This is a review of the book “Viral Jesus” by Ross Rohde. I got this book as a part of the Speakeasy book review program. This book is about what it takes to have a “viral” Christianity, meaning a Christianity that spreads as fast and as easily as the germs of a common cold.
Let me state this up front: I believe in church planting. I think much of the way the institutional church is run is bogus. I think if the church is to survive we are going to have to change the way we do things. This book claims to be about making that happen, but I couldn’t disagree more with the author’s conclusions.
Also, this book is SUPER repetitive. If we were to take out all of the duplicate sentences it would be about 50 pages shorter. And all of the duplicate sentences go something like this, “just listen to Jesus.”
The basic premise is that Christianity used to be a viral religion: spread quickly and easily and that it isn’t anymore because we institutionalized our churches. In order to be viral again we need to de-institutionalize our churches and go back to the way it was in the early church. I COULD get on board with that, except his description of the early church strikes me as pretty bogus.
Look, the early church spread because those people actually did shit that mattered! They buried poor people, they eliminated hierarchy, they refused to worship the empire, they took in children that had been abandoned. The author reduces it to believing in Jesus and making sure you don’t swear anymore. It’s all about getting more and more people to pray a little prayer and be good.
He talks a lot about the Christian “pledge of allegiance” being Jesus is Lord but he doesn’t talk at all about how political that was. It was just about saying Jesus is Lord and we should try to get more people to believe in him, it was saying Jesus is Lord and the Emperor isn’t. Which was treason. This wasn’t a theological statement, it was a political one.
Here are some points I wrote while reading. I had to stop after a bit because the book was just too aggravating to document.
• I’m only in the introduction and already the theology is atrocious. I’ve written before about why I think Satan is too easy. This is another one of those books that blames bad things on Satan and believe that everyone has Jesus whispering EXACTLY what to do and when into their ear at all times if they would just listen hard enough.
• “The early church lived out “Jesus is Lord”… The gospel is no longer spreading like a wildfire through the western world. And it is precisely because we don’t really understand how to live Jesus as Lord and within His new covenant agreement with us. We may agree with these two truths as correct doctrines; but we live something far different. In place of living these truths, we have human planning; ministry as business; and human leadership, techniques, methods, and strategic principles.” (page xvi) He states this new covenant stuff over and over again but never actually fleshes out what any of it means. Honestly, I finished the book and I have NO IDEA what he thinks a Christian looks like other than that they don’t swear and are a nice person. Oh, and they tell lots of other people about Jesus.
• I can already tell this author is going to come to VERY different conclusions about what it means to have Christianity go viral. Every once in a while he says something great but then he backs off.
• On page 11 he talks about the passage in 1 Peter 3:15 where Christians are told to always be ready to give an answer but totally depoliticizes it.
• Pg 15 basically says that established churches don’t have the Spirit because they do have an order of worship. He comes back to this point a lot throughout the book. Apparently if there is any order of worship set up before the service there will be NO movement of the Spirit. The only way the Spirit can move is if we do things like the author says.
* He does say some good things about money: How if you depend on the church to pay your bills then you are beholden to keeping the church happy. I appreciate those reminders.
This is pretty much Neil Cole’s “Organic Church” book all over again. Feels almost verbatim.
If you’ve read any organic, simple, house church book you’ve already read this book. This one falls a bit more on the Pentecostal/Charismatic side. There is a lot of talk about how if you aren’t experiencing miracles and direct to your heart knowledge from God than you aren’t really living in the Spirit.
I believe that the church needs a revolution. I believe that we could be a viral movement again. But I think that will happen not because we get people to pray a little prayer and stop swearing. Instead it will be because we stop saying the American pledge of allegiance. We stop bowing down to capitalism, we stop demonizing queer folks and women, we stop fighting the culture wars. Instead this revolution will happen when we take care of poor people, live in community, show love for one another and for the world. When we revamp our neighborhoods, when we take care of orphans and widows, when we adopt kids, when we actually live a life of Good News instead of just talking about it.
Christianity isn’t about some prayer you pray. It’s not about going to church on Sunday. It’s about changed lives. But not changed in the “no swearing, no drinking, no sex” kind of way. Changed in the fundamental shift of where our allegiance lies: Our allegiance is to God and each other. And in this day and age, following the way of Jesus still looks like treason, not the shallow shit in this book.