Book Review - Why We Love the Church
Church is out, spirituality is in. This is true outside Christians circles but, shockingly, it is true within as well. Recent years have seen a long succession of books talking of the revolution to come (or the revolution underway) which will see Christians abandon the institutional church in favor of expressions of the faith that are supposedly more pure. Christians meeting together in Starbucks in twos or threes, Christians meeting on park benches or around a backyard swimming pool. This, say some, is a true, pure, biblical expression of Christian community. It is in reaction to this kind of misinterpretation of Scripture that Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck have written, Why We Love the Church.
You may recognize DeYoung and Kluck as the men behind Why We’re Not Emergent, a book that won Christianity Today’s 2009 Book Award in the The Church/Pastoral Leadership category. In that first book they showed why they, though apparently prime candidates to follow along within the Emerging Church movement, had eschewed it in favor of a more traditional expression of the faith. This book is a follow-up, of sorts, offering the positive expression of what they declared negatively in the first book. We know that they are not Emergent and here we learn why they love the church. They follow the same pattern, writing completely separate chapters. DeYoung’s chapters are the more academic ones—providing the theological foundation. Kluck’s chapters, on the other hand, are less formal and more reflective. Both men are excellent writers who are adept at turning a phrase, making this a book that is just plain enjoyable to read.
The question will be asked: Is this as good, as enjoyable a book as Why We’re Not Emergent. I don’t think so; I don’t know that they quite recaptured the voice, the perspective they spoke from in the first book. Somehow it seems they were not able to duplicate the magic, the interplay between the two authors, that marked Why We’re Not Emergent. Yet Why We Love the Church is still plenty good in its own right.
The book, they say, is written for four kinds of people: the committed, the disgruntled, the waffling and the disconnected. For each of these people there will be value in reading the book and reflecting on the message it shares. When it comes to the disgruntled, the waffling and the disconnected, they offer four reasons, or perhaps four groups of reasons that people are disillusioned with the church: the missiological (the church is simply not fulfilling her God-given mission); the personal (the church is anti-women, anti-gay, hypocritical, etc); the historical (the church as we know it is a product of paganism, not Scripture); the theological (the church as an organization, institution, hierarchy, etc is foreign to the Bible). Throughout the book, DeYoung and Kluck respond to these people and respond to these reasons, always looking to Scripture, always seeking to provide a biblical understanding of who and what and why the church is.
There are two great strengths in this book. The first is in offering the biblical perspective on what God is doing through the church. The authors show how the church is central to all that God is doing in the world and prove well that without the church there is no Christianity. They take the historic view that participating in the church is normative for the Christian life—that under ordinary circumstances we should not expect a person who deliberately remains outside the visible church to be a true believer.
The second great strength is in responding to the tired but all-too-common arguments against organized religion or institutionalized church or whatever else people may wish to call it. They offer lines like this—ones well worth pondering: “It’s more than a little ironic that the same folks who want the church to ditch the phoney, plastic persona and become a haven for broken, imperfect sinners are ready to leave the church when she is broken, imperfect and sinful.” They do not allow such people to glamorize the early church, the New Testament church, as if she was a perfect, sinless expression of the Christian faith (haven’t these people read 1 Corinthians or the early chapters of Revelation?). They offer valuable responses to disillusionment based on historical hubris, church buildings and institutions and even the role of Christians in the Crusades—all of those arguments that tend to be passed along but without much thought and without ever verifying the claims. Just the response to these arguments is worth the price of the book.
If there is a weak point in Why We Love the Church, it has to be Chapter 6, titled “Snapshots.” Here Kluck offers brief interviews with various churched people. Not only does the chapter feel a little bit out of place, but it also focuses a lot of attention on Chuck Colson who, through his efforts with Evangelicals and Catholics Together, seeks to undermine much of what the church is. It is a strange diversion in an otherwise excellent book.
I had expected this book to be written from a fully positive perspective, which is to say it would be more proactive than reactive—that it would explain why these men love the church without reference to all of those who seem not to love her. Yet much of the book is a response to Leonard Sweet and William Young and George Barna and the other naysayers. In this way it did cement itself in my mind as a true sequel to Why We’re Not Emergent; where the first book reacted to the leaders of the emerging church, this one responds equally to those who would lead the charge away from the church altogether. Not surprisingly, some of the antagonists in the first book make appearances here as well. And so, if you are eager to read a response to this kind of reaction against the church or if you are looking for an apologetic as to why you ought to love and value and treasure the church, this is a book you will enjoy and a book that will benefit you. Read this book and I am confident that you will come to a deeper love, a deeper appreciation, of both Christ and his church.