The major publishing houses of Western Christendom have been producing an avalanche of books over the past decade pronouncing the death of “church as we have known it” and promoting all sorts of new, hip, “with it” directions that we must go if we are to “do church” in the twenty-first century. It has become chic to proclaim the death of “old” church, the form of Christian worship that includes organization, officers (such as elders and deacons), a sermon, and almost any kind of scheduled, organized worship. The emerging church movement has both expressed and reinforced this general discontent in the younger generation, which makes it seem odd, and even backwards, to confess with Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, “I love the church.”
But DeYoung and Kluck have much to say about the church and their experiences in her service. Writing in a very engaging, personal style, our intrepid defenders of the church do not whitewash the problems that we all know exist in any local body of believers. They honestly face up to the divisions, the pettiness, and the formalism that can infect any congregation. In a humorous section one of the authors documents all the things that honestly bothered him about going to church last Sunday. While not every person can connect with each of his personal issues, everyone can understand the overall trials and tribulations of life in community to which he refers.
Why We Love the Church is heavily documented, demonstrating a wide range of familiarity with what could be fairly and properly identified as the “anti-organized church” spectrum of publications. Both authors seem very sensitive to the accusation of straw-man argumentation, so references are offered for every assertion when representing those who are writing against what they would see as the biblical position. As a result, those who are not overly interested in investing time in the writings of those calling for a new way of doing church receive a fair education about their viewpoints as the authors respond to their claims.
But the strength of this book is its biblical focus on what the church is supposed to be, and its centrality to the purpose of God, not as determined by polls and focus groups, but as defined in inspired Scripture. Their central argument is fairly simple: the church is what she is because the Scriptures teach that is how God wants it. The Bible is to blame for the church, in essence, for the Bible presents a community with elders and deacons, worship, and preaching. It does not present the individual believer with his Bible under a tree, or a few people getting together at Starbucks over a latte and “sharing” their experiences, as “church.”
As an elder in a local congregation, I was particularly thankful to read, “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” (p. 24). There is solid thought about the role of preaching and the wisdom of God in these pages, and when that is combined with a deep insight into the motivations of those abandoning the church, the result can bring forth a hearty “Amen,” such as here:
First, church-leavers think of the traditional sermon as boring, modern monologue. But the early Christians, not to mention the Reformers, had a more corporate understanding of the ministry of the Word. The preacher may have been the only one speaking … but the time was still considered corporate because preacher and listener would exult in the Word together. The preacher worshiped as he spoke the Word and the congregation worshiped just as much to hear the Word. If our preaching seems like an oration or a simple lecture and the hearers see themselves as passive pew-warmers, then we are to blame, not the nature of preaching itself. (75)
Why We Love the Church is written specifically to communicate with the disillusioned. For those who are still in the church, the authors seek to encourage and clarify the real purposes God has in the church. For those who have already left, they seek to answer many of the objections that may have played a role in their decision. For fellow lovers of the church, this is a book well worth reading, contemplating, and sharing with others.
—James R. White
James R. White is an elder of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church, the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, author of more than twenty books, a professor, and an apologist.