“I have fed you with milk and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able [to bear it] neither yet now are ye able.”—I Corinthians 3:2
People, oftentimes, suggest books that they would like to see reviewed in this column. Those recommended range from the engaging to the bizarre; and many times I can know more about a book from knowing the person who suggested it, than from glancing at the inside cover. Although I have friends who have yet to get on base with a suggestion, there are others whom I have come to think of as the “heavy-hitters.” Their suggestions, consistently, are either illuminating, intriguing, or controversial; and I have a space reserved on my desk for their books that is marked “on deck.” Recently my curiosity was aroused by a conversation I had with someone very dear to me: a heavy hitter. She had been listening to Christian radio and had heard an interview with the author of a recent book with a rather controversial view; but because she was relishing in a rather lengthy bath, she was not able to write down the title of the book or the name of the author. Furnished with some rather vague clues I set out to the local Christian bookstore, perused through the “New Selection” aisle, and promptly purchased the wrong book. Two-thirds of the way through Lee Strobel’s INSIDE THE MIND OF UNCHURCHED HARRY AND MARY – How To Reach Friends And Family Who Avoid God And The Church, I decided not to review it. While I found myself rejoicing in the testimony of a onetime atheist reporter, and fascinated by the journey of a truly honest skeptic, my enthusiasm waned from the inconsistencies and lack of Bible doctrine. The inability to “rightly divide” is commonplace in Christendom today, but because it was not the central thrust of the book there was little reason to review it … until I continued reading.
It must first be said that my regard for the facility and for the devotion of the author could not be more highly realized. The road he traveled to conversion and his deep concern for his fellow man are truly inspiring. It is my most sincere wish, that Mr. Strobel will in the future, devote an entire book to his struggle as a skeptic under conviction, and it is at those times in this present book, that my admiration for him grew. It is my further hope that my sentiments will not be construed to be disrespectful because they are of a character, quite opposite.
There is a growing movement in Christianity to create a kind of politically correct NEWSPEAK, that is less “offensive” to unbelievers than “traditional Christian lingo.” This movement, popularized by Robert Schuller, shuns terms like: saved, lost, and unbeliever; because they might tarnish a person’s self-image and inflict undue strain on his self-esteem. Preferred language would be: seekers and the unchurched. Mr. Strobel appears to be a Schuller disciple (the senior Pastor of his Church is a keynote speaker at one of Dr. Schuller’s upcoming conferences) and his book is riddled with these neo-Christian terms. Christ is never mentioned as our savior, he is our forgiver and leader; although when man’s duplicity is so downplayed, the case is not strongly made that we need a forgiver or a leader. I did not notice the word lost in the book until page 219, (again, seekers or unchurched was used, leaving the impression that the natural man sincerely seeks after the ever elusive God.) This re-slating of the very terms that Christ used often in His earthly message and Paul used often relaying the risen message of Christ is Neo-Christianity’s version of outcome based education, and one of the major building blocks in the seduction of Christianity. It has happened on occasion that I have fantasized about how amusing it would be to see the leaders of the “prosperity-gospel” myth locked in a basement, while strains of “Amazing Grace” reverberated through the air; and then watching them squirm when the song reached the line … “that saved a wretch like me.
WHAT WOULD PAUL SAY TO THESE MADISONAVE. MINISTERS
One of the most troubling characteristics of the book is the frequent use of the language and subsequent strategies of the marketplace. At one place in my notes I asked of the book, “Are you molding a place for the intake and study of God’s word or simply a trendy advertising campaign for a Fortune 500 company?” In numerous places the book read more like a marketing manual for a Madison Avenue advertising firm than it did a blueprint to form an assembly on the basis of dispensing Bible doctrine. Strobel suggests that churches should consider dropping their denominational affiliations not because of Paul’s admonishment against sects or divisions but because in certain instances, communities do not ”respond” favorably to a particulardenominational name. He goes on to report the places where certain denominations have a “more favorable” ratng and suggests that churches choose their names accordingly. The language of this section is clear-the name of the game is numbers. In this section, those that represent your unbelieving friends and relatives are crudely referred to as “customers” and “consumers.”
Strobel starts his critique of “traditional” churches with their music program and at one point suggests that Rap and Country be incorporated because that is what is selling the most in record stores. At another point he proudly boasts of the football “bloopers” film they showed at a men’s breakfast to attract new people. It is almost a shame that video was not available in Paul’s day for the Greeks and Roman’s were great athletes, not to mention the interest that would have been stirred had he shown highlights of the gladiators. Trendy diversions-a sort of Holy flypaper to attract at any cost. Is this not what the temple of Diana offered in Paul’s day? His suggestions and observations of “seeker-friendly” churches are the clearest indictment of contemporary church thought. The message is seldom mentioned (Strobel does not want Harry to “get bogged down in less significant doctrinal nuances”) but much concern is given to the peripherals (music, programs, drama, entertainment.)
One of the more humorous parts of the book is that in which Mr. Strobel stresses the importance of the titles of sermons and how they create interest. His newspaper background becomes more and more evident. He lists for the readers some of his favorite titles: WHAT JESUS WOULD SAY TO BART SIMPSON, and WHAT JESUS WOULD SAY TO MURPHY BROWN. It would be interesting to make the duo a trilogy and add WHAT WOULD PAUL SAY TO THE SUPER CHURCH? I imagine he would start with the verse meant for the Corinthians mentioned above and then finish with the indictment in II Timothy 4:3 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” In the early church, slaves sat next to millionaires in living rooms, in gardens, or in concealed places … to hear the word of God. Buildings were not Christian tradition, but adopted from the pagans (See History of Constantine). In the Eighteenth century thousands would walk for miles to hear George Whitefield preach the word of God irrespective of convenience or comfort or the social climate but out of a hunger for the Word. The delusion representative of the prosperity gospel movement is due to their ignorance of the primary role of an assembly. The primary role of the local assembly is for the pastor toequip the saints to minister (Ephesians 4: 11-ff). Salvation messages, while vital to Christian ministry, are not a substitute for the regular intake of Bible doctrine. When anything is substituted for the primary role, the message of the risen Christ is what suffers. The title of Lee Strobel’s book is quite misleading, because the main thrust of the book is not how to reach friends and family on an individual basis. The main thrust of the book is how to market your church and fill its pews. If the name of the game today is numbers, then a lot could be learned from Jim Jones; but I would stay away from the Kool-Aid.
It has been said that sitting in a church would no more make me a Christian than sitting in a garage would make me a car. In the real traditional church it was devoted and mature Christians who created the climate, it was not a church adopting the climate of the world. I could only recommend this book to the mature believer who wanted a better understanding of the modem church and it’s pitiful decline.