The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus

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.”


[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)


‘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 it if you dare. Become part of the movement if you are daring.’ Archbishop Desmond Tutu –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Review & Commentary

2 thoughts on “The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus

  1. Review

    Review of Robin Meyers The Underground Church. (Wiley Publishing, 2011)
    By Jamie Spencer

    This fellow is a genuine radical. He is distressed (and that’s putting it mildly) at the condition of Christianity in America, and he is grieved especially at its departure from its and its founder’s vital practices and guiding spirit. As he says, rather daringly, “Gone is the radical hospitality that made the first Christians a smelly, chaotic, unruly ship of fools. Gone most of all is the joy.” He aims to get it back (his Mayflower UCC Church in Oklahoma City is a living work-in-progress) and his meaty book tries to show how. (He will have a further opportunity to spread the word at the prestigious 2013 Lyman Beecher Lecture at Yale University.) An equal-opportunity critic of both liberal and conservative theologians, he is most concerned to return to “The Way,” as the first Christians lived it, and to move away from doctrines incessantly taught and preached. Two millennia later, “We still argue endlessly over our precious doctrines in a perishing world.” What we need is deeds, not creeds.

    He reminds us that Mark’s Gospel (the earliest and thus most likely to be factual) reports that Jesus’ family considered him mad, given his life and mission. Meyers admires that subversive spirit he sees in Jesus and which he’d like the church to resume, to “see the Gospel as more dangerous than comforting.” Some have seen Christ’s cleansing of the Temple as a further sign of an unbalanced mind, but Meyers suggests that “it was his enraged final act of dissent against the corruption at [his faith’s] epicenter.” I agree. (I also agree—I teach English–with his recognition that the creators of the various gospels were “poets,” and their creations poetically imaginative. Creative original vision trumps directive doctrine.)

    A particular bête noire for Meyers is our militaristic American “Empire” whose evil effects he traces back to the man so many Christians actually celebrate, Constantine. His switch, and the enforced gathering at Nicaea, made us Christians “citizens of an earthly kingdom [whose] new constitution was a doctrinal formula, not an ethical imperative.” Meyers bridles at the sight of any church sanctuary that houses an American flag side by side with the cross. He asks, “How do we practice the radical nonviolence that gave birth to the church in a society that has institutionalized violence and glorified war?” Meyers calls Constantine’s adroit political maneuver our “third fall”—the first, Eden; the second, Israel’s decision to be ruled by kings. (For a brilliant study of Constantine, you could do no better than Charles Freeman’s The Closing of the Western Mind.)


    I unreservedly admire Meyers’ proclaimed mission. I am grateful for his incisive analysis of our church and nation. But I do have a quibble or two. He (rightly) condemns Fred Phelps Sr. for the loud, uncivil protests he organizes at military funerals, but I’d suggest that at least here is a man who is taking his faith to the streets and performing actions that spring from his Biblical understanding. Perhaps we could emulate his pro-active spiritual intensity while correcting his weak grasp of the Word.

    Similarly, in spite of his anti-imperial stance, Meyers has high praise for St. Joan of Arc. He brings her up to illustrate his low regard for a Church that required half a millennium to see that misguided sinner as a martyred saint.) The facts remains that Joan was put to death by the very young British Empire, for a life dedicated to inspiring her own nascent Empire, the French, to reclaim its lost glory.


    His later chapters set out in painstaking detail how this revived and revised church will address such vital matters as sex, money, war, family, women and the environment. His proposals are perfectly consonant with the principles Meyers has outlined in the early chapters and deserve careful study and active emulation. But I was especially moved by his account of the Mayflower community’s treatment of an autistic man. In spite of his behavioral tics and incessant verbal repetitions, he has been made a welcome member of that Beloved Community.

    Their welcoming inclusiveness serves as a defining behavior for what Robin Meyers wants our church to grow into–those loving and hospitable roots to which it must return.

  2. We forget how fast Christianity departed from the teachings of Jesus. It started with Paul around 50 CE who said that he wanted to know nothing but Christ crucified. By 100 the discussion in the Greek world was almost exclusively about the theology of who or what Jesus was, and any substantial discussions of his teachings or life were non existent. The Ebionite Jewish followers of Jesus did their best but their evangelism, requiring circumcision, was a hard sell to gentiles. So if we’re to build a church today based on Jesus’ teachings, which is a very good idea, we’re starting from scratch. The only churches that make an attempt to do that, as far as I know, are the New Thought denominations of Unity and Religious Science (now Centers for Spiritual Living).
    It’s important to remember that any mainline Nicene Creed church is fraudulent at its core. Its core theology (Trinity) is just made up stuff, as any study of the history of the first 500 years of Christianity clearly reveals. And it will be hard to wean them from that comforting illusion.

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