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The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus

ISBN: 978-1-118-06159-6
288 pages
February 2012, Jossey-Bass
The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus (1118061594) cover image


A new way to follow Jesus that draws on old ways of following Him

The Underground Church proposes that the faithful recapture the spirit of the early church with its emphasis on what Christians do rather than what they believe. Prominent progressive writer, speaker, and minister Robin Meyers proposes that the best way to recapture the spirit of the early Christian church is to recognize that Jesus-following was and must be again subversive in the best sense of the word because the gospel taken seriously turns the world upside down.

No matter how the church may organize itself or worship, the defining characteristic of church of the future will be its Jesus-inspired countercultural witness.

  • Debunks commonly held beliefs about the early church and offers a vision for the future rooted in the past
  • Proposes that the church of the future must leave doctrinal tribalism behind and seek a unity of mission instead
  • Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said,"Robin Meyers has spoken truth to power, and the church he loves will never be the same."
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Note to the Reader xiii

Prologue: Empty Sermons, Empty Pews 1

1 Sweet Jesus: Talking His Melancholy Madness 12

2 The Early Church That Never Was 38

3 Waking Up in Bed with Constantine 63

4 Onward Christian Soldiers? 88

5 Faith as Radically Embodied Trust 115

6 Renewing the Church Through Shared Mission 140

7 Leavening the Imperial Loaf 166

8 Jesus Followers on the No-Fly List 192

9 The Underground Church on War, Sex, Money, Family, and the Environment 219

Epilogue: Beyond Belief: The Manifesto of the Underground Church 251

Notes 257

The Author 265

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Author Information

Robin Meyers is a nationally known United Church of Christ minister and peace activist. His congregation describes itself as unapologetically Christian and unapologetically liberal (mayflowerucc.org). He writes for Christian Century, is an award-winning commentator for NPR, and a professor of rhetoric in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University. He is married to Shawn Meyers, an artist, and they are the parents of three children, Blue, Chelsea, and Cass. More information can be found at www.robinmeyers.com
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[STARRED REVIEW] Meyers (Why the Christian Right Is Wrong) offers a number of subversive ideas in his latest, reminding readers that Jesus came to feed the hungry, wage nonviolence, and generally afflict the comfortable in his day. Today, the comfortable are seated in the pews of Christian churches, worshiping idols at twilight. Like many who use a traditional, prophetic voice, Meyers has a talent for putting theology on the ground and in the midst of life. Jesus really does mean for us to feed people, as he did: hospitality is a cardinal Christian virtue. So is nonviolence, but it’s so hard that most fail at a practice that demands discipline and sacrifice. Meyers calls for other practices running counter to the prevailing imperial culture, including low or no-interest moneylending and tithing, which may startle middle-class mainline Protestant churchgoers. Going back to basics is not a new idea, but Meyers writes with energy, intelligence, and conviction, adding to the choir calling for Christianity in a new key. (Feb.) (Publishers Weekly, December 21, 2011)

Praise for The Underground Church

"DANGER: The contents of this book are explosive and could turn the world upside down. About time!"
Bill Moyers

"When was the last time you thought of going to church as dangerous? Once we challenged the status quo; now we mostly defend it. The Underground Church tells the story of how we forgot where we came from and why we must recover our subversive roots. Read this book if you dare. Become part of the movement if you are daring."
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

"Read this book. Written by a wordsmith, it is a passionate and challenging call to churches to be liberated from the cultural captivity of convention and into the 'underground church.'"
Marcus Borg, canon theologian, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, and author, Speaking Christian

"The Underground Church invites Christians to encounter a radical Jesus, to practice a subversive way of life, and to move beyond belief to love. This is no longer merely church—rather it is a movement that many are aching to join!"
Diana Butler Bass, author, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening

"As I read Robin Meyers's new book, I felt afresh how subversive the Christian way of life should be in relation to today's partisan ideologies and consumerist assumptions. He depicts a subversive, transformative, and hopeful identity for followers of Christ—one that I hope will be increasingly contagious."
Brian McLaren, author, speaker, activist (www.brianmclaren.net)

"This beautifully written manifesto, grounded in the author's deep faith and faithful ministry, is manna for those of us who love what the church is called to be—but who have a lover's quarrel with the way it too often distorts the good news about love, justice, mercy, and care for 'the least of these.' May The Underground Church rise up and flower everywhere!"
Parker J. Palmer

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Press Release

December 13, 2011
The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus

“Read this book.  Written by a wordsmith, it is a passionate and challenging call to churches to be liberated from the cultural captivity of convention and into the ‘the underground church,” – Marcus Borg, Canon Theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, OR and author of twenty books, including his newest, Speaking Christian.

The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus

It’s no secret that the church of Christ in the Western world is in crisis.  Once viewed as an institution where people could turn to find moral and spiritual guidance is now often seen as hypocritical and exemplifying cosmic cluelessness.  However, despite some bad press, humanity’s spiritual impulse still remains and nationally known author Robin Meyers is here to help humanity regain their faith in her newest book THE UNDERGROUND CHURCH: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus.

Meyers proposes that it’s time for churches to go back to their beginnings by recognizing that to walk in the path of Jesus is to be subversive, throwing away doctrinal tribalism and seek a unity of mission instead.  This is the best way to recapture faith and the spirit of the early Christian church.  By being willing to turn the world upside down those who follow Christ will be able to help others find Christ again.

THE UNDERGROUND CHURCH is a call to action for Christians to stop arguing about things that don’t matter and connect into the Beloved Community – united by a love for Jesus, who Meyers says is, “the world’s most recognized name disguising the world’s best-kept secret.” 

To do this Christians need to begin responding to the hunger and brokenness that can be found in all of our backyards.  The focus needs to shift from training Christian believers to equipping of truly subversive Jesus practitioners who are not afraid to get their hands dirty or be called crazy because they’re willing to demand that people take their head out of the clouds and focus on earth’s challenges.

It’s clear that the next generation is not interested in arguing about who is being saved or lost, who is chosen and who is “Left Behind.”  To truly inspire those who continue to inherit the earth Christians must show that they are not just in it for themselves, but like Jesus, are willing to serve others with God in their heart. 

God’s love is great, and no matter peoples’ perception of the Church, they hunger to be moved by its greatness.  Readers will find that THE UNDERGROUND CHURCH leads the way deep into the roots of Christ who continues to inspire those who believe, and that his subversive way of living is the path to redemption. 

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