My friend, fellow Torontonian and grace-filled blogger, Darryl Dash (aka Triple D) on his Google Reader link blog pointed to this post from Kevin DeYoung, Missional Misfire. It would seem that Reverend Kevin is not enamoured with Reggie McNeal’s new book, Missional Renaissance.
I found it amusing, as Darryl’s link blog posts show up in my Google Reader feed, that this post from Len Hjalmarson, Church Leavers, appeared shortly after Darryl’s link post. Len (who mentions a different Reggie McNeal book, The Present Future) and I would tend to be more in agreement as to how we view the church and her leadership. (Though Len is much more intelligent in how he expresses himself.) And that view would be significantly different from DeYoung’s.
I pointed both these posts out in a Tweet yesterday, prompting this Tweet response (in part) from JR Rozko, “DY needs to get out more.” Dan Gouge, like Triple D, another Toronto buddy of mine, responded to my Tweet with his blog post, Kevin DeYoung’s Bunker Mentality.
DeYoung (says) that the church was “more than a ‘way of life’ for the first 300 years of its existence.” Why calling Christianity a “way of life” is a horrible thing is never explained. Most of what one reads in the New Testament seems to imply that Christianity will – however you explain it – change the way in which one lives. For DeYoung this appears to be a threat to the institutional structure of church which is apparently really, really important to him.
I have yet to read anyone involved in the missional church movement insist that they are anti-institutional to the extent that DeYoung implies that they are – from his description they are all anarchists. Actually they are more radical than anarchists, since anarchists actually do form limited, voluntary institutions, such as bike repair shops. Many of them seem less committed to preserving institutional super-structures, titles, and positions that DeYoung so clearly cherishes, prepared instead to have less formalized structures of Christian community. Unfortunately for DeYoung, it seems as though he cannot stomach any serious critique of the institutional church in North America circa 2010. Instead he feels compelled to defend a structure that is surely at partially culturally contingent. (How else does one explain all the various forms of church organization that have developed in different times and places?)
DeYoung has made a name for himself as one of the published voices of what Collin Hansen has called the Young, Restless and Reformed. He and his congregant & co-writer, Ted Kluck have had the Emergent Church in their cross hairs for a while now – with Kluck continuing the franchise – recently co-writing Kinda Christianity with Zach Bartels – what I might call a “why bother” satire of BMcL’s latest opus. (McL needs no help in making himself look silly, I’m afraid. The anti-Christian comments McL’s Puffington post prompts speak volumes on his progressive influence.)
Late last summer I wrote a rather scathing review of DeYoung’s and Kluck’s second book together, Why We Love the Church. In that post, I wrote,
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.)
Reverend Kevin’s post continues in the same vein as that book. He accuses McNeal of “Sloganeering” as he states categorically,
We need to put to rest the mantra: we don’t go to church, we are the church (45, 19). Membership is New Testament language (1 Cor. 12:12-20) and so is the language of coming together as a church (1 Cor. 11:18). Going to church is biblical. Being a member is biblical. Discipline is biblical (1 Cor. 5). Church oversight is biblical (Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:17). Submitting to your leaders is biblical, and so is making the care of church members a serious priority (Heb. 13:17). Let’s not spur on mission by stomping all over ecclesiology.
Umm, “we don’t go to church, we are the church” isn’t a mantra nor is it sloganeering – it’s actually the truth, Kevin. “Going to church” rather than “being the church” is one of the defining problems of the Church in the West.
Further, I must confess that I find DeYoung’s unpacking of Paul’s description of the Body of Christ in 1st Corinthians 12 as being about “church membership” dangerously close to eisegesis – if not, in fact, an example of it. To dumb down the rather glorious description of the church as a fully functioning body, to a 20th Century understanding of “church membership” is beneath DeYoung’s intelligence, education and gifting as a writer. Eugene Peterson’s rendering of the text stands in stark contrast to DeYoung’s eisegetical attempt to use it as a proof text for his point,
A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.
But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?
And the rest of the DeYoung’s proof text examples are understood through his particular ecclesiastical world view. His emphasis on authority, discipline and church member submission is an apt portrayal of much of what leadership looks like in the Western Church (and Western-influenced church). Pastors and elders rule and reign. You do not hear Matthew 20:25-28 properly exegeted from the pulpits of these leaders – if it’s even mentioned. From their apparent perspective, the problem(s) with the church is that people won’t just “do as their told.” If they would, then the kingdom might come in fullness. But whose kingdom, many of us ask? (David Hayward’s cartoons ask this better than anyone else in my not humble but accurate opinion.)
Now I need to say that I don’t believe for a minute that Kevin DeYoung is a bad guy or any more evil than the rest of us (and probably much less evil than your humble writer here). I believe that he is simply a product of the church environment in which he’s been raised. His understanding of church leadership has been formed by the CEO leadership style of the Western Church. And he reacts to the “missional movement” from that perspective.
And to be fair, I don’t think DeYoung is out of line when he says, “the anti-institution bent is ahistorical and unrealistic.” Too many missional commentators want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Though I believe that there are huge problems with the present Institutional Church, I’m not quite prepared to throw it under the bus and attempt to return to some 21st Century rendition of the 1st Century church. Which, if I read Scripture correctly, appears to be just as screwed up as the present model(s) of church. (Shall we take a brief look at the church in Corinth, anyone.)
However, where DeYoung wants to emphasize discipline and submission to leaders, I think we need to once again seriously look at Jesus words at the end of Matthew, where we are called to make disciples of all the peoples of the earth – baptizing and teaching them all the things Jesus taught his disciples.
How did Jesus make disciples?
He was with them daily for three years. He walked with them, opened the scriptures to them, showed them the Kingdom come, corrected them, strongly expressed his anger with them, laughed with them, was profoundly hurt by them, yet never stopped loving them. He did not spend twenty hours a week preparing a 40 minute sermon to preach at them, having them sit in straight rows staring up at him whilst they wondered what was for lunch.
He poured out his life in service to them, that they, when filled with the Holy Spirit would pour out their lives in service to others. Yes he spoke to crowds. Some of them huge. Yet his life was focused on a very small band of followers – primarily his disciples.
The relationships that Jesus had with his disciples and people like Mary Magdalene and the siblings, Mary, Martha and Lazarus – is how Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, laid the foundation for his church. He did it in deep relationship with a small group of people he called friends. People who would not necessarily have been friends with each other without Jesus calling them – his calling transcended their differences – which it still does.
I am convinced that the healthy church going forward will be a church that disciples. Not discipleship in a classroom setting, but discipleship that see us living out our lives in deep relationship with others. As we are discipled and disciple, we will naturally and infectiously teach others to disciple. And I need to stress that that discipleship will need to include effective catechesis as we finally recognize how the present church is functionally illiterate when it comes to church history and a basic understanding of scripture. Discipleship will also include those “baptized” and those with no understanding of their need of baptism, yet.
This is the call to be missionaries to a post-Christendom culture – the missional call.
Those who hang on to a Christendom understanding of church along with a 20th Century understanding of church leadership will find their world becoming progressively smaller – no matter how young and restless they may now be.
Aside: I have been remiss in not pointing to Barb Orlowski’s book, Spiritual Abuse Recovery – a book based on Barb’s research for her Doctorate. It’s an important book for all of us to read – and would be particularly helpful for people like Kevin DeYoung to help them understand how the church leadership heresy of command and control has damaged and, in some cases, destroyed people.
From the publisher:
This book offers a thoughtful look at the topic of spiritual recovery from clergy abuse through the eyes of those who have experienced it. It invites church leaders to consider this very real dysfunction in the Church today and aims to demonstrate a path forward to greater freedom in Christ after a season of disillusionment with church leadership.