love churchi just finished a book that i will be recommending to anyone who wants advice on what book to read about the church: why we should go, why we shouldn’t give up on it; and why it isn’t useless in our day and age. the book is called “why we love the church:in praise of institutions and organized religion” the subtitle is of course tongue in cheek, responding to those who refuse to see any good in a biblical, christ centered church because it may have a building, paid staff, and too much “organization” to be really “spiritual”. it was authored by kevin deyoung, a pastor, and ted kluck, a journalist who has written for such publications as espn the magazine and sports spectrum. they are both in their thirties and are not ashamed to speak of their love for and commitment to the church, even though people their (and my) age are not supposed to (according to the onslaught of church growth books and methods over the last few years).

i bought the book on friday afternoon and was done with it by sunday night. it is really that good. here is the publisher’s description:

 Why We Love the Church presents the case for loving the local church. It paints a picture of the local church in all its biblical and real life guts, gaffes, and glory in an effort to edify local congregations and entice the disaffected back to the fold. It also provides a solid biblical mandate to love and be part of the body of Christ and counteract the “leave church” books that trumpet rebellion and individual felt needs. Why We Love the Church is written for four kinds of people – the Committed, the Disgruntled, the Waffling & the Disconnected.

the authors write in a conversational style that will at times have you literally laughing out loud, at times wanting to shout “amen”, and everything in between. it is an honest look at the church, not hiding the scars, warts, and bruises, but upholding it as the one that is worth not giving up on, since christ gave himself up for it.

a couple of quotes to that will give you a flavor of the book and the style of the 2 authors…

this one is from the introduction:

If decapitation, from the Latin word caput, means to cut off the head, then it stands to reason that decorpulation, from the Latin word corpus, should refer to cutting off the body. It’s the perfect word to describe the content of this book. If our editors had been asleep at the wheel, we could have called it Recent Trends in Decorpulation. There is a growing movement among self-proclaimed evangelicals and in the broader culture to get spirituality without religion, to find a relationship without rules, and have God without the church. More and more, people are looking for a decorpulated Christianity.

Judging by the popularity of recent books like George Barna’s Revolution and William P. Young’s The Shack and the example of prominent Christians like John Eldredge, there are a lot of Christians who feel like current versions of church just don’t cut it. More than a few have already left their churches, and the number of the disaffected seems to be growing. At the very least the “we want God, not an institution” mantra has struck a chord with many formal, informal, and former churchgoers. So we have books like Life After Church, Divine Nobodies, Dear Church, Quitting Church, and So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, not to mention Frank Viola’s church-as-we-know-it-is-all-wrong book Pagan Christianity and volumes like UnChristian and They Like Jesus but Not the Church, which explore why outsiders are turned off by the church.

The narrative is becoming so commonplace, you could Mad Lib it:

The institutional church is so (pejorative adjective). When I go to church I feel completely (negative emotion). The leadership is totally (adjective you would use to describe Richard Nixon) and the people are (noun that starts with un-). The services are (adjective you might use to describe going to the dentist), the music is (adjective you would use to describe the singing on Barney), and the whole congregation is (choose among: “passive,” “comatose,” “hypocritical,” or “Rush Limbaugh Republicans”). The whole thing makes me (medical term).

I had no choice but to leave the church. My relationship with (spiritual noun) is better than ever. Now I meet regularly with my (relational noun, pl.) and talk about (noun that could be the focus of a liberal arts degree) and Jesus. We really care for each other. Sometimes we even (choose among: “pray for each other,” “feed the homeless together,” or “share power tools”). This is church like it was meant to be. After all, (insert: “Where two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of you,” or “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” or “we don’t have to go to church, we are the church”). I’m not saying everyone needs to do what I’ve done, but if you are tired of (compound phrase that begins with “institutional” or ends with “as-we-know-it”), I invite you to join the (noun with political overtones) and experience (spiritual noun) like you never will by sitting in a (choose among the following architectural put-downs: “wooden pew,” “steepled graveyard,” “stained-glassed mausoleum,” or “glorified concert hall”) week after week. When will the (biblical noun) starting being the (same biblical noun)?

from a chapter in which one of the authors writes a letter to his young son:

Church isn’t a magic pill that you take, that punches your ticket for heaven. Nor is it a glorified social/country club you attend to be around people who talk/think/look/act like you do. It’s a place to go each week to hear the Word of God spoken, taught, and affirmed. It’s a place to sing praises to our God, even if those songs do sometimes feel a bit awkward. It’s a place to serve others. It’s a place to be challenged. Sometimes you’ll feel uncomfortable with those challenges, because sometimes your life will need to change. This has been the case with me.

and finally, on the overdone “revolution” and “community” demands from those who call for leaving/condemning the church…

Perhaps I’m just sick of revolutionaries. I am thirty-two years old, and am a part of the generation that has probably purchased more Che Guevara posters than any other generation in history. You know the poster. It’s the one that shows Che bearded, in his beret, looking larger than life. It is often accompanied on the wall by a Bob Marley poster, or the John Belushi poster in which he wears a sweatshirt emblazoned with the word “College.” We’re big on revolutionaries. We’re big on changing the world. We’re big, also, on not being ordinary.

A search on a popular Christian bookseller’s Web site revealed no less than sixty-two items with the word manifesto in the title and hundreds containing the term revolutionary. There are revolutionary books for teens. Ditto for stay-at-home moms. There’s a book about how Jesus was a revolutionary communicator, and how you can use His revolutionary communication skills in your home/business/church. The question then becomes, If we’re all revolutionaries, are any of us an actual revolutionary? Being a revolutionary used to mean that you overthrew a government; now it means that you’re a courageous enough visionary to have church on a golf course or in someone’s living room.

My point in all of this is not to make not-so-subtle jabs at revolutionary culture (maybe a little bit); rather, it is to encourage the scores of nonrevolutionaries in our midst, of which I am one. I want to encourage those of us who try really hard to pray for our families and friends, try to read our Bibles consistently, and share the gospel with those around us. Those of us who aren’t ready to chuck centuries worth of church history, and years of unglamorous but God-glorifying growth in the name of revolution.

I’m also a part of the generation that has produced more memoirs before the age of thirty-five than any other in history. We’re crazy about Christian narrative nonfiction, especially those “on the road” stories, no matter how trite or contrived they may be. We’re journeyers. We’re wanderers. We still haven’t found what we’re looking for. Jack Kerouac’s (or Donald Miller’s…or Lauren Winner’s) wayward children are all over the Christian book landscape.

These narrative titles all follow a similar pattern, in that in them experiences are had (a cross-country road trip, a self-finding excursion through Europe, a documentary chronicling the lameness of American Christians, a chronicle on how the author dropped out of church and subsequently “found” Jesus), and then those experiences are shared in book form. Many of these books are supposed to tell us that “community” is the answer, and individualism is bad, but at the end of the day these books are largely about the individual and his or her discoveries.

if you are growing weary of attending your church meetings, are wondering if the church is even necessary anymore, or simply want to be encouraged by or be an encouragement to your church, i strongly encourage you to read this book.