Selling Water by the River

Until recently Shane Hipps was the teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church, a role he held for several years with Rob Bell.  In May he announced that he too is leaving Mars Hill, but it is through his work at Mars Hill and with Rob Bell that he is best known.

At the Wild Goose Festival Jericho Books was giving out advance proofs of Shane’s new book Selling Water by the River, which is scheduled to be released this Fall.  While under no obligation to do so, those who took the books were encouraged to review them after reading them.  Having finished Shane’s book last week, I offer these thoughts about it.

Subtitled “A book about the life Jesus promised and the religion that gets in the way,” this isn’t a book for folks who object to Christian critiques of Christianity.  Like his more-famous former co-pastor, Hipps has a gift for disentangling the beautiful way of following Jesus from the centuries of cultural and institutional baggage that so often obscure that way.  Hipps contrasts Jesus (the “river”) with Christianity (which he likens to selling water by the river)–insisting that it is the former, not the later, to which we should give our devotion. Here’s a taste:

We must be careful not to confuse Christ with Christianity.  One is the river; the other sells water by the river.  Christ is the river; the Christian religion attempts to package and provide access to water that is readily available to anyone at anytime.  Often the merchant gets in the way of the water it wants to provide.  Ironically, the religion that proclaims Jesus sometimes builds big barriers to him.

I suspect the book originated in sermons, as it is composed of part biblical teaching, part personal vignettes and part application.  It is the fresh perspectives on scripture that are the gems here. His look at the significance of the story of Jesus turning water into wine by itself makes the book worthwhile.

Selling Water by the River is a quick read.  There are no footnotes and there is no bibliography.  I would’ve prefered more analysis of the Biblical texts.  But Hipps is seeking a popular audience and although this book won’t make the kind of splash Rob Bell made with his books (yes I know he must grow very weary of the comparisons to Rob Bell) it should be well-received by those who are seeking to better follow Jesus, and who are sincerely wondering how much the institutional church is helping.

It seems to me that in our postmodern times, more and more folks are prefering the river to the water sellers.  It is with these folks that Shane Hipps, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and others like them will continue to resonate.

Love Wins

10 comments on “Selling Water by the River

  1. shoreacres says:

    I confess I haven’t much trouble with religion. We all have to incarnate our faith one way or another – some choose the community church with well-known hymns and Bible study, others find sacramental worship more able to touch their hearts.

    But for some years now I’ve drawn a distinction between religion and the institutional church. I’ve had a chance to see the workings of the institutional church up-close-and-personal, and I think the image of water-sellers perfect. They’re everywhere – in personality-centered independent congregations, in the megachurches, in the Vatican, in the urban headquarters of mainline denominations.

    I have a friend whose book discussion group likes to tackle such topics. I’m going to recommend this one to her.


  2. shoreacres says:

    I just found the Wendell Berry poem. Wonderful, and I assume the source for your blog title.


  3. The danger of institutionalizing spiritual truth is illustrated by this story:

    “One day the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street.They saw ahead a man stooping down and picking something from the street. The man looked at it and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, ‘What did that man pick up?’ ‘He picked up a piece of the Truth,’ said the devil.’ That is very bad business for you, then,’ said his friend. ‘Oh, not all,’ the devil replied. ‘I am going to let him organize it.'”

    ~ Matt


    • Bill says:

      That’s a great story Matt. Thanks for sharing it! I struggle with the temptation to be hypercritical of well-intentioned “organized religion” as much as I struggle with trying to separate religion and God. I think Shoreacres has a good point in the first comment.

      “Peace of Wild Things” is one of my favorite poems too.


      • You’re welcome, Bill.

        I share the same struggle, too. As a lay missionary for many years, I’ve seen and experienced first hand the negative effects of organized religion.It is for this reason that I had to separate myself from an organized spiritual group in my church. It was, least to say, a painful experience, because I was part of this group for almost 20 years. I had the sense, though, not to identify the organization with God, which allowed me to keep my faith in God intact.

        I guess, the important thing is to distinguish the unhealthy and life-denying aspects of religion from its healthy and positive elements. It is also important to let our conscience be the ultimate guide, rather than some person or institution, in matters of faith and morals.

        ~ Matt


  4. […] (tie).  Selling Water By the River.  My review of Shane Hipps’ book, from September, 2012.  This is the only repeat from last […]


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