[**full disclosure**:*i received this book for free from waterbrook multnomah publishing group in exchange for this review*]

mere churchianity by michael spencer, waterbrook multnomah publishing group, 2010.

i came across spencer’s blog several years ago and kept up with it throughout the years up until his death last year. more often than not, i agreed with his sentiment, if not his presentation of it. one exchange i had with him on his site resulted in him extending an invitation to me (a pastor/ blogger/ free lance writer)to speak at one of his chapel services. i regret that i never took him up on it, as i would have enjoyed meeting him and any discussion we would have had would have helped make me a better thinker and minister, i’m sure.

i say all of that to make it clear that i have been sympathetic to the author’s point of view and had even had positive interaction with him before reading this book.

that said, i was disappointed with the book as a whole. though it did offer some accurate diagnosis of many of the shortcomings of many churches, the book seems to be more of a “venting” than anything else. and maybe for some, that’s ok. but having read spencer’s blog, i  expected a more careful and balanced (but not compromised) assessment of not only what can be wrong with 21st century christianity (“churchianity”), but also a thoughtful response that didn’t come across as, well, so jilted and snarky.

as i said, i agreed with spencer on some areas, even found myself nodding in agreement at times. i am often a vocal critic of misguided mission, practices, and purpose within the church. but i kept waiting for spencer, whose whole thesis hinges on an undying to devotion to christ without extra-biblical excess, to drive home the point that the church, as an instituition, cannot be abandoned if we are to have “jesus shaped spirituality”. he hints at this a few times, but he never comes out and states clearly that if we take the bible and christ at his word, then the answer is not to continue bashing the church and to leave it, searching for something else- but rather we are to help the church reclaim its authenticity from within- by staying and reforming, not cutting and running.

spencer, who lived and ministered in kentucky (as i do) also seemed to paint a picture of people who are disallusioned and leave the church looking for “genuine spirituality and/ or true fellowship with jesus.” while i don’t doubt that this may happen, it is my experience, and the experience of most any other pastor i have spoken wth that when people leave the church, it isnt because they want  more of jesus- its that they want a different style of church. so it would seem that spencer paints a less than accurate picture of what comes across as a mass exodus of those who are purely driven by a love for christ and just cant find him in church- and so are forced to look elsewhere. maybe these people exist- but i have never met them or anyone who has.

personal anecdotes aside (which is what the thesis of this whole book is built on), the book just seemed like the frustrations of a man worn down by ministry and is struggling through who to blame for the lack of true christ loving disciple making devotees of the lord. while certainly the church is at fault for a lot of the shortcomings that lead to these frustrations, the answer is not to suggest, even implicitly, that answer might be jettisoning the church for our own spiritual pilgrimage.

in the end, i would say that i would only suggest this book to church leaders as a “what to look out for and seek to avoid” in terms of the dangers spencer rightly points out and the cynicism he points them out in. i would never give this to a new , struggling, or immature christian as i fear it would lead them to places that ultimately spencer himself wouldn’t want them to go.

there are two much better books on this topic- which neither hides the faults of the church nor comes across as hopeless and bitter, offering solutions and not just snark-, are kevin deyoung and ted kluck’s why we love the church. and  david platt’s radical.