Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians. Jim Henderson & Matt Casper. Tyndale, 2007.
The interest of pastors to bring people into their churches is evident. In the quest to understand how those who are outside the churches think of them, Jim Henderson, a Pentecostal pastor for thirty years, has hired an atheist, Matt Casper, in order to travel around to a number of notable and not-so-notable churches and document their reactions.
Henderson and Casper tell the story of their visits to twelve churches:
- Saddleback (Rick Warren’s church)
- Angelus Temple (a.k.a. The Dream Center)
- Willow Creek (Bill Hybel’s church)
- First Presbyterian Church of River Forest
- Lawndale Community Church
- Jason’s House (A house church of one of Casper’s friends)
- Imago Dei
- Mars Hill Church (Mark Driscoll’s church)
- The Bridge
- Lakewood Church (Joel Osteen’s church)
- The Potter’s House (T.D. Jakes’ church)
Finally, Henderson and Casper provide some closing words and then answer some questions.
This book provides an interesting and entertaining read as Jim Henderson and Matt Casper chronicle their experiences in these churches and deal with questions that stem from what they see. The questions and observations that Casper provides are often incredibly insightful and point towards a number of the problems that exist with churches today.
Unfortunately, Henderson seems to miss the point behind these things Casper says. While he successfully sees this problem of “religionism” that plagues all the churches, he misses the full breadth of the issue behind Casper’s question: “Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?”. Sadly the churches Henderson selected are the best of the best, not being average churches. Most churches today are out in the world, seeking to build worldly empires. In that sense, it is more about programs, policies, and procedures than it is about people. The light shows, the smoke machines, and the other negatives both authors observe are a direct reflection of the wisdom of the world. He who puts on the better show gets the favor of the adoring public.
Sadly, this is the direct reflection of the advice that Henderson gives, to “become more reflective and repentant on how outsiders perceive us” (p149) and that “we have to adapt to them” (p149). The Church has been continually poisoned by the world – the leaders duped into thinking that they have to be like the world by the standards of numbers, nickels and facilities, in order to entice people to join them (never mind Christ). Most all churches have been following this advice by adapting to the world instead of adapting to Christ. Barna’s own work indicates this.
This results in the churches offering something that is nothing different than the world, and in the end offering only stones and snakes instead of bread and fish (Matthew 7:9-11) to those who are seeking something different. Casper notes this in a number of his observations, asking the question “What does the way Christianity is practiced today have to do with the handful of words and deeds uttered by a man who walked the earth two thousand years ago?”
Overall, this book was an entertaining and insightful read, providing many questions and points to ponder. But much more could have been done to contrast many of the reasons behind Casper’s comments, and would have provided much more impact. As Henderson might have found with Casper if he indeed did push a little more, the majority of “atheists” and other “non-believers” have tasted what these churches have to offer and find them wanting. As much could be said about my experience with this book.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
Book Cover Image Source: Amazon