Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book Review: The End of Religion

"Bruxy Cavey is a dynamic and creative thinker. He understands the ways in which the radical and liberating message of Jesus addresses the matrix of postmodern society and the deeper needs of its citizens..." -- (Dr. James Beverley, professor of Christian thought & ethics, Tyndale College & Seminary)

Reading Dr. Beverley's praise on the inside cover of this new book by Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, brought back a few memories.

Like taking a Philosophy of Religion class with Dr. Beverley, when I was a student at Toronto's Tyndale Seminary, back in the day when Miami Vice was still current. And, in that class, getting to know a guy with the improbable name of Bruxy Cavey.

Bruxy initially joined my friend Al and I in our little corner of exile because we were the only other people at the Seminary with crazy hairstyles and piercings of any kind. And we quickly found Bruxy to be a deep thinker, with a great sense of humour (rare combination in seminary, sometimes!), and a gift at communicating complex things in "normal-speak" (also rare in seminary).

So, it was a treat to read a book by somebody that I know. And also a treat to see that Bruxy -- the church-planting leader of The Meeting House -- continues to be a thinker with a sense of humour, and also a gifted communicator. I'm putting this book on my "loan to as many friends as will read it" short-list.

If I had to try and limit myself to just one short, pithy phrase, I would describe it as a brilliant piece of Christological apologetics. Yes, the title seems to indicate something else, but Bruxy's theme throughout this writing is that Jesus' teachings and example is actually anti-religion, and that we must leave our attempts at creating a religion in Jesus' name behind if we truly want to follow Him.
One of my favourite metaphors in the book is this: "Picture a thirsty person holding a cup of water. Now picture that person licking the outside of the cup in an attempt to quench his thirst. That is a picture of religion... They were licking the cup."
A few other gems:
  • "At the same time, Jesus never taught that people could experience true spirituality simply by stopping those same religious rituals. Please understand -- and this is important -- becoming a religion drop-out does not by itself make you more spiritual... (Jesus) didn't just want people to stop licking the cup -- he wanted them to drink!"

  • "So when someone says to me, 'I'm spiritual but not religious', I imagine Jesus sighing with relief."

  • "This is, by the way, why I strongly believe in sticking closely to what the Bible teachings -- not to be an oppressive legalist, but to avoid oppressive legalism. Remember that in Christian circles, legalism is usually the result of human tradition being added to the Bible and passed off as Scriptural teaching."

  • "So offering forgiveness to sinners directly was, in a way, both a creative and destructive gesture. Creative for the human spirit; destructive for the religious system. At the same moment he was building people up, Jesus was also tearing religion down."
Bruxy also takes an honest look at some of the biggest stumbling blocks many people have about Christianity: the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, etc., as well as contrasting what he calls "the subversive spirituality of Jesus" with Islam, Buddism, and even the Jehovah's Witnesses that he enjoys conversing with.

The End of Religion is immensely readable -- Bruxy is an excellent communicator and it shows in his writing as well. It's theologically and pragmatically deep, but not a dry and heavy read.

Who would I recommend this book to? Well, just about anyone, follower of Jesus or open-minded explorer. It's a very needed book because it takes some deep theological truths about the Person and work of Jesus, and places them into our current context in a way that is refreshing, accessible, and -- if you take Bruxy's challenge to stop licking the cup and take a good, long drink of the contents -- a healthy challenge to our ingrained tendencies to make religious systems that often end up occluding the Reality of Whom we are supposed to be following/imitating.

Highly recommended.