I first became acquainted with author Larry Crabb through his best selling book Inside Out. Crabb is a Colorado based Christian psychologist and speaker who had written several books that have made him an oft quoted source. I typically do not gravitate toward the psychology or self-help sections of the book shelf, but when I saw that Crabb had published a new release, Real Church, I thought I’d pick it up and read it, especially given that one of the book’s testimonials was by Dallas Willard.
The full title of the book is Real Church: Does it Exist? Can I Find it? The cover bears the full title in the motif of a movie marquis. That should have been a clue about what was to come between the covers.
The 155 pages inside contain the confessions of the author who states that he is tired of and disinterested in church. He’s been there, done that, and feels that the church has let him down. Crabb writes, “Unplanned and unanticipated, this book jumped out of my personal disappointment, frustration, and concern with church as I’ve experienced it.” He then unpacks all of the wrong reasons that lead people to attend church. They are as follows:
1. Going to church will make my life better. (Seeker Sensitive)
2. Going to church will show you how Jesus wants you to change the world. (Missional, Emergent, Acts 29, et al)
3. Going to church is all about saving lost souls and helping the already saved to be visibly moral. (Bible Exposition)
Apparently, these are the types of churches that Crabb has attended and/or his general categorization of the types of church’s that predominantly exist in America. None of these styles of churches as defined by his evaluation are suitable to meeting the needs of his life or the yearnings of his struggling heart. So after hammering the Bride of Christ and her faults for 84 pages, Crabb settles down to list the characteristics of the kind of church he believes he wants. The marks he suggests are listed below:
1. A church that hungers for the truth that sets addicts (as in, addicted to self) free.
2. A church that respects the necessary ingredients in the remedy for addiction.
3. A church that finds contentment in wanting what Jesus wants.
4. A church that is mission energized.
The author takes some real, personal risks in Real Church. His stated goal is to be confessional about his struggles in his personal walk with God. Those struggles are real, and to his point if we’re all honest we all experience those same kinds of problems. I believe that his struggles, along with our own should be affirmed.
But as a pastor, I do take issue with his insistence that somehow his struggles are the fault of the church and the pastors of churches. Every pastor in America has heard a church member utter the phrase “I don’t feel like I’m being fed” more than once. And most of those pastors that hear those stinging words are not entertainers or rock stars. Nor is that their goal. In many ways Crabb portrays yet another brand of consumer Christianity, albeit with more sophisticated felt needs.
I specifically struggled with Crabb’s profile of the American church. He does a grave injustice to the missional church movement, making it inclusive of the emergent church, the Acts 29 network, and a host of who knows what. He admits that he doesn’t understand the missional church movement, but evidently he has judged it nonetheless to be inadequate and insufficient for what he believes he (read we) need.
In general, Crabb’s book is written in a painful style. His flowing stream of consciousness weaves in and out of circular reasoning that makes his point(s) hard to follow. On one hand he would have the reader believe he’s interested in sharing his “confession.” But on the other hand, the dominate one at that, the reader is left with a scathing rebuke of everything wrong with the American church.
He argues that he cannot be awakened by “formulas.” Which is ironic, given the fact that his self-discovered solution to his need is “revival.” So with a concluding invitation to join him in prayer for “revival,” he offers a bonus section of his new book, 66 Love Letters, which is now available for purchase. This resource promises to help our churches “fight biblical illiteracy and develop a compelling spiritual theology.”