The full title of Rubel Shelly’s book published by Leafwood Publishers (ACU Press) is “I Knew Jesus Before He Was A Christian…and I Liked Him Better Then.” When I was asked to review the book, I was intrigued by the title. As I began to read, it became apparent that the title was not merely cute to boost sales, but was entirely appropriate for the material. Our small group was deciding what book to study next and I suggested this one. Rather than read through it before the group studied it, I waited to review the book in order to include it’s effectiveness for a small group study.

The conclusion is that I Knew Jesus… works well for small groups. Precisely because it compares the original churches to churches now and the Jesus of the Bible to the Jesus nonbelievers perceive to be preached in churches today. The subject is – and should be – on the minds of all church and small group members.

Shelly begins by asserting that we can be both pro-Jesus and pro-church simultaneously. But not as long as a perception exists of disconnect between the two. Changing the perception necessarily requires elimination of the disconnect. The author quotes Stephen King when he wrote, “And while I believe in God, I have no use for organized religion..”

That is what many Christians have heard, unfortunately, far too often. Then there is the oft-quoted “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” In chapter four, Shelly tells the story of author Anne Rice. Rice renounced the Catholic religion at age eighteen. After a series of tragedies, including  the near loss of her life, she renewed her commitment to the Catholic faith. Rice wrote a book about the experience, dedicated herself to “glorifying God,” and launched a series of Christ the Lord books.

On July 28, 2010, Anne Rice posted a statement on her Facebook page that she was giving up Christianity and doing it “in the name of Christ.” She said that she remained committed to Christ as always, but not to being ‘Christian’ or part of Christianity. Rice followed the next day with “my conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I don’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following his followers.”

Which is precisely the point Shelly is making. The Jesus of the Bible – and by extension, of the original churches – is not the Jesus the people of the world see proclaimed by many of today’s churches. We should strive to be more like the Jesus of the Bible than the Jesus we portray through the filter of our organizational structure and polity. Rubel Shelly, in I Knew Jesus…, looks at different aspects of the disconnect and barriers between Jesus and the church. The author challenges and encourages the reader to work toward solutions in their own lives and churches, with questions found in the discussion guide.

Too many people have decided they are done with the church. They do not want to have anything to do with the church. “But you just might get attention with this radical, engaging, challenging, life-transforming, healing, rescuing person named Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, I think it is the only hope we have for communicating with a postmodern world. The best argument is…a living demonstration of kindness and acceptance, grace made incarnate, or love emptying itself for the sake of others.”

In I Knew Jesus Before He was a Christian, Shelly uses real-life and biblical examples to illustrate that while church membership may be declining, there are still souls searching for the life-affirming love of Christ. For a church to be a model of the first Christian churches and the life Christ displayed, they must first exhibit Jesus in the community and participate in ministering to those in need.

Peace be with you.

[I received this book free from Leafwood Publishers for a review. I was not required to write a favorable review.]

Advertisements