Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Review: Beyond the Church of Christ

A friend recommended that I check out Beyond the Church of Christ: Kingdom Life Outside the Walls by Jeremy Campbell. Wow is really all I can say.

Here is the author's description of this short story:
Using the format of a fictional story instead of dry commentary, Beyond The “Church of Christ” is a story of a young man's journey from fundamentalism to freedom, from legalism to liberty.
Though brought up to believe that only members of the “Church of Christ” are true Christians, 24 year old Jason Gibson (concerned at the eternal fate of his departed uncle, who was a devout believer though not a part of the CoC) has now begun questioning some of the core doctrines he was raised in.
Jason sets out in furious pursuit of answers to some troubling questions, embarking on a journey that will change his view of baptism, the church, and Hell. It’s a life-changing journey that is at once both liberating and frightening as he awakens to the glories of God’s grace, yet is now faced with the reality of being ostracized from his family.

The short story is written in three parts, and you can get all three parts for less than $5 total, less than $2 total if you're an Amazon Prime member. Seriously, go get these Kindle books now. Right now. It's an excellent story. It's well written and well told. This guy is a seriously good storyteller. And more than that, he really gets what it's like to study, pray, and agonize over a point of doctrine and come to an honest disagreement with the Church of Christ. Most in the Church of Christ reject the concept of an honest disagreement. So if you have ever had one, you'll instantly relate to the story's protagonist, Jason Gibson. And if you've ever spoken such a disagreement out loud, you'll really relate to the way he was treated.

Several of you may have read or may be aware of a book called Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank. If you have read Muscle and a Shovel, especially if you recommended it to me, please, please read this short story. This story is the inverse of Muscle and a Shovel. In Muscle and a Shovel, Mike was raised a Baptist and studied his way into the Church of Christ. In Beyond the Church of Christ, Jason was raised in the Church of Christ and studied his way out of it.

Part One: Click here for the Kindle book.
Part one has a very well done and concise history of the American Restoration Movement, which is the movement that gave birth to the Church of Christ as we know it today. (Though many in the Church of Christ deny this, the historical evidence is overwhelming that every Church of Christ today can trace its history and theology right back to the American Restoration Movement in the 1800s.) Following this, he sets up the background for the beginning of his journey, which is the tragic and accidental death of his Uncle Mark.

Part Two: Click here for the Kindle book.
In part two, Jason begins his journey by discussing two very hot button Church of Christ doctrines: baptism and the pattern for worship. His Aunt Gayle patiently guides him through this discussion. I will say that this is the best and most concise discussion and refutation of the Church of Christ proof texts for baptism that I have ever seen. Campbell does an excellent job of avoiding straw men throughout this story. When he says that the Church of Christ teaches or believes something, he takes great care to represent their teaching accurately. This is a very refreshing approach! I am often guilty of misrepresenting someone when I disagree, and I really appreciate his resisting that ever-so-easy temptation.

Part Three: Click here for the Kindle book.
In part three, after a few conversations with Aunt Gayle, Jason is faced with the horrible dilemma that anyone who honestly disagrees with the Church of Christ has. Will he keep quiet or will he risk the pain of ostracism, even being cut off from his own family? He tries keeping quiet, but eventually he says something, and that leads to the dreaded "meeting with the elders" that anyone who has spoken a disagreement out loud has had to endure. That meeting goes just about the way one would expect such a meeting to go. From there, he actually disagrees with his Aunt Gayle on the topic of hell. And guess what? They don't have a falling out! They are able to continue showing love and sharing a close friendship in the presence of disagreement, and a significant disagreement at that! Learning to disagree without dividing is a skill that many Christians need to learn. Also, throughout part three, as in parts one and two, he avoids straw men.

This short story is refreshingly honest. It hits me so close to home. How many Jason Gibsons are in the Church of Christ right now? How many Jason Gibsons have left the Church of Christ?

The story also deals very honestly and fairly with the idea that the Church of Christ teaches that they are the only ones going to heaven. I believe that doctrine is the most pernicious and the most toxic of any doctrine that the Church of Christ teaches. Abandoning that doctrine would allow the Church of Christ to do so much more good in God's kingdom than they do now. The churches that have abandoned it are already accomplishing great good and training disciples to be more like Him.