Re-visiting your roots from time to time is a healthy practice, I’ve found. And as a typical book-learnin’ nerd, there have been some significant authors whose influence in my life came through their writings. (I blogged my way through one of them, Lifestyle Evangelism, awhile back.)
This one, however, probably qualifies as “ground zero” for me. The first Christian book (besides the Bible) to rock my world. And yet, I first discovered Bob Girard’s Brethren, Hang Loose almost by accident.
It was in a bookshelf in the basement of a friend’s house. I picked it out and glanced through a few pages, and then borrowed it for a few days. I was fascinated by what I read, but of course, I had to return it. And dang… it was out of print by this time.
Two years later, Wendy & I found our own copy in a used book sale (on our honeymoon — yeah, we’re nerds). Much later, it was my privilege to have a few phone conversations with Bob Girard when I was first beginning to explore the topic of Detoxing from Church. (He even sent me a signed copy of When the Vision has Vanished, another book well worth the read.)
It’s fascinating to re-read this book again, over 30 years later, and discover how much it continues to impact — and challenge — and how instrumental it was in my early Christian life.
Here’s a few quotes:
Accept people where they are. If people with any bad habit, any questionable occupation, any way-out philosophy, any political persuasion, any kind of life-style were willing to listen to me preach or associate in any way with the church, we made up our minds ahead of time that we would accept them and love them and seek to introduce them to Christ just as they are.
If changes are needed in their lives let the Holy Spirit do it. When we try to legislate and coerce people to accept certain outward standards of behavior which we think will make them “more spiritual”, we are robbing them of some very precious experiences with the living Lord Himself.
Avoid the old evangelical clichés like a plague. Instead of expecting [people] to learn a new vocabulary, the Christian witness must understand his own message well enough to put it into terms even the uninitiated and completely unchurched can comprehend. (pages 24-25)
Anyone who has ever been involved in youth or young adult ministry with me will be familiar with “Robby’s Rules”:
I’m guessing that the genesis of these can probably be traced to Girard’s influence.
Something in the above quotes that really stood out to me was Girard’s comment on “robbing people of precious experiences with the Lord”, by imposing rules and regulations on them to make them conform to “spiritual” behavioral norms.
We are all pretty familiar with the reality that “Jesus + nothing” is what our faith rests on; Galatians is probably the most concise exposition on the topic of performance-based religion.
But I was intrigued by the angle that Girard came at it from: allowing the Holy Spirit to change peoples’ lives, and not robbing them of the awesome experience of hearing the Spirit Himself teach them what following Jesus looks like.
And that is probably one of the most consistent themes throughout the book: the Holy Spirit can be trusted to do His job. As individual Christians explore the Scriptures, pray, worship, and serve, the Holy Spirit will shape their character to be an ever-sharpening reflection of Jesus.
There are numerous other sections of Girard’s classic book that — despite its obviously hipster-1970s title & cover artwork — speak volumes to our current decade. I’m looking forward to unpacking more in the days to come.