Review of the Underground Church

Meet the Author

Since 1985, Robin R. Meyers has served as the Senior Minister of the 750 member Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, which has been recognized as the fastest growing  United Church of Christ congregation in the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference.  In addition, he serves as a tenured professor of rhetoric in the Department of Philosophy at Oklahoma City University.  Meyers has written five books in the last decade, including The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus (2012), and Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus (2009 – read my review here).  For a more complete bio, read his faculty profile.

Book Basics

This is the book no American who follows the Way of Jesus expects, but the wakeup call each follower and congregation needs.  Meyers seeks to restore that which Jesus envisioned in a way quite unlike that of the Restoration movement in which he was raised.  He focuses on the big picture of what the church should be, providing suggestions that are offensive to all who embody and extend the status quo – from the theologically conservative to the theologically progressive.  Readers will be challenged to discard the declining church that is entwined with Empire in favor of a church that embraces its “radical roots” and is “driven by a truly subversive anti-imperial message and mission” (p. 9-10).

To construct the framework for this vision Meyers’ begins by clarifying Christianity’s past, noting that the early church was never the “pure” or “unified” entity it is often popularly portrayed to have been (p.43).  While any student of church history knows Constantine forever changed the religion, Meyers places Constantine’s involvement alongside other changes initiated by powerful and power hungry people that transformed radically inclusive egalitarian faith communities into highly structured systems with considerable inequality and a focus on belief.

Meyers compares the church’s past to its present manifestation in America, noting how entwined most congregations and denominations are today with Empire.  Against this prevailing model, he constructs his vision of the underground church – a church far more like the first three centuries than the last seventeen.  This new underground church is subversive rather than safe, Jesus-centered rather than tradition or Empire centered, and calls for deep involvement by followers rather than marginal participation by members.  The undeground church is a nonviolent community that replaces the word “faith” with the word “trust;” values authenticity over orthodoxy; makes Jesus a model for living rather than an object of worship; builds coalitions by working with others on issues of peace and nonviolence, radical hospitality, and economic justice; stands out from the dominant culture by engaging in subversive acts motivated by experience; expands the communion meal into a true feast; addresses issues of economic injustice; empowers activists and participates in creative noncooperation; favors counterimperial praxis to doctrinal uniformity; talks less and does more; and does no harm when harm can be avoided.  In short, the underground church reclaims the subversive way of Jesus for our age.

So What?

I grew up in a respectable and safe mainline congregation.  After completing my education, I served in full-time parish ministry positions in three congregations that fit the basic profile of the congregation of my youth.  These congregations differed from most in a few ways:  (1) far larger memberships, (2) greater willingness to embrace innovation, and (3) greater focus – budget and volunteerism – on life beyond the church campus.  While each of these congregations was growing numerically and providing a helpful and healthy environment for participants to grow spiritually all did so within a very safe framework.

  • Where would you rank your local congregation on a continuum of safe to subversive?  What specific areas do you feel your church needs to address even if doing so pushes well beyond the realm perceived as safe?
  • How much do you know about the early church?  Is your overall approach to that time period idealistic?
  • What is your initial reaction to the underground church Meyers’ proposes (as outlined in the final paragraph of Book Basics)?  Is this the kind of congregation you want to be a part of? Why/why not?

Robin Meyers.  The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus  (Jossey-Bass, 2012).  ISBN: 9781118061596.

Trackbacks

  1. […] answer each of Woodson’s questions (listed above)? For more on this topic, consider reading my review of Robin Meyers’ The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus  (2012). […]

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