UPDATE 2: Note that the comments below lost their threading when kinnon.tv was transferred from TypePad to WordPress – making them occasionally confusing.
UPDATED: Worth reading in light of this post (or not in light of this post), Brian Auten @ the BHT, the iMonk’s post that is partially a response to this one and Frank Turk’s series on not leaving church. (And I’ve removed a few “approvingly” adverbs, from the original post.)
I was contacted by Moody Publishers a while back to see if I was interested in reviewing Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck’s Why We Love the Church. I said yes. (More on that later.) Before I begin the review, let me quote a little advice on book reviewing.
Over the years, I have come to find writing book reviews even more distasteful than reading them. Part of this is my own fault, for being one of those old-fashioned holdouts who still believes that you should actually read the book before reviewing it.
Sometimes I am only into the first 20 pages of a 500-page book when it becomes painfully clear that this one is a real dog. The rest of the ordeal is like crossing the Sahara Desert—except that often there are no oases. True, the reviewer gets to slaughter the author in print at the end of it all, but this merely appeases the desire for revenge, which only real blood would satisfy.
I think the writer might be a little over the top in his 2nd graf, though he does make a point.
Reading DeYoung and Kluck’s book to the very end (Page 234), I was reminded of a scene in the first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spielberg shot a large portion of the movie in Tunisia. Most of the crew & cast came down with dysentery. On the day Harrison Ford was to shoot a fight scene – Indy’s whip against a giant’s sword, Ford suggested a rewrite – as he was rather ill. After shooting only a few segments of the scene, Ford suggested, “What don’t I just shoot the bastard?” (Apparently Ford was aware the sword-wielding giant had been born out of wedlock.)
After forcing my way through all 234 pages of this book, I’m sorely tempted to follow Ford’s suggestion. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll follow DeYoung’s advice – at least the advice he quotes from Thomas Sowell – found in this post’s first quote on book reviewing, above.
Challies nails the book when he says this,
…much of the book is a response to Leonard Sweet and William Young and George Barna and the other naysayers.
If you’re Young, Restless, Truly Reformed and in need of cheap cuts of red meat, then this book is for you. On page 208, DeYoung states, “This book has been an attempt to develop, in a pastorally sensitive and culturally savvy way (edit) a more thoughtful, biblically robust, and historically rooted ecclesiology.” To which I would respond in the language of my 20-something sons, “epic fail.”
Rather than a thoughtful and engaging book on Christ and His Church, this book’s title could just as easily have been “Why We Love Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them.” Kluck and DeYoung (who write separate chapters in the book) both quote this verse and approvingly quote other writers who say things like, “Without church membership there’s no place for the important role of church discipline (page 162).” My note scrawled in the margin screams “versus discipleship?”
DeYoung/Kluck have read lots of books on the disaffection of many Christians with the Institutional Church (see page 222) but rather than actually speaking to one or two, they instead create the straw man, Disgruntled Johnny (Page 23). It’s so much easier to create a character you can make fun of – rather than listening to flesh and blood folk from a wide cross section of the church who have left the IC. (DeYoung/Kluck might have attempted communication with a number of the voices in the People Formerly Known As the Congregation meme from 2007. But that would have required listening to people who didn’t fit their stereotype.)
DeYoung/Kluck’s notoriety came from their first book, Why We’re Not Emergent. I haven’t read it. Nor do I now have any plans to do so. But this new book, apparently, continues in the same vein. DeYoung appears to be making a second career out of being anti-emerging. His first career is as Reverend Kevin of the Bible Rust Belt’s East Lansing University Reformed Church.
When I first read this, it tipped my already leaning inclination to be highly annoyed at needless stereotyping and dividing of the Christian family by things that are neither significant nor truly divisive, but simply are the perceptions and caricatures of one team over another. We’ve come to the point where portraying emergent Christians as “useless idiots” is an approved form of bigotry…
In keeping with his anti-emerging second career, earlier this year RevKev had a bit of a set-to with Tony Jones over comments RevKev made about Shane Claiborne (and Doug Pagitt – who according to the reports of statements made by RevKev, “is in no recognizable way a Christian.”. For the record, I’m not a particular fan of Jones or Pagitt – but as a wise South African friend once said to me, “there’s only room for one person on the Judgment seat of God – and that person ain’t you.”) Regarding Clairborne, DeYoung opined,
…my beef with Shane Claiborne (is) that it gets to be sort of pseudo-Marxist, liberation theology lite without a robust doctrine of gospel reconciliation.
Unfortunately, RevKev had never read Claiborne nor spoke with him. His opinions were probably based on memes from within his TR tribe – opinions somewhat moderated when he was shamed into speaking with Claiborne directly. According to Jones, RevKev neither confirms nor denies the Pagitt comment.
Following the natural path of unrestrained hubris, RevKev recently decided to take on the theology of the Bishop of Durham, NT Wright, and Wright’s book on Justification. Kevin’s rapier-edged wit sees him title his final post of three on Wright, Flying Monkeys and the New Perspective. A note to RevKev; if you’re going to attempt to hunt Theological Big Game, you need to pack more than the rhetorical equivalent of an Airsoft Pistol. I’m just saying.
Now RevKev wants to protect you from thinking that might upset your theological apple cart. He wouldn’t want you confused by theological opinions that differ from his own. As he suggests when he says this about Wright’s book,
Too many dangerous spots to recommend except to those already well-grounded in the doctrines of justification, imputation, and faith alone.
That’s right kids, RevKev will tell you what you should and should not read. No reason to think for yourselves. Which leads me back to the book. It feels like DeYoung/Kluck have stepped out of the 50′s where Father Knows Best. (A quote from page 169, “Mom and Dad make the rules, with Dad leading the way.”) Pastors are shepherds, pew-fodder are sheep. And we all know what happens if sheep aren’t properly led and disciplined. They leave to gather together at Starbucks – which can in no way represent the “visible church”, of course.
And, since you are probably confused on this, the church really is a building. Because the building houses the “visible church.” Which leads me to ask the question, if the church people are inside the church building, how are they visible exactly?
On page 121, DeYoung seems to think he’s making an argument-winning statement about church buildings and the complaints of many of the dechurched about said buildings,
Here’s the bottom line: The whole conversation about church buildings is much ado about nothing. (It is interesting that DeYoung uses a Shakespearean quote from a play that deals with love and deception – deception mainly on the part of the male sex – Shakespeare taking a shot at the patriarchal society in which he lived. But I won’t bother chasing that rabbit right now.)
Really Kevin?! Is it really, “Much Ado About Nothing”?! In 2006, the American church owed 28 billion dollars in mortgages, loans and church bonds; this figure only a small part of the what’s been spent on churches in the U.S. It is commonly acknowledged that the average church in America spends 85% of its budget on it’s building and staff. Is this really “much ado about nothing.” Hardly! And contrary to Kevin’s assertions, most churches are only used to partially-full capacity a few hours a week. (Although most church staff I know are over-utilized.)
Kevin’s opinion on church buildings, is just that, opinion. It fits his world view. He doesn’t engage the arguments of church-leavers – he simply attempts to make their arguments appear irrelevant. And no doubt his TR base eats it up.
But let’s get back to the underlying theme of DeYoung/Kluck’s book, the overarching stupidity of Emergents, church-leavers and missional folk. With his vast knowledge, DeYoung categorically states that “Emergents, church-leavers and the missional folks have a vision for a planet without mourning, crying or pain (Rev 21:4).”(He means they think they can do this in their lifetime.) How does he know this? Did he hire Barna to do a poll? Or is this just RevKev’s assertion that Disgruntled Johnny et al are biblically illiterate. I know more than a few missional folk who are abundantly aware of the brokenness of creation and who look forward to the new heaven and the new earth. This doesn’t stop them from having both a hope and an expectation that Christians can and should be impacting the planet for good. What a bunch of ninnies, eh!
You may have noted by now that I really haven’t said anything about Kluck, the Laurel to DeYoung’s Hardy. Kluck is particularly taken with their new found notoriety – mentioning it many times. He loves sports metaphors. His comments on his wife’s inability to conceive and their not homeschooling their two children reveal more than I’m sure he intends to about their church culture. (Though I do appreciate Ted’s positive comments about Tim Horton’s.) Kluck even manages to upset Challies by interviewing Chuck Colson, “who, through his efforts with Evangelicals and Catholics Together, seeks to undermine much of what the church is.” Challies statement perfectly encapsulates the DeYoung/Kluck world of the TRs.
Kluck is the cheerleader for DeYoung. He loves that RevKev spends 20 hours a week preparing his sermons. And like Kevin, he seems to enjoy taking shots at McLaren, Bell, Sweet et al. (Guys, after a while, isn’t this like shooting fish in a barrel.) And Kluck is not afraid of using timeworn clichés like his ‘letter to his five year old son’ which really is a letter to you, dear reader. It just makes it easy to excuse Kluck’s patronizing tone.
Not surprisingly, I guess, I find Jesus strangely absent from much of this book. Oh sure, He appears occasionally here and there – whatever proof-texting references necessary to support DeYoung/Kluck’s thesis that Jesus was all about the Institutional Church. But, since DeYoung/Kluck resist the Kingdom of God arguments of their emergent targets, it’s best to ignore the fact that (according to my friend, Jonathan Brink) the word church only appears twice in the Gospels, whilst the word kingdom appears 116 times. We wouldn’t want Jesus’ words to screw up our carefully crafted arguments, now would we.
And just when I think DeYoung is going to say that the cure for the church’s ills is a return to its first love, Jesus, he says instead that the hope for the church is a return to the doctrine of original sin – which, in his TULIP way, he conflates with Total Depravity (Page 208).
(I should note that I do believe in original sin, I believe that the world is broken because we broke it and I believe that our sinful natures are the primary cause for the problems in this world. I believe our free will has caused us to make choices that infect and affect our family, friends, neighbours and the planet. I do not believe in a God who foreordains every action, but in a God who is not surprised by anything. As an example, the collapse of the I35 bridge in Minneapolis/St. Paul was not part of God’s sovereign plan – no matter what Piper told his young daughter.)
DeYoung/Kluck are the young celebrities of the Truly Reformed book audience. They are content to splash and scream in their end of the theological swimming pool. The rest of us are idiots for swimming where we choose to swim. (Of course, DeYoung/Kluck were predestined to be in the correct end of the pool where the water is perfectly clear.)
There is much more that I could write, but I’ve already written more than I intended. In a future post, I will make the connections to Clay Shirky, Bruce Medina, Umair Haque et al that I intended for this post. (As I mentioned previously.)
We live in a liminal space in the church. Whether or not everything must change, everything is changing.
The way we gain real access to people’s minds and hearts is being altered so quickly that only those who are doing evangelism in the trenches seem to recognize the real significance and power of this hyper-change.
John quotes former Navigator’s President Alan Andrews,
In my opinion the time has come to do church differently. I am convinced that we must shift our focus from highly programmed ministry to developing Missional / Transformational Communities that are formed as a seamless organic whole. These types of communities are rare and difficult to visualize because we have moved so forcefully to programmatic ministry in the last half of the previous century. . . . Now the climate in America has begun to shift. Much of the culture is beginning to look for integrity and wholeness. Many people are coming from broken backgrounds with deep wounds in their souls. They long for something that provides real relationships, something that provides integration for their lives, and something that fills the longings of their soul. In short, though they are not aware of it, they seek the whole Gospel for their whole lives.
Jesus did not come to found a religious organization. He came to found a missionary movement that would spread to the ends of the earth.
Christianity conquered the Roman world without an organizational structure, without access to significant resources, without academic institutions, and without a professionalized clergy. Ordinary people, on fire with the love of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, told their families, friends, and casual acquaintances what God had done for them.
For a movement to grow rapidly it has to spread both within social networks and between social networks.
Jesus turned individual encounters into opportunities to touch whole social networks. The Gerasene demoniac begged Jesus to be allowed to join his band of disciples. Instead, Jesus told him to go home and tell his family what God had done.
My friend, Ed Stetzer, says this about the book
Steve casts a compelling future vision by tracing God¹s discernible lessons demonstrated in movements. He taps into the heart hunger of the growing number of us that want to see God do something great.
I look forward to reviewing the book myself – which leads back to the opening comment that I said I’d get to later. I won’t be reviewing anymore books that I haven’t chosen myself. If publishers wish to send me a book, that will be their choice. I will no longer agree to review what’s has been sent – unless I feel it’s worthwhile. Had I not agreed to review Why We Love the Church, I would not have. DeYoung/Kluck will not easily be ever again on my reading list – which was predestined by my reading this book of theirs.
And if you’re looking for reformed writers that are a little more irenic in their writing while not afraid of being strong, please read my friends, Darryl Dash, the aforementioned Ed Stetzer and John Armstrong, Dan MacDonald (who has just begun blogging, at last) and, of course, Jared Wilson. (Whose book I managed to leave in the city – and which I genuinely look forward to reading. As noted in an earlier post, the iMonk raved about Jared’s book.)
Please also make a point of reading this post from Michael Spencer, Checking the Pulse of the Post-Evangelical Conversation in Three Manifestos, which I believe to be an important comment on where we find ourselves now.