Reviewed by Hadley Robinson
Tackling ecclesiology head on, Dan Kimball exhorts the reader to practice some important paradigms of the quintessential church found throughout the ages. Among these are:
Bringing the Bible back into the Church; cultivating a church culture that encourages dialogue; ensuring that the gospel is allowed to do its work instead of the charismatic eloquence of the
preacher; and emphasizing that Jesus is the only way to God.
These are all stressed in the Holy Scriptures in one way or another. He also notes the exhortation of 1Corinthians 2:1-5 that the Cross of Jesus Christ – alone – should be preached instead of the world’s wisdom.
Rather than focus clearly on the paradigms above, Mr. Kimball fills his book with desultory observations of our fickle culture and how Christians should respond to it. Reviewing Kimball and others of his bent in Christianity Today, Andy Crouch stated, “They have confused style and substance.” Perhaps a better title for the book would be Christianity Can Be Anything You Like!
The Emerging Church is not about repentance, the Cross, and its offense (and hope) to a fallen, sinful world but about buzzwords such as “postmodern” “seeker” “emerging” “missional” “vintage” “deconstruction” etc. It’s also about cheerleaders in the church growth movement who clutter nearly every page with vapid balloon remarks that do little to improve the book’s quality.
Rick Warren (a Protestant pope) writes the forward. Sadly, I am still trying to figure out what he is really saying after repeated re-readings. Warren is a master of word “switcheroo” – using words in the postmodern way. This is where they are chosen for how they sound rather than for what they may mean.
The pop-Christian writers cult has adopted a plethora of fancy-sounding words, like "missional" to tickle people's ears. For example, Mr. Warren writes (p. 7) that it’s OK to do anything in church worship “…as long as the Biblical message is unchanged.” This sounds good until you try to pin down what his “Biblical message” really is.
Like Mr. Warren, Mr. Kimball appears to shop around for Bible paraphrases which suit his purposes. As a result, we are subjected to eisegesis: Where interpretation is read into the Bible instead of out of it. Jesus said the way is narrow. For Warren et al., it is broad and getting broader, especially as his book sales continue to skyrocket. It’s all a testimony to the sad state of the Church in our land that so many reject the simple teachings of the Bible for mere popular eloquence.
Kimball, in a switcheroo, exhorts us to carefully preach from the Bible (good) and then, elsewhere, he will prattle on about “seeker-sensitive” this or that. For example, on page 25 he says
Being seeker-sensitive as a lifestyle means that we are sensitive to spiritual seekers in all that we do. …it is a lifestyle approach to how we live as Christians in relation to being sensitive to seekers of faith.
Instead of living to impress others, Scripture commands us to live a holy life, regardless of whether anyone wants to follow us or not.
It gets worse. On page 88, he writes, “We probably wouldn’t be attracted to Christianity if we weren’t Christians.” Or, on page 210 he writes, “…the tide will turn and non-Christians will be drawn to us instead of being turned off by us.”
Contrary to the “gospel-lite” promoted by Kimball, Warren, and the other pop-gospel leaders of today, God’s word tells us what turns off people from coming to Christ: no one seeks after God (Ro 3:10). It’s just that simple.
We do not need hundreds of pages telling us how awful/insensitive/backward we Christians are and how we must atone for our sin of being unpopular with the pagan and immoral culture. Yet Kimball does note some of the greater errors of church bureaucracies in the past that made the gospel look bad. He is to be commended for that.
What is surprising is that those in the church growth movement do not seem to pay any attention to the explosive growth of the gospel in places like Communist China: Where Christians meet, love one another, hear the Word, and pray – as they have for thousands of years – largely without the videos, books, conferences, and mass marketing techniques employed here.
Jesus commanded that men repent and believe in Him. It was not an invitation. For that, they killed Him as it was not then – nor now – a popular message to sinful fallen mankind.
“For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.” (2Co 2:15-16 NASB)
Suffice it to say, no one comes to Christ for any reason other than the Father compels him (John 6:35ff.) Contrary to Kimball’s assertions, Jesus was not “seeker-sensitive" to those
with whom He can in contact with. In fact, Jesus usually did what He could to drive people away (Jn. 6:54ff).
Why all these pages that promote a candy-coated gospel? The answer is given in 2Tim. 4:3.
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
Kimball needs to look again at his Bible, especially the parable of the sower and what happens to the seed that falls on the rocky ground: Shallow roots – shallow faith – falling
The feeding of the five thousand in John 6 would be another lesson for him to consider: The crowds wanted to fill their stomachs with food instead of with the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The sacred text offers here one of the greatest un-revivals in history: Five thousand came and all but a dozen left.
Practically speaking, Kimball wants to return us to the Dark Ages when superstition and hollow ritual dominated the Church. This is not progressive; it’s regressive. Rather than leaning on just another splintered reed, Christians should build their lives on the pure milk of the Word.
Kimball has it backward. Meetings of the Church are not about art, music, incense, candles, mood or experience. They should be about love for one another, holiness, and pure doctrine undefiled by the wisdom of this world.
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Do not learn the way of the nations… for the customs of the peoples are delusion.’” Jeremiah 10:2-3 NASB