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Review: 'Saving God From Religion' offers explanation of church decline

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Saving God From Religion

"Saving God From Religion: A Minister's Search for Faith in a Skeptical Age" by Robin Meyers. 

SAVING GOD FROM RELIGION: A Minister’s Search for Faith in a Skeptical Age. By Robin Meyers. Convergent Books. 227 pages. $25.

It’s no secret that the Christian church in America is hemorrhaging members at an alarming rate. New data from the Pew Research Center shows that 65 percent of American adults now describe themselves as Christians, down from 77 percent just 10 years ago.

During the same period, the share of Americans who say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month dropped by 7 percent, while those who say they attend less than that, or none at all, rose by the same amount.

Robin Meyers says he knows what’s causing it, and what must be done to reverse it. He speaks convincingly to both issues, from a position of deep knowledge, experience and understanding.

He is an Oklahoma City-based ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, a distinguished professor emeritus of social justice in Oklahoma City University’s philosophy department, author of seven books about religion, including the best-selling "Saving Jesus from the Church," a newspaper columnist, a commentator for National Public Radio, and an international lecturer on the merits of progressive Christianity.

Meyers says many churches are focused on doing things Jesus never said to do and, worse, they are not doing the things that Jesus said to do.

They spend much of their time praising Jesus, although Jesus never asked to be praised, and they insist their members take an oath saying they believe Jesus is holy in some way although Jesus himself never asked anybody to believe that. Jesus only asked his followers to love one another, which, in Meyers’ view, means it is crucial that on a corporate level the church’s primary reason for existing must be working for social justice.

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Meyers points out that Jesus was preceded in that idea by the prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah, all of whom taught that God does not demand prayer and justice, but only justice. If justice is not being practiced, the prophets taught, then God wants none of the rest of it: not prayer, not ritual, not praise, not liturgy, not sacrifice, not anything.

While Meyers argues that his way is the only way, or else, many conservative Christians are certain to disagree, sharply, for they see things from an opposite viewpoint. The conservative church emphasizes salvation over good works, and argues that heaven is only attainable through faith in Christ.

The author's solution to membership decline would require a radical change in the way the church sees, approaches and responds to God. He says the church must stop teaching its followers to “look up” for God, as if God directs and judges everything from above, and start teaching them to “look around” for God, because that’s where God is: among us, between us, in us. That means the way we treat others is literally the way we treat God, because when we deal with others, we actually are dealing with God.

Meyers writes that it is time to “move away from a theology of obedience and embrace instead a theology of consequence.” This, he argues, “could make the church not only relevant again but a powerful source of wisdom and transformation.”

And if the church does not do that? Then it will continue to bleed members until it's irrelevant, he says, and its sanctuaries will become museums.

Reviewer Skip Johnson is a writer and editor based in Charleston.

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