Monday, June 16, 2014

BookPastor >> "Adventures in Churchland" (Dan Kimball)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on September 8th, 2012.

Let me share a quote from the book that is particularly helpful in looking at Church.

"It doesn’t matter what size our church is—tiny, small, medium, large, mega, multimega — they all are messy. For those who say that we need to get back to the pure, New Testament house church model, we find that there were some big messes there as well. Just read the New Testament letter of First Corinthians and you’ll find prejudice, sexual immorality among family members, drunkenness, pride, and false teaching. It can seem romantic to go back to another time and envision the church then as the perfect church, but the fact is the church has always been messy in all of its forms. We make mistakes because we are fallible human beings. Every time Christians point at the church and say it is messed up, we point at ourselves. are part of the problem because are the church." (Dan Kimball, Adventures in Churchland, Zondervan, 2012, p192-3)


TITLE: Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion
AUTHOR: Dan Kimball
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (224 pages).

This book is a personal journey of the author's trip to Christianity. Before his eventual discovery of grace in the Christian faith, he has to navigate the treacherous terrains of "organized religion" and negative perceptions of Church.The author's key dilemma is that he like Jesus but not the Church. Like the musical plays, much of Christianity in churches appear to be play-acting, artificial, or does not manifest the true spirit of Christianity the way Jesus has represented from the beginning. There is a messy spiritual climate in churches simply because people are messy. Worse, many are simply content in the present state of mess. Kimball is determined to change that, and to use his own personal journey to do something about it, and to bring hope and encouragement to those who may be traveling the same paths he has trod. In a nutshell, it is POSSIBLE to find grace in Jesus even in messy organized religion. Kimball shows us the way, several ways. His passion is as follows:

"I wrote this book to offer them hope that there is more to the church and Christianity than they have seen or experienced. I wrote this book to encourage them not to give up on the church. I will be encouraging you to join in (if you haven’t already) and be part of the change so that we can truly represent Jesus to the world with passion, integrity, humility, creativity, and love." (14)
Written in three parts, Kimball works through his reactions to popular versions of Church and Christianity. He begins with a humourous retelling of his experience in a church musical, how he get embarrassed about the play-acting scenario. He shares plainly how uncomfortable and weird he feels in his first encounter with an evangelism experience, where the focus seems to be on hell, salvation, and avoiding punishment. The strong sense of judgmentalism continues to haunt his perception of certain strands of Christianity. His core dislike happens to be in the Church itself. His three main peeves surround the way Church is presenting, or misrepresenting the gospel of Jesus. Firstly, new people feel a sense of being a misfit when they are not able to fit into the subcultures of evangelical churches. Secondly, many of the practices appear "weird" to people unfamiliar to church. Thirdly, and most disappointingly, churches tend to avoid tackling the difficult questions of life, even the Bible. From "creepy pastors" to difficulties in understanding the ancient cultures in biblical texts, there are many things that are downright uncomprehensible. If only churches and Christian people are able to address them honestly and intentionally.  Despite his discomfort, Kimball offers us a way forward, that the church despite all its flaws, is still worth our time and attention, and our love.  

The second part begins his path of recovering from his weirdness and confusion through finding the beauty of Christ amid all the mess. Being judged by others is a horrible feeling. Seeing hypocritical behaviour among Christians is equally horrible. Yet, the Bible speaks out against such things and behaviours. What makes all the difference is to be able to recognize that we fall short ourselves, and we need forgiveness more. If we are to judge, we need to be up in arms against any forms of hypocrisy. More importantly, church people need to judge themselves first and foremost, before any criticisms from outside the church. When this is addressed, the Church is ready to be a positive agent of change for the world beyond. Instead of condemning the church practices, Kimball offers a different path, an alternate way to see the church. In his take about "organized religion," Kimball plumbs the Internet audience about perceptions of organized religion. The common strand is the church being seen as a place that tries to control people. Such a thinking is more often a misunderstanding of church people. Kimball does some research and points to differences between the early church and the modern church. In fact, the biblical church has a rich history and diversity. The modern flavour of the church does not necessarily represent the biblical church. This will immediately dispel concerns from people that to be a Christian, means to follow exactly all the modern church dictates. No. Being a Christian is in following Jesus according to what the Bible says, not what the church subcultures or the worldly culture dictates. If churches are able to continue to let the Bible influence their subcultures, there is hope. Some of these influences include:
  • Freeing people in worship
  • Not segregation but unity and beauty in worship
  • Not judgment but forgiveness and grace
  • Humility in theology and practice
  • Boldly confront pet answers for the purpose of seeking truth
  • Good "organized religion" serves God through people.
  • Good "organized religion" extols the hope of God in Jesus.
Part Three expands on this renewal of "organized religion." There is no substitute for reading the Bible and practicing it from the inside out. We need to substitute the negative perceptions of churchland with the positive renditions of graceland. In order to avoid being trapped in churchland, we need to constantly manage our time with one another. Make sure that we spend adequate time with non-church people too. We need to grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus, and not simply being content with superficial readings of Jesus. We are not to put our faith in ideas about Christianity. We put our faith in the person of Jesus.  After working through the fantasies and fallacies of churchland, Kimball begins to piece together a hopeful picture of a Church living in the grace of Jesus. Church is a gathering of God's people. It is impossible to "go to church." Instead, we become a church as we come together in the name of the Lord. He makes it clear through a comparison on page 184 about the differences between "go to church" and "be the church."

My Thoughts

Kimball has done the church a favour by taking the church to task first.  Having Christians admonishing fellow Christians is far better than having non believers judging and condemning Christian people. We are called to bring out the best of fellow believers, and in the process, also become a witness to the world. The way Kimball does it is admirable because he does not come across as a "fire and brimstone" preacher who speaks down on us. He shares his own personal story and battle. He invites us to see from his point of view. He offers us hope and a different perspective to see Church. Most of all, learns to see "organized religion" and "judgmental" churches from the eyes of grace. That is something we can all learn from. It is far too easy to condemn and to criticize churches and the way they practise their Christianity. It is more difficult to admonish them in grace and in humility. The church is messy because people are messy in the first place. We are hypocrites by nature. We are judgmental by nature. It is only when we allow ourselves to be changed from the inside out by the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Jesus Christ, that we are able to be the church that God has called us to be.

For many, this book may be an excellent opportunity for some of us to re-think the way we do church. It is also a reminder for us not to insert modern concepts or to modify the Church into a Hollywood facade. It is an invitation for us to go back to the Bible, to build the church from biblical ways. Let that be an adventure of grace.

Ratin: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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