I’m reluctant to review Mere Churchianity using my normal standards for a book, because much of I care about may not matter to Michael Spencer’s target audience. The writing is breezy and entertaining, and says something that needs to be heard by people who have left or are about to leave the church. So if Spencer’s book gets the disaffected to sit still long enough to absorb his one simple point—namely, that you can reject the institutional church without rejecting Jesus—it will have accomplished something important.
I am not in Spencer’s target audience, but I am a fellow traveler. I am also troubled and disaffected by what he calls churchianity, but I am more curious than he seems to be about what went wrong in the institutional church and why. And although I am no longer interested in trying to fix the institutional church, I still think it is good—for all our sakes—to speak clearly and lovingly of its weaknesses, flaws which often discourage and even prevent the kind of living to which Jesus calls his followers.
Given that, my main criticism of Mere Churchianity is that it isn’t such a book, i.e. it isn’t the book I wish he had written, and that’s not fair at all. The writing reaches dizzying heights of snark—but snark is the favored tool of the writer these days, Christian or not, and perhaps it speaks to just those people Spencer wants to reach. The content is very thin, a repetitive stream of over-the-top claims backed up by little in the way of concrete examples, glued together with attitude that is brash, funny, and rude—but if this approach gets the attention of those leaving the church, perhaps it will succeed where a more balanced and objective (and unread) attempt would fail.
I hope that Mere Churchianity succeeds in its goal of persuading those who give up on the church not to give up on Jesus. But I wish Spencer had chosen to write to a broader audience, also making clear to those who haven’t given up on the church why the grievances of those on the way out are legitimate. Perhaps he wasn’t interested in this, or perhaps it was beyond him to do so. Perhaps someone else will write that book, building on what Spencer has written here.