This is the second book from DeYoung and Kluck (although both have authored other books individually). Their first joint book was Why We’re Not Emergent, which was a critical look at the emergent movement.
This book continues the offensive against ‘emergent’ or post-modern Christian thinking regarding the church. The authors say that the book is for the committed, the disgruntled, the waffling and the disconnected. And their aim is to try and show that the emerging approach to ‘church’ and especially it’s extreme negativity and even outright rejection to the traditional mode of church is damaging, unhelpful and more importantly unbiblical. As they write, church is not…
….three guys drinking pumpkin spiced lattes at Starbucks talking about the spirituality of the Violent Femmes and why Sex and the City is really profound. I mean the local church that meets-wherever you want it to meet-but exults in the cross of Christ; sings songs to a holy and loving God; has church officers, good preaching, celebrates the sacraments, exercises discipline; and takes an offering. This is the church that combines freedom and form in corporate worship, has old people and young, artsy types and NASCAR junkies….
They acknowledge that the church is flawed and messed up but that is not reason enough to simply dump it, not to constantly rip it apart. Also, they decry much of the statistics which proclaim the ‘death’ or ‘demise’ of the church. As they write, when over a hundred million people in this country attend church at least once a month, it seems a bit of a hyperbole to suggest that the church in America is about to disappear into thin air.
There is value in the traditional, (that is program oriented, structured, pastor led) church…
….I’m also glad that my church is “organized.” I’m glad I know where to put my toddler on Sunday morning. I’m glad somebody was institutional enough to think through topics for a Sunday school class or two. I’m glad my pastor, rather than just freewheeling it, cares enough to study Scripture and a bookshelf full of dead authors to give me real spiritual food each Sunday. I’m glad somebody leads a social outreach ministry to those less fortunate in our area. I’m glad somebody (not me) makes sure the kids are learning something biblical in their classes. It is, at its most basic, organized religion. And I love it….
DeYoung and Kluck equate a dissatisfaction with the church with a relaxing of orthodox theology; “substitutionary atonement,” “justification by faith alone,” “the necessity of faith and repentance,” “the utter inability of man to save himself,” and “the centrality of the cross and resurrection” and their concern is for such people five or ten years down the road. For the authors, while the ‘traditional’ church has problems there are the checks and balances, especially theologically, which can stop a descent into heresy or error.
This is not a polemic against fresh expressions of church or house churches. They can be valuable. What the authors emphasize is that “house church” in America often means anticlergy, antiauthority, antiliturgy, anti-sermon, antibuilding, anti-most ways of doing church over the past 1,700 years. And that is not right.
One area where I think DeYoung and Kluck get wrong in the book is they under estimate, to the point of dismissal, the influence of Constantine and his legacy in the modern church. One of their final attacks is against the notion that the influence of Constantine may have to some extent derailed the early church, and left a legacy which we feel even today. They write…
Not only does it strain credulity past the breaking point to think that buildings caused the wheels to fall off the unstoppable church bus, it’s also unhelpfully idealistic. No wonder so many people are disillusioned with the church today. They think it was nigh unto perfect back in the good old days. And then came institutionalism, or Constantine, or Christendom, or Greek thinking, or the Enlightenment, or modernism, or systematic theology, or Old Princeton, or whatever your boogeyman looks like. The church used to be a rockin,’ sweet place, and then, bam!, it all fell apart, and now we are finally enlightened enough to start picking up the pieces.
Ironically the authors say this directly after quoting ME. They quote me from an article I wrote (The Paradox Of A Divided Church Called To Be Reconcilers To The World) which was published in a book by Spencer Burke. Without defending my article (which I am sure is both flawed and inadequate) my aim was not to try and defend the emerging church approach but rather to show that the effects of Constantine’s influence on the church was to legalize Christianity. The legalization of Christianity meant there was no cost to conversion, and in many cases probably little repentance – the Emperor is a Christian and therefore so are we. The church became wealthy and landowners from this time forth and now today, buildings have become more important than the Gospel. I do not advocate that we should return to a ‘house’ church model, nor that we should get rid of buildings for meeting places. But when a building and it’s up keep becomes more important than the ministry the building contains there is a problem.
Their dismissal of this point, without reference to scholars such as Alan Krieder, Rudi Heinze, Alistair Kee (Constantine Versus Christ), A Jones (Constantine And The Conversion Of Europe) and John Eadie (The Conversion of Constantine) was a little too shabby.
But then again, I would say that, wouldn’t I.
But having said all that, this is a vigorous and mostly useful defense of ‘traditional’ church although I do think Jim Belcher’s chapter on Ecclesiology in his book, Deep Church (I reviewed it HERE) does as good a job in upholding the traditional church alongside the need for change as Why We Love The Church.