The Casual Christian is the story of a church that started out 2000 years ago as small groups of believers scattered throughout the Middle East. They risked their fortunes and their very lives to identify publicly with their Savior, Jesus Christ. Others were drawn to them by their extraordinary love in a land that was known for its brutality. Though oppressed and persecuted, this little band of believers spread from Palestine eastward all the way to India and north as far as Great Britain, growing from 25,000 members in the first century A.D. to over 20 million by the end of the fourth century.
Today The Christian church they founded is in a state of decline. It has replaced Biblical truth and divine authority with humanistic psychology, a pseudo-scientific view of origins, moral relativism, commitment to a political philosophy that denies God, a perspective of history that trivializes the roles of men and women of faith, a capitalistic vision of the church that equates size and prosperity with success, and a mistaken notion of the relationship between faith and public policy that rules out Christian activism. A creeping professionalism has taken the role of ministry out of the hands of regular believers and placed it into the hands of formally trained clergy and a group of religious elites.
In The Casual Christian, author Craig Olson takes a look at modern church practices and contemporary Christian ministry through the lens of apostolic practices. He shows how biblical teaching has simply been set aside in preference for the prevailing practices and values of a secular culture.
Olson reaches out to those who are disillusioned with today’s church. Based on historical Christian practices, he suggests ways to revitalize the church and make it relevant to the times in which we live.
Jesus and the apostles always had one purpose in mind i.e. to advance the kingdom of God by establishing His rule in the lives of the believers and drawing others into His family. None of the apostles ever made reference to the ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ’ that is so common in the modern Christian vernacular. Individual faith was given birth and nurtured in the context of a caring community. It was a ‘one another’ proposition for them, each one helping the other to grow in his or her faith. A common Christian culture was passed from one generation to the next as older, more mature Christians passed the Apostles’ teaching along to younger believers.
Today, Christianity is more of a ‘go it alone’ proposition. Sermons focus on the relationship of individual believers to their Lord and rarely on their relationships with one another. They deal with attitudes more than actions. So anger, for instance, is a sign of an unforgiving heart, even when it is directed against evil. Messages on the wrath of God against sin have gone the way of preaching about hell. Christians are loathe to pick up their cross when they sign up for service to Christ. Consequently, they have become more cavalier in their attitudes towards God’s word. They pick and choose what parts to obey. Love of God has cooled, prayer has become passé, and expectation for the return of Christ has waned. Worship has morphed into performance as music and drama have become more professional in order to appeal to a clientele immersed in entertainment. Sinners are allowed to go free while their victims are urged to absolve them of their misdeeds. Christian authors tell us how to get the most from our spiritual experience. But to what end?
How does our faith benefit anyone else or advance the kingdom of Christ today? Just one in twenty believers has ever led another person to Christ. Only six percent tithe. The modern church has become the Laodicean church i.e. wealthy, self-satisfied, and complacent but unable to recognize that it is blind, naked, poor and pitiful in God’s eyes.
Christian leaders have not helped matters. They have replaced holistic ministry with pure pedagogy that stresses learning but places little emphasis on practical faith. They have turned churches into lecture halls and classrooms. Rather than addressing real needs on the ground as they develop, they package ministry into formal programs that are targeted to niche audiences. Like the Pharisees of old, they consider themselves the final authority on the Bible. They give lip service to the concept of the priesthood of the believer but do not respect the spiritual authority of the saints, especially those with no formal religious education. Academic degrees, professional publications and recognition for scholarly achievement have replaced tassels and phylacteries. Storing up and showcasing Bible knowledge have taken the place of a radical obedience to the will of God.
Once hallmarks of the faith, willingness to suffer shame for the name of Christ, to take a public stand against His enemies, to address social evils and to sacrifice temporal wealth for eternal riches are all but absent from church leadership today. Instead they remain content to stay within the friendly confines of their churches where they can teach and preach without fear of opposition. Larger buildings, bigger audiences, better preaching and more professional performances have become the metrics of achievement. But commitment to a caring community, accountability, self-sacrificing service and advancing the kingdom of Christ in anticipation of His return are sorely wanting.
Craig, I often wonder how did we get so far away from the true meaning of Christianity? How did we, the Church of Jesus Christ, lose its zeal for Christ?
All I know today is - that I want to see the Church (Christian) revived! My prayer is that we will not quench the Holy Spirit, but allow Him free reign and access to our hearts and minds. I don't want to be a casual christian! I want to experience the power of God in the most commonplace things!
If you're not a Christian, who can blame you? Many of the stories in this book illustrate how Christians have done far more harm than good in their communities, hurting more often than helping the very people they have been commissioned to serve and care for. Hopefully, The Casual Christian will show you the true face of Christianity in spite of the failings of the believers you may have met.
Craig Olson addresses possibly the most prominent problem facing the Christian church today - that we Christians have taken God's Word and reshaped it to fit the comfort of our lives, rather than letting it shape us (resulting, more often than not, in the discomfort of conviction). As the Body of Christ, this is something we need to take to heart. We need to examine ourselves, our motivations, our very beliefs, and ask ourselves if we are truly living by the Word of God, or merely taking it for granted. Olson pulls no punches, and as a result the message is challenging - but deeply important.
Being mostly a fiction reader, the Casual Christian brought to light shocking historical facts about many religions. As a born Catholic my experiences witth clergy has been bery good as we moved across the United States. Unfortunately that has not been the case everywhere, including all levels of the Catholic Church. Craig does a great job of spelling out the terrible pain of believers. Many parishes are operated like a business without much feeling, but yet in many you feel like family. The Casual Christian is a book to learn from, the facts that are preferred to ignore by many, sticking their heads in the sand. The research of the facts in the book amazed me. I am encouraging Craig to write another book, "The Death of the Middle Class".
Those who defend the truth and have nothing to deny need not read this book; on the other hand, i wonder if any at all will read it among those who have much to deny yet believe they've no need to defend anything they do. I'll take the first step. I hope the Casual Christian is a jeremiad and not a diatribe. This comment is the least of the little chores i have ahead of me having to do with this book, which includes, when i have the time, to read it. May the author be blessed for his diligent work as it bears fruit by being useful to the Lord in bringing blessing to the church. mike mcduffee, professor of history & historical theology, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL USA
Great book I would highly recomend. Orlandus Bell
Thank you for sending me a copy of your new book. I am keenly aware that it takes a lot of work to write a book, and it's evident that you've put a lot of hard work into this one. So congratulations are in order. The cover is very nice, and at first blush flipping through the pages, everything has a nice clean feel to it. Thank you again for your kindness in thinking to send me a copy.
Author of Pagan Christianity