter's House, Imago Dei, Mars Hill (Seattle), even Joel Osteen's church (as a side note, it's kind of funny that I don't know the name of that church, just the celebrity pastor - which is exactly the kind of thing Casper tends to point out in these churches). Casper has some pretty keen insights into these churches, things that bother him, and other things that impress him and have him asking more. Before I get into those things, one question I have about the work that Jim and Casper have done is this: Should we care what an atheist thinks about the church? I definitely think the church exists more for those who aren't a part of it than it does for those who are. However, I wonder if we ought to focus on spiritually interested or seeking (another loaded word) people rather than atheists. I suppose I know the answer to my own question. The fact is that when I say atheist I often assume someone who is closed off to the gospel, or to the church. However, Casper is clearly not closed off - which is an important distinction. He makes the point that he is "currently an atheist", because at this point in time that is the best explanation for his understanding of the world around him. However, he is open to the idea that that could change. He asks Jim to be equally as open - which is really important. Are we as Christians confident that following Jesus is good and true and that the evidence points to him, to the point where we don't have to be so close-minded that we can't consider other opinions or other explanations? The problem I think with many Christians is that we believe we are right, and that's it - end of story. Yet, we want an Atheist, a Mormon, a Hindu, a Muslim to be open to our ideas. If Jesus really is the Truth, we shouldn't be scared of looking at other faiths or belief systems in all sincerity, because it should always point back to Jesus.

Ok, to the book. Without going through it chapter by chapter, or church by church, I think some of the common themes that keep coming up are really interesting. The main question that Casper keeps asking is "Is this really what Jesus called you to do?" Wow. To me that is such an insightful question. It's a question that I need to constantly ask of myself, my ministry, and the way I spend my time and resources. He points to some of the flashy stuff that tends to happen in churches as a way to "attract" new or seeking people and he sees production, shallow message, wasting money, promotion of Christian celebrities, and lots of things we don't intend to communicate. The things that tend to stand out to him as significant are people's stories. He is moved by testimonies, by stories of how churches are getting their hands dirty and being the hands and feet of Jesus within their communities. He sees to intuitively understand that Jesus stood for the poor and the oppressed, and the followers of His ought to be about the same things. He even talks like this is the kind of thing that might get someone like him to be involved in a particular church. In fact, one church he attends is a friend's house church. He talks about the consistency he sees in that friend, between the message of Jesus and the content of his life. I think that is quite profound.

Casper also seems to see the inconsistency between many churches spoken message and their unspoken message. What I mean by that is that many of the church services he attends seemed to be focused on the benefits of Christianity for its adherents, rather than on the benefits for the world. Much of it is me-centered. He hears promises of wealth and prosperity, of health and healing, and a lot less talk about the value of this faith on its own. Is the gospel about what I can get out of it? Is that really it? I hope not.

At any rate, I'd really recommend the book. There's a lot more I could comment on, but I know they have a website with message boards, etc. that you could look up and read more about. But you should definitely pick it up and read through it - particularly if you are involved in a church and have been for some time. The way we see things is so very different than the way that a new person views it. For that alone - this book is worth the read.


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