Friday, May 6, 2011

Book Review: The Church of 80% Sincerity

I don't usually write book reviews. This is, in fact, the first one ever to appear on this blog. But then, The Church of 80% Sincerity isn't the sort of book I usually read, either. And since I recommended it in the brief post I did for the Rally To Restore Unity earlier this week, it seems worthwhile to come back and talk about it a bit more.

So... First of all, it's not an especially long book. I finished it in two evenings; I could have read the whole thing the first night, if I'd been willing to stay up. And it reads easily, too - it's compelling, and funny, and the text itself makes it very easy to just keep going, to immerse yourself in what David Roche has to say. But that's a little deceptive, because in some ways this is a book that should be read a little at a time; it should include some intermissions so you can stop and digest what it has to say... and so that you can go and spend some time with, maybe, some memories you haven't thought about in years, some thoughts and perspectives that you haven't nudged from their comfortable spots on the shelves in the back of your mind.

I need to re-read it, in other words. The first time, I was really just moving all the way through, looking to see what Mr. Roche had to say. Now I'd like to go back and spend some more time with those thoughts.

Is it a Christian book? Yes. And no. Maybe. Sort of. If it is, it's the sort of Christianity that readers of Anne Lamott will find familiar. But for all the time it spends talking about Miracles, and Saints, and Grace, and even Prayer, The Church of 80% Sincerity doesn't come across to me as an overtly Christian book - not in the way that I usually hear the phrase "Christian book" used. There's no single great moment of revelation, here; no dramatic reversal where the author felt Jesus come into his heart, and knew that he was saved, and suddenly his whole life was back on track. There's no powerful discussion of the need for belief, no simple formula for salvation.

And in a lot of ways, that's exactly what the book is about: Grace as the slow accumulation of understanding, and acceptance, and improvement. Prayer as interaction with other people. Faith as the awareness that good things can and do happen - here, now. Salvation as a process. It's a view in which Grace is better than miracles, in which looking for miracles becomes a distraction, something that interferes with the important stuff.

Is it inspirational? ...I don't know. My brain doesn't seem to be wired for "inspirational" the way some people's are. But an awful lot of the people who wrote blurbs for the book jacket sure seem to think so. And, well, it's inspired me to write a book review.

The Church of 80% Sincerity is, basically, David Roche talking about his life - but not just the parts of it that make him look good. He talks about the unpleasant parts, too: the ugly parts, the embarassing parts, the moments that should have happened but didn't, and the ones that shouldn't have happened, but did. Most of all, he talks about what he learned from it.

So I can't really tell you if it's inspirational. Instead, let me say this: I'm not a Christian. I don't think I can be a Christian; on a fundamental level, Christianity as a world-view just doesn't make sense to me.

But I'm pretty sure I could join the Church of 80% Sincerity.


  1. Michael, have you read anything by the scholar N.T. Wright the Anglican bishop of Durham? He does some good stuff.

    He has a book out there called Simply Christian which I've heard is quite good.

    I'm planning to hang out at Borders this weekend, and want to take a peak at it myself. :) It was written a few years ago.

    You could do a book review.


  2. I haven't read any of his books; everything I know about N.T. Wright is from Fred Clark citing or responding to him over on Slacktivist.

    It's an interesting suggestion, but as I said this isn't the sort of thing I normally read. Next up on my agenda is actually Martha Wells' book The Cloud Roads.


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