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