Religion Saves – Review

A few weeks back, I shared my excitement about a new book, Religions Saves, and Nine Other Misconceptions.

I wrote a few posts since then, talking about individual chapters (1 and 2), but today I’m excited to be on the official blog tour. So, here’s my overall review of the book (and please forgive me if any of this seems repetitive to you):

What do birth control, humor, calvinism, grace, sex, faith and works, dating, the emergent church, and the regulative principle have in common?

Well, ask pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church to write a chapter on each topic, put them together, and you’ve got Religion Saves, and Nine Other Misconceptions.

So, the first question that comes to your mind is probably along the lines of, “Why would anyone put those topics together in a book?”

Good question! And there actually is a reasonable answer!

The book is based on a really neat idea: pastor Mark explains in the introduction that upon reading through the book of 1 Corinthians, he noticed that a significant purpose of the letter is to address questions from the church in Corinth. And the more he thought about it, the more intrigued he was by the idea of preaching a series of sermons that are answers to common questions from people today — questions specific to our time and culture. So, last year, Mars Hill opened up a portion of their website for a forum called ‘Ask Anything‘. Over a series of voting cycles, people all over the world were allowed to post questions: any questions. These were then widdled down to the 9 most popular questions through a voting process. In the end, 893 questions were asked, 5,524 comments were made, and 343,203 votes were cast, and the following topics emerged, in order:

  1. The Regulative Principle
  2. The Emerging/Emergent Church
  3. Dating
  4. Faith vs. Works
  5. Sexual Sin
  6. Grace
  7. Predestination/Election/Calvinism
  8. Humor
  9. Birth Control

Pastor Mark preached a sermon on each one in a series by the same name as this book. You can download the video and/or audio of each of these for free here. This book is basically another form of responding to those questions, with a chapter devoted to each one.

The first thing you notice when you pick up the book is the excellent design. It’s a sturdy hard-copy with a knurled texture containing an intriguing graphic of a family walking out of a typical-looking church building… and they appear to be on fire. Part of the flame is the provocative title of the book: Religion Saves. This, of course, is the exact opposite of the message of the book.

I think pastor Mark does a great job explaining the title (from the introduction of the book):

Before we proceed, the title “Religion Saves” merits a bit of explanation. The one thread that weaves this book together is religion; many of the questions that made the top nine are highly religious in nature. Religious people are prone to go beyond the teaching of the Bible to argue for positions that are not clearly taught in Scripture. They are further prone to go beyond the biblical principles on these issues and seek to impose their method on others, as if they alone are truly biblical. Religious people tend to have very strong and vocal opinions about the issues we will examine. In fact, religious people were often the most devoted voters for the questions that comprised the “Religion Saves” sermon series and this book.

Religious people mistakenly think that they are saving people from such things as a fruitless life, sinful sex, bad relationships, unholy humor, wayward churches, evil birth control, and what they call “strange fire.” However, religion never saved anyone, and religious answers to complex questions are simply misconceptions, which is why I have titled this book, “Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions.”

So as you can see, the purpose of this book is not directed so much at non-believers as at the most religious of believers. This book isn’t so much an apologetic or a call to holier living as it is a call to repentance from our righteousness.

Having read the book, and listened to each of the sermons upon which it is based, I wholeheartedly recommend it for the following reasons (in no particular order):

  • Pastor Mark does a great job of thoroughly covering each topic. He doesn’t write a few pages telling you what you already knew. Each chapter is in the ballpark of about 30 pages, and I learned from each one, even though I had already studied each of these topics. I even passed the book on to my dad to help him with some questions he had on the topic of election. I couldn’t think of a better resource to introduce the topic, explain each side, and then make a case for the most Biblical one!
  • Pastor Mark shows his cards. An apologetic book or a text book would likely present each angle of a particular topic, and then leave you to take the facts and decide what to do with them. Pastor Mark goes one step further and tries to make a case for his own view on each topic, yet is simultaneously careful not to overstate things. I would challenge a non-christian who thinks that Christianity is too close-minded or old-fashioned to read this book. I’ll bet it would challenge a lot of your incorrect stereotypes. I would also challenge the most fundamentalist, self-righteous of ‘christians’ to read this book. I’ll bet you will be challenged about what convictions you’re holding in a closed hand that belong in an open one.
  • It’s a great combination of topics. The odd combination makes it a great read because the gears shift significantly every chapter. But possibly more importantly, the topics emerge from questions submitted by people in our day and age, and are incredibly relevant to our time and culture. In particular, I think that birth control and humor are two topics that are discussed far too infrequently in the modern church, and it leaves a lot of young folks with questions that they are afraid to ask.
  • The thread that ties the whole book together is crucial to the Church in our time. Though the topics seem unrelated, the theme of each chapter is a call to repentance (from self-righteousness if we think we’re doing good by Biblical standards, or from rebellion if we choose to reject the Biblical standards) and to turn our eyes to Jesus. I think Mark does a fantastic job of making clear the idea that St. Augustine expressed when he said that “[the christian life] is one of continual, active repentance.

To be fair, the book isn’t perfect. After all, an imperfect human is the author, and noone toes the line more closely than Mark Driscoll. Sometimes, he distracts from his point in the interest of humor, and sometimes he even made me wince a little bit at the length he was willing to go to be funny or make a point. Nevertheless, compared to his previous two major books, Vintage Jesus – where he pretty clearly crossed the line several times, going too far to make the book humorous – and Death By Love – which was extremely serious and almost completely lacked humor in the interest of making a very clearly explaining the cross of Christ – I think he found a good balance of humor, intrigue, and weight.

But the good far outweighs the bad, and Religion Saves is a book that I’m glad I read. I am such a prideful individual, and repentance is so unnatural for me. Unfortunately, it’s also uncommon in the modern church, and I am thankful for the clear and consistent message bringing it to the forefront of my mind that I found in Religion Saves.