Few people wake up on Sunday mornings with a real sense of longing or anticipation for what might happen in the sanctuary, according to Robin Meyers in his book The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus. They expect little more from worship than social respectability, often wrapped in the air of dull familiarity; the last thing anyone thinks about church is that it might be dangerous.
The author aims to put the “dangerous” back into church by advocating a number of practices that would make most “liberals” and “conservatives” uncomfortable. These include advocating pacifism, embodying radical trust, working co-operatively with others, subversively engaging with the dominant culture, refusing to accept money from the government, lending money at no interest to members of the church community, and caring for the environment.
As a member of the Jesus Seminar, the author holds to the view that we know practically nothing about Jesus because the gospels, being devotional in nature, are not reliable biographies. Unfortunately this view gets an airing in the first chapter of the book, so that the author is likely to lose readers of a more orthodox persuasion before they encounter the substance of his arguments. This is a pity because the book is addressed to Christians of a broad variety of theological persuasions, and many of the author’s arguments are clearly derived from the pages of the New Testament.
There is something alluring about recapturing the idea of the “underground church”, the pre-Constantine illegal persecuted church. In some places in the world today underground churches exist, although they are not mentioned in the book. By the end of the book I felt that the author had some good ideas – as well as others that I disagreed with – but even if those good ideas are implemented the church in the West will still not feel like an underground church.