In The End of Religion, Bruxy Cavey adds his voice to the chorus of writers who believe the church has become a people who are “following the phenomenon of following Jesus,” rather than, well, simply following Jesus. In other words, we have become religious – fixated on systems of belief and maintaining the institutions that preserve them.
In response, Cavey thinks the time has come for us to begin “losing our religion.” With this in mind, he writes a graphic depiction of the dangers of “missing the point,” argues that much of Jesus’ task was to dismantle our institutional orientation, and suggests a reoriented way forward.
Of course, at its core, Cavey has it right. For far too long the church, and the people it should be reaching, have been paying a heavy price for their religious loyalty. Our commitment to knowing dogma and acting well – the way of the Pharisees – rather than knowing the Father – the way of Jesus – has resulted in a Christianity that seems (and often is) excluding, oppressive, empty and, ultimately, soul-sucking. Unfortunately, even so-called postmodern churches (a category into which my own community and Cavey’s “The Meeting House” would belong) have been exchanging a sometimes messy, relational spirituality for an updated, hip legalism. This constant tendency within us makes a book like this important.
The book is a collection of essays, or perhaps adapted talks, that are roughly organized into three sections. The early revolutionary “ah-hah!” moments (and a stronger narrative line) can potentially undercut the simple truths peppered throughout the book. They can also undercut the manner in which the volume should best be explored: as a series of meditations or in a small group setting. Cavey certainly intends for us to do these very things as he includes questions at the end of each chapter and explicitly suggests this approach in the epilogue. If each chapter is freed to stand alone, their themes are more fully appreciated together and, ironically, the subversive whole comes more powerfully into view.
I would also add that it’s a much better fit for those recovering from Christian religion than those who have had little exposure to it. The more “pagan” members of my church community would appreciate (and agree with) its key points but find it all a little “insider.” The re-explorers, on the other hand, would find the extensive theological deconstruction and rebuilding extremely helpful.
Overall, once the reader begins to recognize The End of Religion for what it is, it quickly becomes evident how significant this book could be. It could be used as a fantastic religious de-programming manual – I’m strongly considering making it the basis for a regular small group for those with religious backgrounds. It is the first true compendium of what informs and sustains the best of emerging churches, with reference to Dallas Willard, C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, and John Yoder, to name a few. It is, most importantly, a crucial (and refreshingly Canadian) reminder of why we got hooked up with Jesus in the first place, and why others should too.