real church by larry crabb

“Church as I know it usually leaves deep parts of me dormant, unawakened, and untouched. I don’t much like going. So, what now?”

Larry Crabb, leading Christian counselor, author, Bible teacher, seminar speaker and founder and director of New Way Ministries has a problem – he doesn’t particularly like going to church any more. And he’s not alone. Real Church: Does It Exist? Can I Find It? is a book that wrestles with several important questions that many Christians find themselves asking these days: What is church all about? What is it supposed to be about? Why do people go to church? Why do so many like going? Why have some people lost interest? Written in a way that causes the reader to admire the honesty and transparency not often seen in conservative evangelicals, Crabb articulates his current state of heart and mind in relation to these questions, going so far at one point to admit the following: I think I might have to give up Christianity in order to follow Christ. It should be noted that any attempt to define and refine common conceptions of ‘church’ is a difficult process that will undoubtedly reveal a level of authorial presupposition, theological leaning, and, at times, some scattered thinking. For instance, Crabb states that he does not want to go to an emergent / missional church because they fail to emphasize the necessity of undergoing conversion, getting saved, of seeing oneself as a sinner who has the incredible opportunity to be forgiven and guaranteed a life forever in heaven; however, in the very next chapter, he declares that he does not want to go to a church that believes Jesus came to earth only to get me into heaven when I die and to keep me good until I get there. Confused? Me too. This book should be read almost like a journal, a collection of thoughts and reflections on what Crabb personally sees as not right with church today, and on what kind of church he would like to be a part of. The reader should keep this in mind as they work through Real Church, allowing themselves to think through and wrestle with Crabb’s perspective on their own terms and within the context of their particular faith communities. From that perspective, this book can be a helpful tool.

Having said that, one must not get caught in the trap that is the major weakness of Real Church. While Crabb offers many helpful and insightful statements in regards to the kind of church that he wants to be a part of, the fact is that any discussion of what one does not like about or is looking for in ‘a’ church is inherently a misguided endeavor. The focus should be on what it means to be the church in the world today as opposed to what kind of church we want to attend. This reframing would enable a vision of church as something that is meant to be embodied by followers of Jesus within the realities of every day life. Certainly there are nuggets of this reality within Crabb’s reflections on church, but the language invoked by referring to ‘a’ church de-emphasizes any kind of wrestling with what it means to be ‘the’ church. The issue then is not about whether or not one wants to go to church anymore, but if one is prepared to be for the world what Jesus had in mind when he called people to follow him.

This book is worth a read, and would be a good resource for those wrestling with these questions. The onus remains on the reader to move beyond the questions and take a step towards becoming the kind of church we want to see but can’t seem to find.

[This review was done as part of Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Blogger program:]

  1. Well said.

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