On Monday’s blog, I talked about misrepresentations. It was the prelude to yesterday’s post and today’s post.
Today’s post features an analysis written by Eric Hilliard (one of Amazon’s most sophisticated book reviewers) on the book WHY WE LOVE THE CHURCH by DeYoung/Kluck.
(Incidentally, one of my most popular articles is entitled WHY I LOVE THE CHURCH.)
Eric’s analysis is powerful and bristles with seminal insights.
Trying to Force a Shoe That Doesn’t Fit by Eric Hilliard
I haven’t written a formal book review in quite a while, but felt compelled to concerning the book “Why We Love The Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. The editorial description reads as follows:
“Why We Love the Church” presents the case for loving the local church. It paints a picture of the local church in all its biblical and real life guts, gaffes, and glory in an effort to edify local congregations and entice the disaffected back to the fold. It also provides a solid biblical mandate to love and be part of the body of Christ and counteract the “leave church” books that trumpet rebellion and individual felt needs.
I would be curious to know just how many of those the authors label “disaffected” who have read the book have been “enticed back into the fold.” When it comes to “institutional church” within the sense that most Westerners understand it, there is no doubt that God works through it. However, many times the good is enemy of the best, and I believe the organic church model is the best of the good-versus-best scenario. Now that you know where I’m coming from, I’ll get onto the book review and some of the issues I had with the way the authors were posing their arguments.
First, some general observations about the book and the authors… DeYoung and Kluck’s previous contribution to Christian literary works was “Why We’re Not Emergent”. I didn’t read that book, but basically it’s a book about how the emergent movement is wrong and they’re right. They followed up that work with the current one about how those who seek Jesus outside of the “four walls” are wrong and that their way is right. I will give the authors credit in that they actually talk about this in the book and how they were reluctant to do two books like that back-to-back, but they wrote them nonetheless. I understand where they are coming from in their desire to write the book, but unfortunately they write off the faith of others as somehow weaker than their own because of the context in which they worship.
In addition to the write off of faith outside the institution, it would seem the authors think they have it all figured out on the type of person who they would label a “leaver.” The authors begin the introduction with a Mad Lib that breaks down all the reasons why people “leave the church.” (at least, of course, all of the reasons they think someone would leave). I’m sure there are some who would fit the bill for their Mad Lib, but that’s a shoe that doesn’t fit me, and as such I felt it was a tad smarmy and arrogant to think that they had everyone, including me, pegged. I think they would have been better off not trying to fit everyone into their neat little categories. That does a good job of keeping those agreeing with you buying your books so they can continue to feel like part of the club, but it’s a poor way to start a book by insinuating to the readers that you already have them figured out.
Before I get into some of the specifics of the book, I’d like to make one last general observation in their taking to task of the book Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. Many of their arguments fall to pieces when viewed through the light of Viola’s follow-up work, Reimagining Church, which was released in 2008. I can’t help but believe it is no matter of coincidence that the authors chose to make their arguments based on an incomplete picture of organic church (at least in terms of their references to Viola’s work) so as to make their arguments appear more valid and strong. Pagan Christianity explores the roots of contemporary practices, whereas Reimagining Church gives a fuller of picture of the vibrancy of life as the Church within an organic setting in today’s world. In a way, it was as if the authors were saying, “Look at this rotten apple,” even though they were pointing to an orange.
Getting into the main chapters of the book, I’ll first comment on some points of agreement with the authors. I’m not a fan of the “Gospel According to _____________” type books — be it according to Starbucks, The Lord of The Rings, Star Wars, etc. So on that point we can agree. I also don’t think two guys golfing on a Sunday morning talking about football is “church” (not that there is anything wrong with golfing or talking about football). We do however need to “be the church” in those places and be about Kingdom business seeking to do what we “see the Father doing.” I also agree with the nonsense of apologizing for something done a year ago, hundreds, or thousands of years ago if I didn’t do it. Whether it’s the crusades or some other type of oppression I wasn’t involved in, there is no point in me apologizing for it.
The first few chapters seem to address some surface-type issues that, in their minds, are the reasons why people leave the institutional church. Again, I had a really hard time connecting with these little minor issues they were insisting were the reasons people were “walking out on the church.” It seemed through much of the book they were trying to put a shoe on my foot that just didn’t fit. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who feels that way who has read the book. The problem is that I doubt the authors would have an issue with a person leaving one church building to start attending a service at another church building. For some reason they seem very attached to brick and mortar with a cross stuck on top, but feel that real vibrant faith cannot take place within a tight-knit community that, say, meets in someone’s home.
My biggest beef with the book probably comes in chapter 5 with their break down of 1 Corinthians 14. This is proof-texting at its finest and completely ignores the surrounding context, or even the completion of Paul’s thoughts concerning the gatherings and everyone being an active participant. When I hit this point of the book I almost stopped reading it. I have little patience for manipulation of the text in such gross manner. There was proof-texting in other areas of the book as well, but this was just beyond belief. I had a really hard time taking anything the authors said seriously after that point. Perhaps they weren’t expecting people to actually look up the biblical references they were citing.
Chapter 7 of the book would likely have been sent to the shredder if the authors had attempted to take on the positions in Viola’s Reimagining Church. There’s really not a whole lot worth commenting on as their view of organic church is flawed to such an extent that I simply don’t have the time to break it all down. My suggestion is to pick up a copy of Reimagining Church, read it, and then re-read Why We Love The Church (especially chapter 7) and see if their arguments really hold any water.
I don’t think they do. It is also interesting to note that the authors did not visit one organic church, and they didn’t interview anyone they would classify as a “church leaver.” It seems like that is something you would want to do when writing a book of this nature.
Overall, I agreed with the authors on some level, but certainly nowhere near the majority of the time. I found their arguments to be heavily based on proof-texting, which in my opinion is worse than straw-man arguments, and is something they stated they wished to avoid. Out of five stars I give it one.