This is the second part of the three part discussion of Andy Byers’ new book Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic Saint . We will focus on Part 1 of the book that proposes five characteristics of Christian culture that are catalysts for cynicism in the church.
So, what makes us cynical about Christianity in America? Andy Byers answers “Pop Christianity” Certain parts of America church culture are saturated with popular expressions of Christianity that is characterized by, idealism, religiosity, experientialism, anti-intellectualism, and cultural irrelevance. What are the kinds of things Byers has in mind? Well for example – in rural North Carolina, I would regularly drive a 6 mile road and pass about three church signs that said something like this…
He does not intend the first section to be an exhaustive list, but significant features of the American Christian landscape that he has experienced in his work as a pastor. Throughout this section Byers is insightful and also fair in his judgments. He notes that these trends in American Christianity often stem from good motives. For example, despite the unhealthy tendency in some circles to crave, pursue, and misinterpret super-spiritual experiences, Byers closes his chapter on experientialism with an anecdote about how God spoke prophetically through a friend into his life. His chapter on anti-intellectualism was particularly helpful because it traces the historical roots of the “the bible-says-it-so-I-believe-it-and-that-settles-it” attitude (92-95) and its rejection of institutional church authority. I found the end of this section particularly helpful. He closes out his chapter on cultural irrelevance with stories of his experience as a pastor of an extremely “irrelevant church” country church. Although the predominately elderly congregation for whom Byers cared was no where near the cutting edge of American intellectual or artistic culture, he learned things that our culture desperately needs: loyalty, community, and a sense of our own mortality.
In this first section, Byers names features of evangelical Christian landscape that I believe readers will immediately recognize. The chapters are often introduced with personal accounts that give flesh to the aspects of pop-Christianity that he believes cynics are correct to question. Each of the five attitudes are put under the microscope of scripture. Byers shows that the Bible’s description of reality is much more complex than Christians often realize. This is good news because reality is much more complex than many Christians would like to believe. In his chapter on idealism, Byers states, “the resetting of our eschatological clocks means that we are not just living post-Eden and pre-parousia, but in the awkward overlap of the ages.” Cynicism is a temptation of those that rightly realize that the world (and the church) is not what it should be. In Part 2 of his book, Byers will provide Biblical models that are alternatives to cynicism for those of us on whom as Paul says, “the ends of these two ages have met.” (1 Cor 10:11)
Intervaristy Press was kind enough to send me a free copy of this book for reviewing purposes.