Jesus was sacrilegious.
This is the message of the book, Sacrilege: Finding the Unorthodox Ways of Jesus by Hugh Halter.
Using the Beatitudes as a guide, Halter asserts that Jesus’s message and mission was anything but religious - it was sacrilegious. “To commit sacrilege means to disregard, disrespect, or be irreverent toward those things that have traditionally been considered holy, venerated, or dedicated as sacred.” This is what Jesus did in the face of the religious leaders, over and over. As someone who makes a living in religion - leading people to encounter the sacred - for me the book was a practice of examining assumptions throughout. And while this could have turned me off - insulted me even - it didn’t. Halter has a straightforward openness, makes his point through engaging stories, and desires to take the words of Jesus seriously. Reading the book was a breath of fresh air to one (me) who runs the risk of getting bogged down in the heavy air of religious ritual.
And Halter lives what he preaches. He’s part of a faith community in Denver, Colorado that seeks to embody Jesus’ kingdom in the culture they find themselves. Traditional church things are held loosely. They don’t have a building. They occasionally skip Sunday worship gatherings (everyone!). They don’t have any full-time pastors. On the surface, some might say they are a bunch of jaded, anti-church folk. They’ve looked at Jesus’s sacrilegious teaching and gone too far, leaving the church behind. Not so. Halter’s clear disappointment in organized Christian religion is paralleled by an even greater passion for the church to remain central. The church community is of utmost priority. Halter offers an inspiring summary of Jesus’s teaching, “Although going to church is not that big of a deal to Jesus, being the church and becoming his winsome representatives does matter to him. A lot.” To all the religious cynics out there, I think this is Halter’s strongest point: “please don’t give up on your church. Find some friends and start being the church...The least we can do is stop bellyaching about [the church] and try to make [it] as beautiful as as Jesus intended [it] to be.” Each chapter resonates with common frustrations, but challenges us to consider creative ways forward. Again, this was refreshing.
I did have one frustration with Sacrilege, not limited to this book alone (e.g. Brian McLaren's New Kind of Christianity). The book follows a trend one could call the “find-the-real Jesus” trend. Mostly this is a good trend. It challenges what we take for granted and forces us to look seriously at what Jesus actually said and did. But I worry. The trend can do injustice to two-thousand years of faithful Jesus followers muddling their way through life and faith trying just as hard to find the real Jesus as we do now. It’s not as if we’ve all of the sudden stumbled upon a never-before discovered Jesus. I’m not saying Halter explicitly suggests this, but I’d prefer the term “rediscovering” over “finding” in the title. Alan Hirsch is more intentional in this manner.
All this to say, for anyone tired of religion, for anyone seeing an absence of “sacred” in the institutional church, and for anyone who thinks Jesus still matter, Sacrilege is for you. Halter offers a vision of hope for the community of Jesus followers we like to call church. And in a time when many bemoan this and that about the church, a little hope can go a long way. It did for me.
Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.