December 16, 2017

Recommendation and Review: The End of Religion by Bruxy Cavey

ymh12.gifA sample chapter is available here.

Bruxy Cavey is the pastor of a Canadian emerging church called “The Meeting House” and author of The End of Religion, a book that gives a good look at the theology of the “mainstream” emerging church.

Cavey pushed plenty of my happy buttons, with early admissions that he was a beneficiary of the legacies of Luther and Barth, cited Capon and N.T. Wright and even cherry-picked some good quotes from Marcus Borg. Cavey’s version of emerging theology is thoroughly and completely Jesus-centered. His quest for Christian community is saturated in a deep, convinced understanding of the New Covenant and a Barthian approach to the Bible. This is a book that I loved and truly delighted in reading. I indulged in much underlining.

If I were given the opportunity to teach about Jesus-shaped spirituality to adults, younger and otherwise, this would be one of the most accessible, user-friendly books available. From its organization, saturation in scripture to its appendices and discussion questions, this is a book for those of you who want to put the focus on the true significance of Jesus.

With that endorsement, you may think that I have nothing to critique, and that would be wrong.

1) The “End of Religion” bit is great, but it’s also a predictable shtick. If you are writing with “seekers” in mind, this is a decent entree’, but I have to wonder how many thoughtful people are actually going to ever see what Cavey is doing as not being religion. “It’s not religion, it’s relationship” continues to be frequent evangelical rhetoric, but I believe its sell date is well past. Let’s move on.

That’s not to say that anything Cavey says about “religion” per se is wrong. It’s simply the case that the “religion” pinata has been beaten at several parties and I am doubtful that it’s a prelude we want to adopt uncritically or without reservation. Many of us see a more positive portrayal in the New Testament of what we may call religion than the slogan tends to portray. Cavey makes the distinction clear between the religion that needs to end and that which continues, but let’s keep it up.

2) Seeing how Jesus interacts with the religion of his day doesn’t give a lot of guidance on how to relate to the church today. Emergers seems completely enamored with the idea that their churches are somehow fundamentally different from the church on the corner. If you believe that, please stay away from used car salesmen.

This book particularly reminded me of one of the things that is most noticeable about the emerging church: it’s demographic identity and appeal. Cavey is to be commended for omitting the typical claims of going back to the New Testament alone, etc. etc. etc. But this book expresses a kind of Christianity that is educated, seeker-friendly, urban, politically left-leaning and highly influenced by the mainline. In fact, revisiting the mainline is the feeling I have most of the time when I read the non-Driscoll wing of the emerging churches.

It’s become increasingly hard for me to take the emerging church’s self-perception very seriously. That’s why I’m happy that Bruxy Cavey puts Jesus in the focus and doesn’t wander far from him for the majority of the book. Still, let’s remember that we’re all on the map somewhere.

3) The emerging church voices that are quoting Borg and are obviously left-leaning in perception and worldview seem confident that the traditional conservative-liberal divide can be by-passed with the emerging approach. I doubt this is true. I waited to hear what Jesus, who was so clear on the end of religion, had to say on other issues that need clarity. When you quote both Borg and Wright, is it responsible to not mention that these men differ deeply on something as fundamental as the resurrection?

The optimism of younger evangelicals is helpful when we are talking about the crass polarization of Christianity into needless camps. But this optimism can’t avoid the tough and difficult choices. And as a post-evangelical, I have to say that some of what the church has in its possession is exactly what the emerging church most needs to embrace; especially the Apostle’s Creed and the theological definitions of Trinity and resurrection.

“Seekers” are not always content to stop their search where many in the emerging church want to stop. The search goes on, and the chaotic irreligion that Cavey imagines cannot avoid the difficulties that will inevitably come along with being a community of searchers and seekers.

The End of Religion is a strong debut book. As a translation of Cavey’s preaching, it succeeds in becoming a fine, usable book. It zeroes in on what evangelicalism most needs- an understanding of Jesus in the best contexts provided by contemporary scholars- and invites us to become Jesus-shaped Christians in a community that is open to anyone who sees light coming through Jesus. In the future, Cavey and other emerging church authors need to move past the level of this and so many other books into the tougher questions of emerging community.

I was given a review copy of this book, which I will promptly sell on ebay for at least $100.

Comments

  1. Steve Rowe says:

    Here in Toronto Bruxy Cavey is a phenomenon it is difficult to underestimate the impact he is having on the local evangelical seen. On balance his impact has been positive but there has been a great deal of controversy some well founded and some spurious. Bruxy rubs a lot of main stream evangelicals the wrong way partly because he is “emergent” in the best sense of the word (that is he does not reflectively defend the reformed Baptist orthodoxies that dominate the many of the old guard evangelical churches in Toronto) and partly because of his idiosyncratic Brethren heritage which although it superficially resembles main stream evangelicalism is both more socially active and generally left wing then is common in Toronto. I listen to his pod cast regularly and both enjoy and am enriched by them although sometimes I am disturbed by his (what seems to me to be a) overemphasis on piety and personal holiness. My main problem is the way that the meeting house is decimating smaller churches. The Meeting House operates on a “hub and spoke” model with a large (almost mega) mother church and several smaller daughter churches run mostly out of movie theaters. The smaller churches have there own pastors, Sunday school teachers and worship teams but the sermon is piped in via-satellite. My sister (a life long Baptist) is seriously thinking of leaving her more traditional Baptist church for the Meeting House because they have lost so many young families to Bruxy’s “mother church” that they can no longer sustain a healthy youth ministry. I may be old fashition but I find the thought of gathering together to listen to (admittedly high quality) live praise music and watch a sermon on television profoundly unsettling. As I said he is a great preacher and a breath of fresh theological air but I hope the Meeting house is not the wave of the future. I want to be able to shake the hand of my pastor at the end of the service and cherish the intimate relationship I have with my local parish priest.

  2. Jimmy Hedrick says:

    I wonder how JN Darby would have have been moved by this new end times “meeting house” Plymouth Brethren chapel model. It must be another sign of decimating progressive emergent dispensationalism. There is nothing new under the sun. Maybe the Plymouth Brethren’s Emmaus Bible College in Dubuque IA could start an emergent church planting intensive course called North American End Time Church Planting following the Cavey methods. How does Bruxy say gospel,good news,sinner,justification etc. in his Canadian pod casts? I think I will give him an end of the list listen.

  3. “Emergers seems completely enamored with the idea that their churches are somehow fundamentally different from the church on the corner. If you believe that, please stay away from used car salesmen.”

    Amen! Not just to emergers, but to nearly everyone who has proclaimed that they have reinvented the church.

  4. Haven’t read the book. But my little house church once used a series of his video podcasts for our meetings. And several of my friends attended the Meeting House when they attended university in Toronto. (I live an hour away from Toronto.) Incidentally, the Meeting has one of those satellite churches in my city now, and I’ve been meaning to check it out. Maybe this Sunday.

    Anyway, for what its worth, it never crossed my mind that Bruxey and the Meeting House were ’emerging’ types. What I mean is that doctrinally they are pretty middle of the road, Arminian evangelical types. And they don’t, as I see it, overtly brand themselves as ’emerging’. I would describe his preaching as ‘youth group style delivery’ but not dumbed done in content. But fairly lengthy. As far as I can tell, Bruxey has followed Pagitt’s advice about preaching. (Maybe my perception is off?)

    If its the left wing tendencies that make them emerging, then a heck of a lot of Canadian churches are emerging! I can’t think of a reasonably close Christian friend of mine who doesn’t tend to lean left politically. That’s the air I breathe up here in Canada.

    In Canadian politics, the de facto conservative party is the Liberal Party of Canada. What I mean is that if you want to maintain the status quo, if you want to play it safe, if you want to fall back into a warm and cozy political blanket, if you are into popular expressions of Canadian patriotism, then you probably vote Liberal without batting an eye. They own the middle.

    I don’t think I ran into Calvinist until 20, if you exclude the ethnically Dutch folks who didn’t seem to have an ounce of piety in them anyway.

    Being Christian is just a different kind of experience up here.

  5. Hi all ~

    This is an ineresting conversaton to overhear. I thought I would bring a couple of clarifying points…

    1) Our church, The Meeting House, does not consider itself “emergent” nor do we think of ourselves as anti-or-non-emergent. It just isn’t our vocab. We do consider ourselves Anabaptist, and Anabaptist thought does penetrate our thinking and our structure.

    2) We are Brethren In Christ (BIC), not Plymouth Brethren, or any other Christian denomination that happens to have “Brethren” in the name. (I know – we all look alike.)

    3) Our model of video teaching on Sundays is not a stand-alone idea, or else I would be skeptical as well. That format can only work because of what has not been mentioned yet in this thread – we function along a house-church model first and foremost. Our “Home Churches” (as we call them) are real church to us. Some churches call their Sunday services “church” and would also say they have a “small group program” during the week. Our community reverses that approach to say that we are a collection of house churches who also run a “Sunday service program” on the weekend. For us it is in Home Church where mutual discipleship, accountability, fellowship, prayer, study, and support happens. We see Sunday’s extra singing and teaching as a a dietery suppliment, but not the main meal of our church community life. I realize this is not the only way to do church life together, but hopefully this helps explain why video teaching on Sundays is not a big deal to us.

    5) I’m sorry for any churches that are struggling because of transfer growth. We put all our energies into reaching people who are outside of the Christian faith, but I realize we also attract other Christians. Our latest stats say that 40% of our new growth comes from non-church people. Is that good? Is it bad? From one perspective it is something to be excited about. But we also are not content with those figures. Thanks for your prayers and understanding.

    6) Someone asked “How does Bruxy say gospel,good news,sinner,justification etc. in his Canadian pod casts?” I say, “gospel, good news, sinner, and justification” – except I also explain what the terms mean and do not assume any base or background knowledge on behalf of the listeners. It isn’t complicated really.

    Glad I stumbled across this internet site. Keep up the great work Michael!

    Peace,

    Bruxy

  6. I realize I can’t count – those were more than a “couple” of points. Sorry. AND, what happened to #4? Ah, these are the ramblings of a man who failed high school math.

  7. Steve Rowe says:

    I don’t want to turn this into a beat up on Bruxy thread or debate the current state of Calvinism in Toronto’s Evangelical community. It’s been 15 years since I regularly attended a “Classical Evangelical Church” 20 years if you don’t count the time I spent at the very Low Church and very Reformed Anglican Little Trinity so much of my personal experience is out of date although all of my immediate family and many of my friends are still very plugged into the seen and we do talk about these issues quite a lot (try making the sign of the cross at a funeral in a Fellowship Baptist Church and see what happens especially when you’re a pole bearer!). I have also had a lot of exposure to Toronto’s Dutch Reformed community but to tell the truth the descendents of Dr. T. T. Shields at Toronto Baptist Semenary seem to me to be far more serious about there Calvinism’s then the professors at ICS (Toronto’s Dutch Reformed Graduate School)

    Bruxy’s comments do touch on something I did not mention in my original comment: He is funny about labels. Sorry Bruxy you are a Christian (yes you are also a Christ follower) and your refusal to label your self as such make it seem as if you are ashamed of the rest of us (I know I am too but its bad form to make it so obvious). If you don’t want to call yourself emergent I don’t really care but if it quacks like a duck…

    My main point on the ripple effect of the Meeting house on smaller churches still stands however. Bruxy’s right that small house groups do address many of the problems that are endemic in large churches but they are not a cure all. Often times they simply intutionalize cliquishness and the quality of bible study in these groups is typically very uneven (I have the same problem with video taped bible studies as I do with sermons on TV). I would also be curious about Bruxy’s definition of “un-churched” in my experience most church growth types define it as someone how has not been to church for 6 month. It may be 60% of the meeting houses new members are “authentic pagans” (lord know there are plenty of them around Toronto) but somehow I doubt it.

    It’s not Bruxy’s fault that he is probably the best preacher in a 100mile radius but I do find the cult of personality growing up around him unsettling. My old Church Little Trinity recently conducted a “Church graft” where they sent there excellent Curate (assistant priest) off to a dieing Anglican church across town with 60 or so parishioners from his old church. The result is two vibrant healthy churches each with close ties to there local neighborhoods and distant identitys. It’s a model of Church growth that I wish more large churches would consider I am convinced the optimal size for a Church in a urban environment is somewhere between 300 and 500 people.

    Like I said before I am a Bruxy Cavey fan. I just with he would cut his daughter churches apron strings and let there associate pastors develop there own identitys. Or better yet reinfect a few of old and tired Brethren, Baptist, Mennonite (or God Forbid Anglican) Churches with some of The Meeting Houses innovative zeal.

  8. Steve Rowe says:

    Hi Michael

    My dyslexia is showing can you change how to who in paragraph 3 and with to wish in the last paragraph. Also be sure to check out Father Matthew Presents and what does a guy have to do to get past the boucer at the Boarshead Tavern? I would love to join your club.

    Cheers

    Steve Rowe
    Toronto

    P.S. Don’t Post this addendum inless you would like to make me look like an idiot. If you do go ahead!

  9. My church is quite close to the meeting house in downtown totonto and we lost a bunch of college age people to his church. But I am not complaining. To me if Bruxy can get a bunch of twenty something starbuck drinking kids to listen to a biblical message for an hour every week, I am not going to stop him. The only question I ask the kids I ran into from out church when I visit the meeting house (scout the competition, just kdding) ,”Are you joining the home churches?” I’ll bug them if they don’t.

  10. Thanks for bugging them Simon. Way to go.

    Steve, thanks for your comments. Just to clarify a few points…

    a) I do use the term “Christ-follower” to clarify “Christian”, but not to the exclusion of it. I also call myself a “Christian”. I’m not trying to create a new category, but simply emphasize what a “Christian” should be – someone who follows Christ.

    b) About the Emergent thing, I guess I need someone to explain what makes someone (like me?) “emergent” rather than just plain ol’ ordinary Anabaptist (which is how we see ourselves). I sometimes feel like over the last few years someone came up with a new term that is meaningless to me (like “goozblab”) and then started telling me that our church is “goozblab”. Then other Christians started getting mad at us because they heard that our church is “goozblab”. And now I can’t see the good that has come out of the whole debate. Our church policy and theology is primitive Anabaptist – that is far more our identity than being or not being “emergent”. Why not use that label moreso? It describes us with more clarity and accuracy and has been around a lot longer.

    c) Our “daughter churches” are started by our own people who want to share their church experience with others in their own communities. We are not holding them back but serving their requests, which includes tracking with the same teaching as the other sites all together. It is not really about being big, but about offering a shared learning experience across a region. So, friends at two different ends of the city can attend Sunday services in their own areas and then still compare notes at work on Monday and in their Home Churches during the week. It is not the only way to do church of course, but I’m not sure why this way is seen as inferior or somehow suspect.

    d) Is a cult of personality only so if the church is large? Can not a small church have a cult of personality surrounding their pastor? (It seems to me that more destructive pseudo-Christian cults begin in smaller, not larger settings.) I teach 70% of our Sundays and we are working toward 60%. We have other great teachers on staff who teach the other 30-40%, as well as all mid-week or special events. I am also not in a position of singular authority in our church – I am not the equivalent of what some churches call a “senior pastor”. I am the teaching pastor, and sit on a team of overseers who steer our church and to whome I am accountable along with our other pastors. I do not “run the show” or “drive the boat”. I teach (and serve behind the scenes in leadership development). That’s it. Team leadership, not singular pastoral power leadership, is part of our DNA.

    e) We actually do work hard to offer whatever help, encouragement, and/or training we can to other Brethren In Christ churches (or any denomination that asks). Our pastoral team is regularly invited (and we accept) to work with other pastors and/or churches in a particular area. We’re doing our best to be a healthy support to the Body of Christ without assuming that we have all the answers for other churches.

    Enough for now. How did I get into this? Shaking my head.

    Peace,

    Brux

  11. Steve Rowe says:

    Wow I feel privileged to get this chance to dialog with Bruxy. First I want to make it clear that while I understand that “Emergent” is a dirty word in some circles but I am over whelming in favor of the movement (In all it’s various flavors and permutations). In my original post I described Bruxy as “Emergent in the best sense of the word” and I stand by that description. I am also a burned out recovering evangelical who grew up in a Church that grew from about 4 families to a congregation of almost 3,000 and was a early adopter to the “small house group” model (my parents hosted one for almost 20 years). My experience maybe limited (two different churches two different small groups) and in both cases I was blessed by superior bible teaching (first by my father and later by a Wycliffe Seminary PHD candidate). But frankly I much prefer the 10:00 in the morning model of Adult Sunday School. Meeting the same 12 people (who are almost invariably just like you) once a week at someone’s house is just not the same as the mix of age, class and spiritual maturity you find in the basement of your typical neibourhood church on Sunday morning or Wednesday night.
    My reference to a “Cult of Personality” was needlessly inflammatory. The large church built around the personality of a charismatic preacher has sadly been the dominate model in the evangelical church for over a hundred years (try thinking about Redeemer Presbyterian without thinking about Tim Keller) I don’t like it but in this respect the Meeting House is nothing new. What really troubles about the Meeting house is the multi-site model. A monoculture is not good for the agriculture and it’s not good for the gospel. What we need is a lot more midsized neibourhood churches and I am afraid that this is only going to happen is if large successful Churches like the Meeting House sift there focuses from building up there own ministries and instead work to create healthy denominations. My understanding is that on any given Sunday there are more people worshiping at the various Meeting House’s than in all the other Brethren in Christ Churches in Canada combined and I can’t believe that this is a healthy situation. I am probably being unfair to the Meeting House it’s no different from hundreds of other successful Churches but the kind of congregations that I love (the kind that were the dominate expression of Christianity in Europe and North America for over three hundred years) are dieing out and I grieve for them.

  12. Steve Rowe says:

    P.S. I want to make this very clear: Bruxy Cavey and the Meeting House have been a great blessing to me personally and to the entire city of Toronto. God is blessing him and his ministry greatly and I and (I am sure) thousands of other Christians are vastly in his debt.

  13. Wondering if Bruxy, or anyone who’s read his book, would like to comment on where “End of Religion” comes down on Bonhoeffer’s religion-less Christianity. Just curious b/c it was one of the first things I thought of, but according to the review Bonhoeffer’s not mentioned. Gracias.

    By the way, I do plan to rustle up a copy of the book for myself.

  14. Jordan Berta says:

    I really enjoyed reading this stream and appreciate that Bruxy responded to your comments. I attend The Meeting House on a regular basis and really enjoy the multi-site method. It is much easier for me to walk for ten minutes to get to the downtown site than to drive to Oakville for a sunday service. Someone had said that they would prefer for churches to be 300-500 people. That is the case with The Meeting House. When they reach capasity they launch a new site (i.e. Hamilton)so that there is always a “smaller church” feel and still have their “mega-church” attendance. In regards to the “cult of personality” although Bruxy is the primary teacher there are many other people (both paid and volunteers) that contribute to the community of Christ Followers in a public way (i.e. Lead Pastors, Music Directors at each site).On top of that more people to take ownership and leadership within the body of beleivers.

  15. Jordan Berta says:

    I’m sorry about posting the same comment twice, the second one has one extra sentence.

  16. I wonder why Christians need to be judging other Christians, rather than focusing on the task that Jesus left for us to do… go and make disciples.