“Anyone who loves the dream of community more than the Christian community itself
becomes a destroyer of the latter even though the devotion to the former is faultless
and the intentions may ever be so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, a pastor and writer team who had previously authored Why We’re Not Emergent, recently published the book Why We Love The Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. I read it a couple of days ago and can honestly say I don’t remember in quite some time a book as refreshing and hopeful as theirs. On the cover is a quote by the esteemed Dr. J.I. Packer who said of the book, “Bible-centered, God-centered. As I read, I wanted to stand up in cheer.” I totally agree. Often I found myself enthusiastically pumping my fist as the local church was portrayed by these two authors in her glorious colors.
Does the church mess up? Has she blown it here and there? Is she perfect? The reader knows the answers. And so do DeYoung and Kluck. However, unlike some, while refusing to paint the church in infallible hues, they do allow her to shine by simply reminding the reader who she is and what she has done not only from a biblical perspective but an historical one as well. This book was written because we live in a day where it’s cool for “Christian” authors to critique (or for some, bash) the local church in order to prop up their own way faith should be lived out, but DeYoung notes, “we need to think more carefully about the critiques.” The intent of this more careful approach is to “provide some much needed balance and nuance.” In my opinion, mission accomplished. With playful wit and sensible reasoning, DeYoung and Kluck do a fantastic job showing how the church, amidst her problems, is still the hope of the world.
Something else strikes me about this book. It’s funny. As I was reading I found myself doing something I rarely do when I read – laughing. Often I would laugh out loud with their playful parodies and descriptions of both Christian leaders and laypeople’s approach life and faith. For example, in demonstrating how Apple’s marketing has played off the bent most of us have for not wanting to submit to any kind of authority (another strike against the church), Kluck writes:
The idea is that if you buy a Mac, you’ll be the slender guy in the coffee shop arranging all his video clips into a short film with music that takes the Telluride Film Festival by storm, rips through Cannes, and then wins an Oscar, at which ceremony you’ll step out of an eco-friendly Toyota Prius with a real, live Hollywood starlet on your arm. Flashbulbs popping. The young auteur. In reality, most of us just use our Macs to surf the Internet and send e-mails. (64-65)
In the words of the not-as-esteemed Larry the Cable Guy, “I don’t care who you are. That’s funny!” But the humor isn’t just for funny-sake. It’s for drilling down into some of the reasons many erroneously think the way they do about church. Something Why We Love The Church does well again and again. Take Kevin DeYoung on the penchant for our Bradgelina-esque, short-sightedness when it comes to change:
What the church and the world needs from us, we imagine, is to be another Bono – Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church. As great as it is for Bono using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos. With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the praise team every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income? (223)
(Oh, DeYoung and Kluck, you had me at “hello.”)
In the end, you realize its easy for us to take pop shots at the church from the cheap seats when most of what we know about the issues originate from books written by people with an agenda to pass, a survey to promote or a program to push. DeYoung and Kluck do an admirable job exposing some of the conclusions from more well-known critics (e.g., Barna, Viola, MacLaren) while holding the banner for the Church Historic – one that is both organism AND organization. Again, I wanted just as much to applaud as to turn the page. So…
If you struggle with the church, read this book.
If you struggle finding a church, read this book.
If you don’t like organized religion, read this book.
If you like Jesus but not his people, read this book.
If you think the “house church” movement is the only way to go, read this book.
If you think the church should be all about social justice, read this book.
If you think the church need to be revolutionized, read this book.
If you the church is on its last leg in America, read this book.
If you love the church, read this book.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m so fired up I think I’ll put the computer down and applaud…