Book Review: How Church Can Change Your Life, by Josh Moody
Josh Moody. How Church Can Change Your Life: Answers to the Ten Most Common Questions About Church. Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2015. 84 pp.
Ours is an age in which assumptions about church can no longer be taken for granted. Far from being viewed as “the pillar and buttress of truth” (I Tim 3:15), the church finds herself in an increasingly hostile climate in many parts of the world. Accordingly, if those within the church want to see more and more people love the same church that we love and that our Lord “obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28), then we must be more equipped to answer questions about the church in contexts and cultures that do not share even our basic assumptions about truth, much less the church. Enter Pastor Josh Moody to help us with his excellent little book, How Church Can Change Your Life.
Only 84 straightforward and small pages, Moody’s book is a quick read, written in a very accessible manner. With chapters organized according to ten questions, this book is geared toward those who know very little, if anything, about the church. Perceiving a gap in the plethora of works that have come out on the church in our day, Moody aims to answer a fundamentally different question: “Why should I go to Church at all?”
For many people, this is the question that must be addressed before even beginning to think about other important questions such as how “to do” church or how one can best serve the church. Moody is clear-headed about the environment in which the church finds herself immersed in many cultures today. This is evidenced by his observation that “it is very hard for us to believe that the secret of the universe . . . the revelation of God in Christ . . .is all being discussed in one rather small building on the corner of our street” (v).
It is in the midst of this environment that Moody asks questions ranging from whether the church is for Christians or non-Christians (chapters one and two) to the different kinds of churches (chapter four) to what a healthy church looks like in the first place (chapter nine). Moody addresses other important topics as well such as baptism and communion (chapter 5), preaching (chapter six), politics in church life (chapter 7), and even what to do if you’ve been hurt by the church (chapter eight).
He helpfully arranges each chapter by asking and answering questions on these topics and then including a brief story of how these particular issues could play out in someone’s life. A few brief questions are included at the end of each chapter for discussion. In a day in which people’s views and preconceptions about church are as varied and misguided as ever, Moody methodically asks and concisely answers some very basic questions that a visitor might be thinking but might never ask you when they visit your church.
Well-rooted biblically and historically, Moody addresses the individualism that marks much of Western Christianity today by undercutting the false dichotomy that pits Jesus against the church. He states refreshingly and plainly that the notion of loving Jesus but not the church “is strange historically; it is even stranger biblically” (7). And if that is not clear enough, Moody raises the stakes by arguing, “If you say you follow Jesus but you are not a member of a local church that is biblically founded and gospel-preaching, I have no reason to know for sure whether you actually are following Jesus” (9). Moody is careful to clearly demonstrate that one’s individual discipleship of Jesus is meant to be lived out in the arena of the church.
Throughout this book, Moody holds a high view of the church and what she is called and mandated to do by her Lord. Aware that there are many groups in this day that hold themselves out as churches, Moody helps the reader distinguish whether the church they attend is a true one by asking whether that local church “has at its foundation the proclamation from the Bible of Jesus Christ and him crucified” (17). If it does not, then that church is devilish just like Peter’s attempt to stop Jesus from going to the cross in Matthew 16.
Moreover, Moody is careful to guard the practices that the church alone is called to carry out and give oversight to. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been given meaning by Jesus and are “church things” (32) that are not meant to be practiced with a group of friends on the beach or in your campus ministry setting. When the church gathers, she does not have to think up new things to do each week. Instead, she gathers to worship and hear from God, and this is precisely why preaching is central to the life of the church because “it is how God speaks today to his people through the Bible” (40). Not content with just any kind of preaching, Moody beautifully argues for a kind of preaching in which “people’s eyes are opened to see Jesus and be captivated by him” (40). Because the church was Jesus’s idea and the institution on earth for which he shed his blood, the church must be careful to ensure her life is in conformity with Jesus’s actual teaching about the church.
Of course, people’s experiences in the church are not always positive, and so Moody helpfully addresses questions from those who have been hurt in the church. He gives good, pastoral advice by encouraging them against cynicism and toward Jesus, as well as giving practical help in committing to the body of Christ again. Not only does he rightly state that “some churches hurt people because they are not healthy churches” (58), he also gives some helpful criteria for discerning what healthy churches looks like. Such churches are centered on the gospel, have the Bible as its authority, and are outward-looking with the gospel toward the world (66). Because many have been hurt in so-called churches that Jesus himself would not recognize, Moody’s diagnostic questions are useful for someone taking the cautious step back into church life.
BRIEF OBSERVATIONS AND ONE QUIBBLE
Moody’s book is an excellent resource to give away to those visiting or considering joining with your church. While he’s clear that this book is not meant to go into the depth that every subject demands, it does give helpful answers to questions that people are inevitably asking when they show up at your church.
Another good reason to make use of this book is that it will teach people who have little to no knowledge about church the kinds of questions they should be asking and the answers they should be hearing about church life. In a day in which many churches treat the customer as king, Moody eschews seeker-friendly answers for biblical truth. Hopefully, this book will contribute in some way to drying up the demand for such movements as God’s Spirit corrects and renews the thinking of his people who read this book.
The only quibble I had with this book is how Moody addressed the questions related to why there are so many different kinds of churches. In addressing this topic, I wish that Moody would have done a bit more to flag false churches. Moody is clear on the gospel and its centrality to the church throughout, so I would have liked to have seen a bit more help (even if it were brief) on how to discern those churches that are not and have not been historically clear on the gospel. This would help the many people who are visiting or are in “Christian” churches that are not clear on the very gospel that saves.
Overall, this is a helpful book on the church in a very anti-institutional age. It’s helpful because it’s filled with solid, biblical content, and it’s brief which means the very people you want to read it actually might! As you think about the kinds of people who are showing up at your church or who you would love to see there, this would be an excellent resource to have on hand. Who knows? The Lord just might use it to change their life!