Archive for November 23rd, 2009

They like Jesus but Not the Church, by Dan Kimball, is based on the premise that we live in a post-Christendom culture. To be sure the States are not nearly as post-Christendom as Europe and Australia, yet you can hardly deny “The American culture no longer props up the church the way it did, no longer automatically accepts the church as a player at the table in public life, and can be downright hostile to the church’s presence” (pg. 18).

Dan Kimball bases his impression, not on the details and analyzed data of a Barna-esque survey. Instead he got out of his office and started studying in coffee shops. There he met and befriended non-Christians and as he interacted with them discovered that they had a mostly favorable view of Jesus, but an unfavorable view of Christians and the church. The list of charges against the church became the outline for the chapters of the book. According to Kimball, emerging generations think the church pushes a political agenda, is judgmental and negative, oppresses females, and is homophobic. The church is arrogant in its claim that other religions are wrong and is full of fundamentalists who take the Bible literally.

Speaking in generalities (not taking the list point by point) the issue is that of perception and image. Kimball “repeatedly heard in all the interviews for this book that we are people who pick out all of the negative things of the world and then protest them” (pg. 98). To be sure, there are negative things to be protested, but Kimball’s point is that Christians are known more for what we oppose (often politically) than what we stand for spiritually. One online review of this book illustrated this point famously by pointing out that one of those he interviewed was a lesbian – since none of those he used as case studies were believers one wonders why this is relevant. Well, we all know why it was relevant to the reviewer, and that proves Kimball’s point.

Kimball does point out that the positive impression of Jesus held by those he interviewed is often based on partial knowledge. He calls this the Pop Culture Jesus. “This Jesus is a friend who stands up for the poor and needy and is a revolutionary for the oppressed. This Jesus focuses his message on love not hate” (pg 55). These impressions are true as far as they go. But as Kimball points out they are biblically lacking – and while he’s at it, Kimball gives his impressions on how many Christian groups also misrepresent Jesus.

As his solution Kimball modifies the classic Bridge Illustration. In the original there is a massive gap between God on one side and a man on the other. The gap is sin and can only be bridged by Christ. Kimball’s theology at this point is thoroughly orthodox so he is in no way messing with the “gap of sin” nor the method for crossing it. He does modify the familiar tool by adding another chasm, another gap. This time the gap separates a man and the church and the gap is our Christian subculture and projected misconceptions. In this sense there is an additional step, a step that the early church or even the Apostle Paul never faced. This step requires that we must overcome people’s negative connotations (whether correct or otherwise) before they will be willing to consider the other gap. Or as Miroslav Volf put it (although his brother-in-law Peter Kuzmic claim Miroslav got this from him) – “Sometimes we must start by washing the face of Jesus.”

This is a good book. And although I do not track with everything Kimball professes, he’s on track as he gives examples of how to interact with the emerging generations without compromising the truth. If you are interested in connecting with the emerging generation I recommend this book.

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Love matters.

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