Ronald P. Byars
Cascade Books, 146 pages
Reviewed by Chris Currie
The point of church and worship together is not to remain in church forever, but to live the Christian faith in our homes, jobs, carpool lines and traffic jams. As we reenter the world the other six days of the week, Ron Byars reminds us that we do so in a world that has been “demystified” of talk about God. Outside of Sunday, whether on the news or in the office or on our morning drive, God is rarely mentioned other than by a curse or a hope for a prime parking spot. While faith may make a difference on Sunday, by Thursday we are on our own in a world ruled by cause-and-effect, religious skepticism, the 40-day work week and travel soccer.
In “Believer on Sunday, Atheist by Thursday” (a title inspired by a sermon preached by a Lutheran pastor), Ron Byars asks if faith is still possible in a time in which faith is not reinforced by the larger culture, often reduced to the easy Jesus-talk of religious pundits or relegated to curious superstition by religious skeptics. For Byars though, faith is not some intellectual assent to God or even a generic admission that God exists; rather, faith is a confidence, a trust and a knowing that the whole of our lives – certainly Sundays, but Thursdays too – are to be entrusted to the God of Jesus Christ in life and in death.
This book is an exploration of what the Christian faith is, what it is not and what it means in the 21st century to practice it in an environment that often has very little use for it. Specifically, Byars describes the particular gifts, contributions and virtues of the mainline (what he calls ecumenical, catholic, confessional, communal) Protestant church today and into the future.
For Byars, faith is not sustained by deeper resources within ourselves or our being able to provide better explanations or arguments, but by understanding ourselves as limited, flawed individuals who need help rather than autonomous individuals who can do anything to which we set our minds. For faith to be possible, we need help and we find it first in that community of fellow vulnerable people who confess that they belong to Jesus Christ. Faith that is possible is a faith that is ecclesial. So as we “work up the courage to follow” Jesus Christ, we can only be sustained on Thursdays by participating in a community formed by Christ’s cross-shaped love that crosses boundaries, a community that seeks to include the excluded, a community that values those who have not been valued and a community that shares good things with those who have nothing to give in return.
Our faith is sustained on Thursdays as we are tethered to a Christian community that believes the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not easily malleable, and cannot be reduced to a homemade god “manufactured by the culture to stir-up resentments, envy and tribalism.”
This book is an invitation to an important conversation about the future of the church today and, in particular, the faith of those who are not in one particular tradition or denomination, but who collectively seek an ecclesial identity “rooted theologically in a generous and reforming catholicity.” One that takes the substance of faith seriously, and tries to articulate that substance and identity and appeal for our own age. Especially on Thursdays.