The Biblio-Files

bib·li·o·phile (bĭb'lē-ə-fīl') n.

1. A lover of books.
2. A collector of books.


Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion

Last week I finished Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion (WWLC) by Kevin Deyoung and Ted Kluck. In May of 08, I read their Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be--which I found extremely helpful.

Their new book was no different! Like the first, it was extremely helpful and the authors articulated a very thorough, witty, and biblical response to the popular attitude of contempt toward the institutional church. Up front, I highly recommend this book to 1) those who are presently weary of hearing all the moaning and groaning about the church's various "failures," and would like a helpful (and biblical) response to such pessimism, or 2) those who are presently moaning and groaning about the church's various "failures" and would like a helpful (and biblical) response to your pessimism, or 3) itinerant ministers. Here's why:

What is this book about?

More and more books are being written on the subject of the church. While you may think this is a good thing, think again. It is becoming increasingly popular to critique the church as becoming more and more irrelevant, oppressive, restrictive, and boring. Many popular authors have grown cynical towards the church and have advocated a "Church-less Christianity" that sees organized, institutional church gatherings as a place that kills, or at least greatly hinders one's ability to know God and find true spirituality. "The church is no longer where we run in order to be saved, but, we are told, where we must run from if we are to truly find God" (160). Instead of weekly gatherings in a church building, three people gathered at Starbuck or on a golf course talking about spiritual things is the way to go.

Invisible, universal church: In. Visible, local church: Out.

What really matters in the minds of a growing consensus of Christians is that God is "bigger" than going to church every Sunday; God is at work in so many other (and equally edifying) ways than sitting in pews or listening to a lecture sermon each week. As we sit in our pews and listen to predictable sermons about things we already know, somewhere in the world somebody or some group of people are starving, dying of AIDS, being oppressed, etc.

As true as this may be, it is only a half truth, and it's not a sufficient reason to forsake the institutional church altogether. As much as ditching the church for churchless devotion may seem to liberate and increase one's service to God, it actually lessens and weakens it.

But the church does have it's issues. The authors acknowledge that the traditional church is often caught being culturally backwards. They also admit that there is room for change, renovation, and toleration in the minds of traditional church goers on the (non)essentials of what it means to be a faithful church. They take an honest look at church-as-we-know-it and affirm that it is flawed and full of sinners thinking sinfully.

But, that's the catch.

This side of heaven, that's how it's supposed to be! Thus, the response to the church's shortcomings is not to bail, but to stick it out and love the church through all it's failures and shortsightedness. It is in this way that the Lord purifies the church and grows individual Christians in character and selflessness. Though one shouldn't excuse the church's sin and negligence due to her unglorified state, one should not expect the church to be perfect. Abandoning the church for it's weaknesses actually lessens inward transformation instead of strengthening it.

In a piercing statement concerning those who have been hurt by church, Deyoung writes:

"In all honesty I can say that in the times I've been hurt by church people or been disheartened, the biggest problems, in the end, proved to be those that came from my own heart. This is not to discount external pressures or difficult situations or the ways in which Christians can hurt each other. Yet even with all these outside factors, my main issue has been [me]. I respond in sinful ways. I feel sorry for myself. I lose faith. I doubt the Word of God. I don't want to forgive. I stop hoping. I get embittered. I grow lazy. I don't stay in step with the Spirit. These are my sins from my heart. Others can make life difficult for me, I can make it unbearable" (84).

How is this Book Laid Out?

The book is laid out in 8 chapters. Deyoung writes four chapters as does Kluck. Deyoung's chapters address and engage the topic of the church under four categories: The Missiological (ch 1), the Personal (ch 3), the Historical (ch 5), and the Theological (ch 7). Kluck takes a more anectdotal and opinionated approach in his chapters that helpfully serves as an alternative (and more biblically guided) way to critique yet praise the church. His last chapter, in my opinion, was his best and encouraged me tremendously (especially the part where he encourages book-lovers to put away their books and just read only the Bible for a year straight!)--there are tons of outlines and marginal notes in that one!


I highly recommend this book to all. It is literally FILLED with insight and wisdom! In my copy, almost every page is filled with underlines and marginal notes like, "Yes!!," and "Excellent," and "Amen!!" The authors are clear, witty, and biblical. They write in a down-to-earth manner, and are pastoral as well as culturally savvy. WWLC is an enjoyable read. The writers are gifted, eloquent, and adorn their insights with penetrating rhetoric. I found myself rarely checking the time or the number of pages left as I sometimes do with other books. Those who advocate "church-less Christianity" certainly have their work cut out for them. As in Why We're Not Emergent, these guys articulate their position in ways that I want to adopt as my own. Go out and getcha one today.

Itinerant ministers, who have subtly abandoned the local church under the clever guise of love for the univeral church (not to mention the marketing of thier own name), would do well to consider the contents of this book. It will challenge you to get off the road, trust that the Lord doesn't need your "weekenders" to strengthen the church, and do the unglamourous work of week-in-week-out soul care of a local body. Here's a quote for you:

"At times, conference speakers can think of themselves as real sacrifical road warriors, out there serviving travel-related issues all for the sake of "The Kingdom." But sometimes . . . we are reality-averse wussies who just want to leave their parenting problems, marital challenges, and church frustrations behind so that we can have people say encouraging and flattering things about our book or speech" (61).

A-freakin-men to that!!


On Church Growth and Faitfulness:
"There are conservative churches who wear smallness as a badge of honor. Because they sense the real danger of measuring success by numerical growth, they think tiny churches are a sign of faithfulness and big churches are sellouts. Their pastors at times sound as though they're channeling John Owen, and their engagement with culture consists in explaining how modern-day Armenians differ from theological Arminians. They talk in the cadences of another century and specialize in preaching to the choir. There are churches out there that not only don't grow, they are frankly proud that they don't. The church in America can shrink until it shrivels and dies as far as they are concerned. They are interested in truth not results. There is much I admire about this attitude. It is refreshingly nonfaddish and unconcerned about worldly success. But those who hold this attitude are often blind to the ways in which they make it unnecessarily hare for people to feel at home in their churches. They can be inflexible about the wrong things and unable to see how this unbeliever is not always entirely to blame for disliking the church" (33).

On the UnChurched "Liking Jesus but not the Church":
"If outsiders are into Jesus, we'd be foolish not to use that as a starting place, but we'er kidding ourselves if we think most nonChristians (or Christians for that matter) have any idea who Jesus really was and the claims he made. . . . But the Jesus they like is almost certainly not the Jesus who calls sinners to repentance, claimed to be the unique Son of God, and died for our sins. He is almost certainly a nice guy, open-minded, spiritually ambiguous, and a good example. He is guru Jesus who resembles Bono in a bathrobe. If the church is the problem, it is likely because the church gives shape and for an an otherwise malleable and hollow Christ" (78).

On "Authenticity":
"I like people who are honest with their feelings and open about their struggles. But, godliness demands a lot more that just being real. In fact, godliness demands that we stop acting like we want and start acting like Christ. I sometimes find, especially among my peers, that authenticity is not a self-abasing means of growing in holiness, but a convenient cover for endless introspection, doubt, uncertainty, anger, and wordliness. So that if other Christians seem pure, assured, and happy, we despise them for being inauthentic" (89).

On Church Discipline:
"Relationships are indispensable, but not enough. No matter what the teachers of tickling ears say, we do have rules to follow. . . . The church, as the gathering of those who love Jesus, should be pure, holy, loving, and true. . . That's why discipline has traditionally been a mark of the church. Discipline promotes the purity of the church and vindicates the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet how can there be discipline without a church? How can there be accountability if church is not in any way an institution with standards and dogma, but only a gathering of two or more Christians in the park?" (178).

On Reality in Church:
"As evangelicals we've become addicted to "happy ending" stories where we go through "x" (hard thing) and then start praying and then--Shazam!--God makes everything better and we have a nice, utopian story to tell where we are the hero who ends up with the great job, the great family, the time off, the free plane ticket, the lost purse, or the great healthy kids. The fact of the matter is, sometimes (often) the happy ending is in heaven, and the getting there is a really difficult but formative part of our sanctification. And sometimes what God wants in the interim is for us to find our happiness, holiness, and identity in Him, rather than our perfect testimonies" (193).

More on Authenticity:
"Sure, a lot of the Christian pop culture stuff is pretty cheesy; it's certainly not gritty or raw. . . . But a lot of the other stuff out there is pretty vile. Maybe church-goers would stop harping on young people to listen to Smile FM around the clock if the cultural hipsters stopped congratulating themselves for liking Eminem and his manufactured authenticity, as if being real about life is an excuse for being perverse. Maybe churchgoers can learn to overlook some strange tatoos and hair configurations if their counterparts will learn that swearing, drinking alcohol, and doing whatever else seems fetchingly rebellious and oh-so-not suburban middle class are not the leading indicators of spiritual maturity. . . . And in our hypertherapeutic culture, we all need to realize that sometimes being in touch with our pain and being real about our doubts and authentic about our struggles is a form of narcissism and self-absorption more than maturity" (220-21).

The Final Word:
"Don't give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians. The visible church is for you and me. . . . Find a good local church, get involved, become a member, stay there for the long haul. Put away thoughts of revolution for a while and join the plodding visionaries. Go to church this Sunday and worship there in spirit and truth, be patient with your leaders, rejoice when the gospel is faithfully proclaimed, bear with those who hurt you, and give people the benefit of the doubt" (226).

Thoughts? Comments?
Go to Church.


The Courage to Be Protestant: Quotes

I finished reading David Wells' The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth lovers, Maketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World.

Check out my thoughts on the book at my blog, here.

Check out Albert Mohler's interview with David Wells about this book, here.

Because I have written elsewhere about this book, I am just going to give you the chapter titles along with some quotes from each.

Chapter 1: The Lay of the Evangelical Land

"Nevertheless, it is the question that should be raised again and again, not matter how little sense it makes. What is the binding authority on the church? What determines how ti things, what it wants, and how it is going to go about its business? Will it be Scripture along, Scripture understood as God's binding address, or will it be culture? Will it be what is current, edgy, and with-it? Or will it be God's Word, which is always contemporary because its truth endures for all eternity?" (4)

In reference to Market-driven churches:

"What results, all too often, beneath all the smiling crowds, the packed auditoria, is a faith so cramped, limited, and minuscule as to be entirely unable to command our life, our energies, or, as a matter of fact, even much of our attention" (14).

In reference to Emergents:

"Emergents are doctrinal minimalists. . . . By their very posture they are resistant to doctrinal structure that would contain and restrict them. . . . They are not eager to engage (post)modernity critically. Indeed, they are as much submerged beneath it as they are emerging from it. Rather than distancing themselves from their own cultural world because they have been impelled to do so by Christian truth, they are more intent on simply huddling with fellow human sufferers. They may be willing to critique society for its social ills, but they are reserved about making judgements on private behavior such as homosexuality. What is emerging is clearly a rather different attitude about evangelical faith and practice that was seen before. We did however, see these same attitudes in older Protestant liberalism" (17).

Chapter 2: Christianity for Sale

"The evangelical church, or at least a good slice of it, is nervous, twitchy, and touchy about consumer desire, ready to change in a nanosecond at the slightest hint that tastes and interests have changed. Why? Because consumer appetite reigns. . . . Those who attend churches are now like any other customers you might meet in the mall. Displease them in any way and they will take their business elsewhere. That is the fear that lurks in many a church leader's soul because they know that is how the market place works" (36).

"The gospel cannot be a product that the church sells because there are no consumers for it. When we find consumers, we will find that what they are interested in buying, on their own terms, is not the gospel" (53).

Chapter 3: Truth

"So it is in American evangelicalism today. Far too many leaders and churches are out for the quick kill, in instant success, the enviable limelight, the flattering numbers, the bulging auditoria, the numbers to be boasted about--"my church went from ten to ten thousand once I arrived!"--the filled parking lots, the success story all dolled up for the pages of Christianity Today or Leadership. All of this is about the short-term success interest of the pastor(s), not the long-term health of the church. In Christianity, cut-rate products bring a cut-rate future" (92).

"A soft, shapeless Christianity ready to adapt to any worldview may enjoy initial success, but it will soon be overtaken and lose its interest" (94).

Chapter 4: God

"It is important to remember that culture does not give the church its agenda. All it gives the church is its context. The church's belief and mission come from the Word of God. they do not come from the culture either through attraction to it on in alienation from it. It is not the culture that determines the church's priorities. It is not the (post)modern culture that should be telling it what to think. The principle here is sola Scriptura, not sola cultura" (98).

Chapter 5: Self

"Quite a few public schools have banned competitive games because they dent the self-esteem of those who do not win" (139). For my Angelo State kinesiology peeps, does this ring a bell of any one kinese prof who hated dodge ball?

"Today . . . we are less interested in a potential employee's character than we are in his or her competence. In a complex, highly competitive, technological, bottom-line-driven world, competence trumps character. Character is nice but competence is profitable" (145).

"The result of this shift is that today people engage in selling themselves. Personalities are marketable commodities but character is not" (148).

"This has carried over into some of our marketing mega churches and more generally into how churches look at their pastors. Especially in mega churches of the seeker-sensitive kind, the pastor is preeminently a personality on the big screen up front, a performer, who seems close to everyone in the church but in fact is quite remote in most cases" (150).

Chapter 6: Christ

"Whatever merit there is in stressing that postmoderns place great premium on images, on imagination, in relationships, on being part of a community, not of these things can substitute for the fact that the church has to proclaim the truth about Christ" (203).

Chapter 7: Church

"Evangelicalism's inherently para nature asserted itself so that is increasingly became parachurch to the point where the local church, in biblical terms, became increasingly irrelevant. Once these things began to happen, I believe, evangelicalism was on its way to decline" (210).

"Evangelicalism has often become an enterprise separate from the life of the church. Indeed, among the marketers the separation is deliberate and visual. The services have been entirely emancipated from anything and everything "churchy." No pews, no crosses, no collections, no hymns, no pulpit, no sermon--nothing that will in any way lead an unbeliever into thinking that he or she has entered a church" (214).

"Those in a church are unlike other people in their culture because they are hearing, in their church, a World from outside this world. . . . In the church are those who belong to another world. . . . Churches that want to influence their culture are so often tempted to think that to be effective the must hide their otherworldliness and become slickly this-worldly. . . . Churches that actually do influence the culture--here is the paradox--distance themselves from it in their internal life. The do not offer what can already be had on secular terms in the culture" (224).

"However, if the church is going to be truly successful, it must be unlike anything else we find in life. As a result, it will undoubtedly make enemies. It will have enemies, even if they are merely voices in the culture whose intent is to secure ways of life that are antithetical to Christian faith. If the church ever becomes just like anything else we can find in life--as many born-again churches have become--then we can have it without God's truth or grace and without cost. Indeed, we can have it on our own terms" (224).

I know.
Send me your thoughts!!!