Pure Scum: the Left-Behind, the Right Brained, and the Grace of God by Mike Sares – Book Review

Posted By Greg Michalec on Jun 21, 2016

Reviewing  Pure Scum: the Left-Out, the Right Brained, and the Grace of God  by Mike Sares (foreword by Reese Roper)

Book info
Title:Pure Scum: the Left-Out, the Right-Brained and the Grace of God
Author:Mike Sares, Reese Roper
Publisher:IVP Books
Published Date:April 3, 2010
Originally Published Date:2010
Find it on:Amazon

Quick Take

Don’t be put off by the title. If you are, you’ll miss out on a surprisingly thoughtful narrative of how a small church in Denver–often with nontraditional methods–serves as the hands and feet of Christ. If you’re a Five Iron Frenzy fan, there’s also some illuminating material about how the church’s growth coincided with the ska band’s growth. This is a challenging and illuminating look at gritty, in-the-trenches ministry right here in the States.


Notable Quotes

“Through the Holy Spirit I was able to hear God’s voice–not in this case, audibly or even almost audibly, but I felt a definite impression in my soul. We, as God’s children, know when to shift and when to stay the course by listening for our Father’s voice. That takes training. The place to start to learn God’s voice is in the Bible.” – Mike Sares, Pure Scum

“We need to relax enough to see what God is up to, but at the same time, be open to whatever it is he wants us to do. There are changes we can make while experiencing the support of God. It is not one or the other, but both…Being a follower of Jesus is an exercise in this kind of paradox: of treading water, of swimming, or of allowing ourselves to be carried away by the strong current of God’s Spirit. It’s this sort of exhilarating life that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 4, the passage from which our church gets its name.” – Mike Sares,  Pure Scum


My Thoughts

This is the story of Mike Sares and Scum of the Earth Church (SOTEC), a Denver based church that, as is told, was the main home church of Five Iron Frenzy during much of their heyday. For fans of the band, there are several interesting background stories here, but this is much more than a FIF documentary.

The church name, based on 1 Corinthians 4:13, is certainly attention-grabbing and indicative of its outside-the-typical-Christian-box approach to church. This book relates the mindset and very intentional decisions behind the formation of the church. Some of the SOTEC decisions spring from a (self-aware) wariness of the modern suburban American church, and–right or wrong–are a good challenge to those of us who tend to reside on the clean, by-the-book side of the fence.

These Jon Foreman lyrics from his song “Patron Saint of Rock and Roll” are an apt description of what Scum of the Earth is completely committed NOT to be.

There’s a park downtown
Where the homeless get ignored,
Where the church next door is a crowd
Singing “Blessed are the poor,”
Where the mercedes drive away
Muttering, “druggies, drunks, and whores”
Where the bumper sticker displays
“My co-pilot is the Lord”

– Jon Foreman, “Patron Saint of Rock and Roll”

SOTEC practices what it preaches, with an active and flourishing ministry to the homeless and hurting. Mike Sares is refreshingly transparent with his own struggles in pastoring a church that is often extremely messy, dealing with problems that many churches don’t have to (or want to) deal with. Attending a goth nightclub to help a new believer share with his friends? Approving the sharing of a powerful personal testimony in church that contains a few f-bombs? The stories here are numerous.

One theme I was struck by is how pervasive the effects of habitual, unchecked vices in someone’s life can be and how destructive they are. It’s perhaps more noticeable in the alcoholic who has drunk himself into a unresponsive stupor and is lying under a park bench. It’s easy to critique and create a whole background narrative which probably includes accusations of lack of self-control and lack of personal responsibility. But to again reference the Jon Foreman lyrics, is the opposing “look-down-your-nose” attitude to that “drunk” any better? 

Multiple times throughout the book I did ponder the relationship between 1 Samuel 16:7 (“…for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart”), 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (“…abstain from all appearance of evil”), and Ephesians 5:11 (“…we take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness”). Where does the church’s responsibility lie in addressing superficial matters such as risqué metal band t-shirts worn in church? What about when they have been drawn in by the grace of God but are continuing to engage in an activity that is can only be hurtful to themselves? What about when they have rejected God in the past because every church they have ever attended has only told them what they should not do? And finally, how does a call to holiness and continued renewal to be like Christ fit in with all this?

Regardless of whether or not you agree with all of SOTEC’s ministry philosophies (their theology is solid), you can’t deny God’s hand at work here through this church. A book which will stretch your thoughts, in a good way.

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