27/09/2016

How to be a Christian without going to Church (by Kelly Bean)

I had not heard of Kelly Bean, but this book was recommended on one of the blogs I read occasionally, and when I checked the blurb on Amazon, it sounded very interesting. As someone whose attachment to church services has waned considerably over the past few years, I thought it could be a useful and perhaps thought-provoking book.

‘How to be a Christian without going to church’ is subtitled ‘The unofficial guide to alternative forms of Christian community’. I should perhaps have taken note of that, since this book is not so much a philosophical or theological treatise on ‘non-going’, as the author puts it, but a practical guide to living life as a Christian without, necessarily, belonging to any recognised church or attending Sunday services.

Part one is perhaps the most useful part from my perspective, with the title ‘The big shifft - from Going to Being’. The point is made early in the book that as believers we are the church, and Kelly Bean charts her own former commitment to traditional church life as well as her later and current non-church-attending life.

She also notes that increasing numbers of people in the 21st century are leaving established churches, not - as in the past - because of lack of faith, but because traditional - and even modern - church services seem irrelevant to many, who see their faith as part of their lives rather than something to top up on a Sunday morning.

The rest of the book looks at different expressions of faith as seen in a variety of communities and groups around the United States, with many examples of how faith plays out in practice. The author looks at what people feel that they miss if they don’t attend church services, and gives suggestions of teaching, music, ‘worship’ (in many forms) and community, relevant to those raised in the faith, and those who were not.

It was useful to have examples of ‘non-going’ groups, although I would have liked to see some from other continents, but by the last few chapters I felt that the book was becoming little more than a list of church alternatives, and found myself skimming. Reading about how other people do ‘non-church’ is not necessarily encouraging when one isn’t in a position either to be part of one of these groups, or to emulate something similar.

Having said that, many of the examples given are undoubtedly useful, reaching out into their local communities in constructive and positive ways. I’m delighted to know that there are so many ‘non-goers’ who are still living life to the full as Christians, creatively finding what they and others need, and showing the love of God to those who would probably never go near a traditional church.

So overall I think this well worth reading, particularly for those who are concerned that ‘non-goers’ may have lost their faith. The book does an excellent job of dispelling that myth. It’s well-written and has a good pace, and I don’t think there was anything I disagreed with. But it’s probably more useful for people who live in the United States, and who might have the opportunity of visiting some of the many non-going communities that are explored.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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