Faith Without Illusions

Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011) by Andrew Byers

Disillusionment is the “dispersal of illusions,” and many Christians are finding themselves passing through disillusionment only to drown in a sea of cynicism.

Andy Byers makes his authorial debut with a very timely book that is bound to challenge and encourage the broken, bitter, and burned-out Christian cynics among us.

“It is hard not to be cynical when you drive past a church and read a message like this on a rusted marquee sign: ‘To Prevent Sinburn, Use Sonscreen.’ Really? Someone thought it was a good idea to go public with that?” (p.107)

It’s the marquees, the bumper stickers, the shallow theology, the sappy “Christian” radio disc jockeys, and the endless clichés of pop-culture Christianity that are enough to send disillusioned believers into a cynic rage.

I mean… who hasn’t wanted to drive their car off a cliff after having to hear I Can Only Imagine for the bazillionth time?

Byers observes that, “many believers have now slid into those dark pits that cynicism is becoming vogue in many Christian circles as a self-identifying trademark of a new spirituality—the edgy spirituality of the jaded.” (p.8)

There is certainly no shortage of bitter believers that claim to be “free” from the chains of religion. You can even join social networks for the caustic cussing Christians who are congregating on the fringes of Christianity and attracting others who feel abused and betrayed.

Byers says, “Cynicism is a sickness.” However, it is possible to overcome this state of disparagement by reckoning disillusionment with the church as a gift from God—an “act of God’s grace.”

Beyers acknowledges the many errors and shortcomings of pop-culture Christianity, but he claims we need to embrace a “hopeful realism” that moves folks out of frustrated cynicism and on to biblical alternatives that reflect resurrection.

“We are in dire need for redeemed cynics to dress their wounds that they may rise up and flourish in the truths revealed to them for the health of the church and for the glory of God.” (p. 12)

Part I of the book addresses those things that make us cynical: idealism, legalism, religiosity, experientialism, anti-intellectualism, and cultural irrelevance. If you’re even remotely sour over your past experiences and the current state of the church, you’re liable to resonate with Byers assessment of the issues. I found myself laughing one minute, and sincerely examining my heart the next.

It’s possible for cynics to know healing in these pages. Byers writes that his intentions for the first part of the book is, “to give voice to the frustrations of cynical readers, providing some degree of cathartic venting while at the same time providing convincing arguments that the standard cynical approaches are counterproductive.” (p.13)

Part II of the book presents the reader with alternatives to cynicism that resemble the biblical patterns of the prophet, sage, poet, and the Christ who shows us how to truly be human. Byers helps his readers to see that Jesus was not a cynic. Therefore, his followers are not justified in embracing cynicism as a lifestyle.

Byers says, “Redeemed cynics have much to offer.” Disciples of Jesus should find healing and recover for a new commission. Instead of being critical of the church at a distance, redeemed cynics will be active and involved in the renewing of the community of Christ.

“If we can manage to find healing and regain our footing a bit after the rug has been ripped out from beneath us, then we may be used by God to free others from faulty ideas about our faith.” (p.11)

Faith Without Illusions contains a message of encouragement and hope for the weary. I pray that the Lord will use Byers’ book to aid in spiritual renewal and church restoration.

Andrew Byers is working on a PhD in New Testament at Durham University (England) while serving as college pastor at Mountain Brook Community Church and leading University Christian Fellowship in Birmingham, Alabama. He has served in campus ministry at Gardner-Webb University and has degrees from Beeson Divinity School and Duke University.

Stay tuned for an interview with Andrew Byers!

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David was in student ministry for 7 years, taught Biblical Studies & Latin at The Woodlands Christian Academy for 5 years, and now pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

9 responses to “Faith Without Illusions

  • esztertun

    Sounds like a great book. I look forward to the interview.

  • Seth

    David,
    Great review. This sounds like an excellent book.

    It is so true that we can easily become disillusioned when we know things ought to be different and every where we look we see no hope in things changing. Getting bitter is such a real temptation. I had personally given years serving in a ministry that later I got burned pretty bad in. I came across a book just coming out of it that encouraged me not to get bitter and see that experience from a better light (as from the Lord). I now wouldn’t trade it for anything knowing that the Lord used it to bring up and out many selfish ambitions that were masked with spiritual pride for Him in my life.

    Something that also helped me is when I came to the place that seeing all of things I felt were wrong in the church and that something had to be done and of course that i had to do something about it because surely God needs my help. It is when I stopped and realized God doesn’t need my help. It was at this point that I started to see the bigger picture of His eternal purpose and how it wasn’t about me and His will for my life as much as it was about Him and His will according to His purpose. And He was graciously calling me to join His purpose taking the focus off of me. This started me down a path of Life. I would still be tempted to look back and be bitter and focus on all that went wrong or was wrong. Instead He was calling me forward and to focus on Him. Such a difference.

    Let us not get distracted but instead see that He is in it and is leading us more to Himself. Not to pick up a cause for or against but to turn fully to Him.

  • Tim

    This is some good stuff David. I wish you blogged more often!

    I always liked the way that Wayne and Brad put it from their podcast, The God Journey. Gratefully disillusioned.

    I went through a time myself of being very bitter and cynical over organized religion. Then one day I made one too many snide remarks about it to a sister in the Lord and she called me out on my attitude. I took her words to heart and left the negativity behind, for the most part anyways. Constructive criticism and dialogue is a better route I’ve found.

    • David D. Flowers

      Thank you, Tim! I very much appreciate that. I wish I could write more often. Working full time and going to school three nights a week really limits my spare time. :-) Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  • Dan

    Hi David,

    An interesting book and review. As an older Christian I would comment on both. (FYI: I’ve been a baptized Christian for over 51 years and have been associated with several conservative churches over those years.) I am a Christian cynic, one of those people that Byers talks about in his book. However, I am not one of the “broken, bitter and burned-out Christian cynics” pointed out in your review.

    I looked up the word cynicism and found it to mean, “a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others.” That’s me! It was not so much the slick phrases or the bumper stickers, not even the shallow theology that put me off, although the latter did play a part in my decision to step away from the congregational church structure I was in. It was mostly people and their actions. And it was mostly those in authority (pastors, elders, evangelists who I knew on both a professional and personal level) who made me re-evaluate my life as a member of the church. These were men (mostly) who I saw turn ministry into a “spiritual business.” Much like the proverbial used-car salesman, they used their training and their innate human skills to lure people into their way of thinking and into their church.

    More specifically, it was the “bate-and-switch” thing that did me in. It was as if this cute, young chick comes up to me with ta-tas shaking and white teeth gleaming saying, “let me tell you about Jesus”, only to have her turn into Helga, the Hun after she has seduced me into her spiritual cave. The simple, beautiful Gospel message of Jesus (love, grace and redemption) turns into a nightmarish list of “do’s and don’t’s” which, if not followed to the “t” becomes fodder for finger-pointing, pastoral counseling and possible “discipline.”

    But, David, thankfully I’m not broken. Rather I have found a more firm foundation as I’ve studied the Bible (and it’s history) anew. Neither am I bitter except (occasionally) as I think about how other Christians are being seduced and then corrected and/or disciplined—all in the good name of Jesus, of course! And I’m not burned-out. I am actually more at ease with myself and less stressed since I am no longer caught up with the daily analyzing of my life in a way that would make me think I’ve thought or said or done something that would take me out of the “kingdom,” i.e. lost my salvation.

    For me, to be critical of “the church” is not productive since I think the present church is so far out of touch with the real message of Jesus that it is a waist of time to try to argue any points. I’ve tried it and all it did was marginalize me from the other “believers.” In retrospect, I see that I was separated from my church long before I took the actual step out. For many at my church I was the “trouble-maker” that asked too many questions and “didn’t get with the program.” So, now, it is the better thing for me to strike out on my own and, if possible, find others who still believe in the simple, foundational message of Jesus.

    If cynical means a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others, then I am that. But I’m not against being with Christians who are to be trusted—for the right reasons. I want to be with people who are interested in building up me, not in building up their church. I want to be with people who are transparent enough—honest enough—to share with me that they, too, struggle as I struggle and that Jesus is there for all of us… to help all of us IN our struggles.

    I want to be with people who are not so quick with a Bible text answer, but who maybe don’t have an answer yet can sit quietly and patiently hold my hand when needed. But I don’t want that only for myself. I want to do that for others, too. I want to be seen as a trustworthy, honest, and patient person so that when they are hurting they know they can turn to me for support. I am a really good and patient “hand-holder!” So I wait. And while I wait I am praying. And hoping. Does that sound like a broken, bitter, burned-out man?

    • David D. Flowers

      Sounds good, Dan. I think Byers’ understands a certain level of cynicism is always lingering, but embracing the cynic persona is unhealthy and just plain sinful. It doesn’t sound like you fit that description. I think you would enjoy reading this book, even if you’re not broken, bitter, or burned-out. :-)

      Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s always good to hear from you.

  • John Metz

    Very interesting. Thanks for the post. I will look for the interview.

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