The back cover reads, “These days, spirituality is hot; religion is not.” The last decade has seen countless books published by those who have left the church, and who encourage others to do so as well. Many who have grown up in church are disenchanted, disillusioned, and otherwise disinterested in attending church services.
In response to the dearth of anti-church literature that has hit the shelves in recent years, Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck have written this book to four groups of readers: The Committed (faithfully attending and involved), The Disgruntled (committed but frustrated), The Waffling (attending but uninvolved and dissatisfied), and The Disconnected (those who have left the church in their quest for God). DeYoung is a pastor in East Lansing, MI, and Kluck is an author who is a member of DeYoung’s congregation. The two men alternate chapters, approaching topics from different angles. Both are gifted writers, balancing theological insight with wit and humor throughout the book.
The book addresses four primary reasons given by church-leavers, responding at each point with reasons why the visible, institutional, organized church is still the appropriate place for the believer. These four reasons are “Missiological” (the church isn’t accomplishing its mission), “Personal” (I’ve been hurt by Christians or by the church), “Historical” (real or perceived crimes committed by the church throughout history), and “Theological” (different definitions of what the church should be).
Neither author denies that many of the criticisms are valid, and that there are some very real problems which must be addressed; they simply argue that running away from the church is not the solution, and caution against many unseen problems with the critiques themselves. The church is not perfect, but it’s also not nearly as bad as most of its detractors believe it to be.
In fact, one of the primary reasons people get so fed up with the church is that they have unrealistic and unbiblical expectations of what it should be able to accomplish. We have a tendency to have the expectation of a perfection unattainable by those who Luther called simul iustus et peccator — at the same time justified and sinner. The Bible is clear that one day Christ’s church will be perfected, and there will be no more war, disease, death, or any of the other effects of the Fall, but it is also clear that this only happen when Christ returns. Until then, the church is populated by sinning sinners, who will make mistakes and fail to live up to the standard set by our Lord. However, the church is also the chosen vehicle by which Christ’s kingdom is announced to the world.
The fact of the matter is we are not going to “transform the face of planet Earth to a place of justice, peace and equity, a place without suffering.” It’s no coincidence that disillusionment is such a big theme in the church-leaving literature. Many of these passionate, well-intentioned youngish church-leavers have a vision for the world that is so unlike anything promised on this side of heaven that they can’t help but feel disappointed and angry with the church for not getting the world where they think it could go.
The best part of the book, in my opinion, is its epilogue, titled “Toward a Theology of Plodding Visionaries.” Here DeYoung posits that what is most lacking in today’s churches — and most responsible for our poor understanding of the nature and role of the church — is a proper comprehension of the doctrine of original sin. The modern evangelical tendency to shy away from teaching about sin and man’s inherent sinfulness has led to a generation with unrealistic expectations about Christians’ individual and corporate ability to change the world. When these expectations go unfulfilled, cynicism and disenchantment toward the church often result.
What we need instead, as DeYoung rightly states, are “plodding visionaries”: humble, grace-filled believers with a biblical understanding of both the limits and the possibilities of the church and of individual Christians, who live lives of “long obedience in the same direction.” Far from being boring and insignificant, the lives of such visionaries are marked by the joy of their salvation and exultation in God’s glory. They realize the immense privilege it is to be vessels of mercy; a part of the Body of Christ, his beloved bride, the church.
In summary, this is an excellent book, and one which has helped me to overcome some of my personal frustrations with the church. I pray that many more would have a renewed love for the church as they come to see afresh the way God’s glory is manifested in the church, and to see the irony in the arguments of those who claim to be followers of Jesus but will not follow him in love for his bride. As the book concludes: “Don’t give up on church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians. The visible church is for you and me.”
Buy the book here.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” ~ Ephesians 3:20-21