Jim and Casper go to Church is the title of a fascinating little book that came our way recently. Written by two friends, Jim Henderson and Matt Casper, the book documents their visits to churches of all shapes and sizes in their US homeland. Nothing surprising in that, you may think, except that Jim is a fervent Christian and Casper is an atheist. They agreed to suspend their preconceptions and to engage in honest dialogue about their experiences. Their trip included megachurches such as Saddleback and Willow Creek, as well as more ordinary traditional congregations and some emerging ones (Mars Hill, among others). Amazingly, they managed to keep their bargain, and the book is one of the most honest dialogues you could imagine. They both learn something along the way, but the most interesting thing is Casper’s take on what he experiences. At Saddleback he tries to roll the stone back from the door of the replica of Jesus’ tomb, only to discover it’s locked – and wrly expresses the hope that they will unlock it in time for Easter (yes, they really do have a life-size replica of Calvary perched on top of an artificial tomb). At Mars Hill, he finds himself somewhat repelled by Mark Driscoll’s aggressive style and is puzzled as to why ‘he likes to talk about sex a lot … at least once every minute’ (p102) when he could be talking about Jesus. And at those two and all the others they visit, he wonders why there is so much emphasis on self-improvement when his reading of the Gospels suggests that disciples are supposed to care for other people, not themselves – summed up in his big unanswered questions addressed to Jim, ‘Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?’ Jim, for his part, is challenged because all the things that churches do to make themselves more attractive to outsiders actually turn Casper off – not just the kitschy environment at Saddleback, but the drumkits, noisy music and worship leaders that seem to be everywhere.
By way of a contrast, this online volume came through our computers this week. The brainchild of Australian Jay Jeffries, it is billed as a Bible for spiritual searchers, and is gradually being released on the website in installments. We both contributed to it, so we have a stake in seeing how it goes – but we can’t help wondering what Casper would make of it. Because there are a lot more like him than there are Jims in this world.
Jim and Casper go to Church is written by Jim Henderson & Matt Casper, and published by BarnaBooks: ISBN 978-1-4143-1331-2