I loved this book, but I shouldn’t have. For starters, the authors are closer to my children’s ages than to my own. Additionally, the authors are Reformed and I am not. Also, in the past I have found books with multiple authors to be too unevenly written to be enjoyable. (I do have a theory that might explain the success of this joint effort, however. Maybe Ted Kluck is really Kevin DeYoung’s alter ego?)
DeYoung is the senior pastor of the University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. Kluck is a sportswriter who attends the church DeYoung pastors. Together they also wrote Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be. The odd numbered chapters were written by DeYoung. Kluck wrote the even numbered chapters. There are eight chapters and two epilogues. The first epilogue is written by Kluck to his five-year-old son, Tristan; the second is written by DeYoung. Each also writes an introduction.
DeYoung writes as a theologian/pastor. Kluck writes in layman’s terms—a layman with a great sense of humor. Together, these authors have created an informative and entertaining read. I appreciated DeYoung’s copious endnotes at the conclusion of each chapter. The use of the hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” a verse of which precedes each of DeYoung’s chapters, was also very edifying.
DeYoung’s four chapters deal with four broad categories of excuses that people use for disparaging the church. These categories are missiological, personal, historical and theological. Kluck follows up each of those chapters with his own spin on the subject. In DeYoung’s terms, “Come for the logic, stay for the laughs” (p.18).
“Missional” seems to be the new buzzword. Although hard to precisely define, it describes an intention of transforming the surrounding culture by purposely doing good works. In proper balance, this is a worthy endeavor. However, a lack of missional success is a frequent excuse for leaving the institutional church. DeYoung asks, “Where do we see Paul talking to his churches about transforming their communities?” (p. 38). What is needed is an understanding of the “difference between the responsibility of the church’s calling and the individual Christian’s calling” (p. 40). Realizing that much of the community service taking place is being done by Christians, we should recognize this as the church being missional. DeYoung also warns that attempting to transform culture may amount to hiding the message of the gospel. Works, no matter how successful, do not take the place of words. Cultural transformation is a worthy goal, but preaching the saving message of the cross is of the utmost importance.
Anyone who has been in church for long has certainly had occasion to be wounded. The issue is how a person responds to these disappointments. Too many are using these personal slights as an excuse for leaving the institutional church. As brothers and sisters of the wounded, we should take these criticisms seriously and strive to make our churches less hurtful. DeYoung, however, asks those who have left four questions. First, are you rejecting the church or the faith? (p. 85).
If Christians are interested in a Christianity free from doctrine, demands and damnation, they aren’t just sick of the church and its unflattering quirks; they’re tired of the Christian faith altogether. (p. 87)
Second, are you trying to have your cake and eat it too? (p.87). DeYoung writes, “I’m not against homeless shelters and parachurch nonprofits. I just want the anti-institutional church-leavers to see that these are institutions too” (p. 87). Third, are you making an idol out of authenticity? (p. 89). “We should trust God and not be angry with Him. We should not consider ourselves abandoned. This is not phony Christianity; it’s faith” (p. 90). Finally, are you repeating the mistakes of the previous generation? (p. 90). There have always been anti-church movements, yet the church marches on. “And what makes us think that after nearly two thousand years of institutional church, Christians are suddenly free to jettison the church and try things on their own?” (p. 91).
In Chapter 5, DeYoung dissects the historical arguments for leaving the institutional church. I enjoyed this chapter most. Throughout the book, DeYoung interacts with popular books written about what is wrong with the institutional church. In this chapter he corrects the misconceptions of the “restorationist literature” (p. 116), which postulates that nearly everything the institutional church is currently doing, the early church would never have done. DeYoung agrees that there are things that don’t have to be in church (pulpits, stained glass, robes, etc), but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be in church. “If you don’t like pews, fine. But they’re just benches. Can we not have hinges on our church doors if a non Christian invented them?” (p. 118). He deals specifically with the areas of church buildings and orders of worship. In spite of what the critics claim, the “worship of the early church was simply not without ritual and structure” (p. 126).
Finally, DeYoung addresses the theological concerns of church-leavers. He begins by refuting the claim that Christians don’t need to belong to a visible church, then dissects claims concerning what constitutes a church. There is no such thing as churchless Christianity. And the New Testament clearly identifies the components of the visible church. “The church, as the elect people of God, is both organism and organization” (p. 170). DeYoung surmises that what many church-leavers are really escaping is the sermon. Contrary to what the critics claim, the practice of preaching a sermon goes back to the time of Jesus and continued in the early church.
I am grateful to be able to profit from the ministry of younger pastors such as DeYoung (as well as Joshua Harris’ similar little book Stop Dating the Church.) I highly recommend this book to pastor and interested layman alike.
Greg Wilson was raised in a Christian home and was led to the Lord at a young age by his father. He has been in full-time Christian ministry since graduating from Midwestern Baptist College (Pontiac, MI) in 1981. He has been married to Sharon for over 27 years and they have two married daughters and a teenage son. He has been the pastor of the Community Bible Church (Palmyra, PA) since 1998.