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Book Review: Tim & Jesus Go to Church

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : March 25, 2008

jesusgoestochurch1.jpgThe book would make for a great sitcom: a pastor roadtrip across the United States, critiquing several church along the way. Henderson believes that evangelism requires listening to “the good, the bad and the ugly about Christianity in order to be a better minister.” So he invited Jesus, the Son of God and supposed “founder” of Christianity, to observe how modern American Christians are doing with the movement he started. Their travels took them to an urban outreach church, an Emergent church, a new monastic community, a liberal mainline church, and to an evangelical megachurch.

In the book, Tim and Jesus discuss everything from preaching to music to location. Every step of the way, Jesus asks, “Why do these churches have such different ideas on what it means to follow me?” As a reader, I was drawn into the dialog and experiences. In a way, the book offers very few easy answers. But it does show that while each of the churches has an honest approach to following the way of Jesus (except maybe Osteen’s Church), each community can learn much more from the way of the master.

Because the book revolves around the five communities that Tim and Jesus visit, I thought it to be appropriate to share the highlights of their experiences of each. In particular, Jesus has a lot to say:

City Light International Street Mission

Tim and Jesus fist visit City Light International Street Mission, a small urban Pentecostal community in Nashville. The book is generous in their description. You could tell that both Jesus and Tim were weirded-out by the raw emotionalism and “pentecostal bells and whistles” of the worship service. But they were soft in their criticisms.

At one point in this section of the book, Tim states: “You could tell that the Mission doesn’t have the funding to reach out to these folks…but they do it anyways…that is commendable.” (22)
Jesus affirmed their heart for the poor: “When they serve these friends of mine, it is like they are serving me.” (22)

But their experience wasn’t entirely positive. At one point during the very loud and frenzied worship service, the pastor started prophesying that a “new move of the Spirit” would visit the church and spark a new revival for the healing of the nations. At the end of the prophecy, Jesus stood up and said: “I have already told you. The Kingdom of God is among you. Stop looking for signs and wonders, and follow the gentle leading of my Spirit.” Afterwards, Jesus got rebuked…and one elder attempted to “deliver” Jesus from a “spirit of rebellion.” (45-47)

The Livingroom

Next, Tim and Jesus visited The Livingroom, an Emergent-style church in Chicago. Tim thoroughly enjoyed himself, but Jesus fell asleep during the music portion of the gathering. He said: “It was so atmospheric. What is it with urban hipsters and their mellow music? At least the music at City Light was joyous…and City Light even had a song of lament.” (68)

During their visit, the pastor gave a sermon about social justice…and how the Gospel was more about what you do than what you say…and that what you say isn’t really that important if you show love. Afterwards, Tim and Jesus got into a deep conversation about whether or not they agreed. Tim tended to agree with the statement, but Jesus disagreed: “I was sitting there listening to this pastor tell his flock how I wasn’t very interested in preaching and proclaiming the Gospel. That upset me. Can’t he read? Doesn’t he notice how much RED there is in the Gospels?

Humility House

Humility House is one of a growing number of “new monastic” communities. Located in a poor part of Denver, Humility House practices hospitality, care for the poor, and engages in the occasional protest. There community is made up of about 12 members–8 of them living in the house.

Tim felt that the community was warm and inviting, but didn’t “get” what it was they were hoping to accomplish: “I affirm their community and that they help a few people out from time to time, but this isn’t the sort of model that most Christians can follow. And it could put off a lot of seekers.”

Jesus disagreed: “These are my kind of hippies. These sorts of radicals really connect with an important part of my message. But they never seem to stick around for very long. How many of my brothers and sister hippies are still going strong from the movement they named after me in the 70s and 80s?” Later on, Jesus writes: “I wish they wouldn’t always be so dang serious. There is a time for simplicity. But there is also a time for drink and song.

Trinity United Methodist Church

Tim and Jesus connected with the mainline church the least. This was the shortest section of the book. They visited Trinity United Methodist Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Tim felt bored the whole time. Jesus tried to mingle with folks in the foyer after the service, but no one seemed to be interested in him…just the idea of him.

Lakewater Community Church

Finally, Jesus and Tim visited Lakewater Community Church in Dallas, Texas. Lakewater has 30,000 members and proclaims a soft-message of prosperity and hope. Tim had lots to stay about the techniques this church used to draw in lots of seekers. But Jesus didn’t like his visit much. He writes that “the leaders of this church reminded me of the folks who crucified me.”

After the service, Jesus was able to make an appointment with the pastor. But the meeting was cut short. The pastor didn’t believe that Jesus was the REAL Jesus. After all, this Jesus was much too shabbily dressed to be the REAL Jesus. On his way out, Jesus shook out his sandals on the step as he and Tim made their way back to California.

Closing Thoughts

The book was pretty well written, though I could tell from Jesus’ sections that he hadn’t written a book before. His insights were the most insightful, but I found I could relate with Tim’s perspective more easily. Clearly, the two men had their favorite communities, and a couple that they didn’t like. But there are so many communities out there that you can’t really get a sense of what sort of church either would say is the “ideal church.” But I suppose that is the point. We’re not supposed to be discontent with out communities as we strive for the ideal. Instead, we are called to be as faithful to Jesus as we can in the sorts of communities that we find ourselves in.

This was a work of satire. No such book exists. And while Jesus doesn’t take road-trips to visit churches, I would like to assume that he is present, in some way, at all sorts of Churches. Are we listening to what he has to say?

for further reading . . .

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