PUBLICATION DATE: MARCH 2008
Dan Kimball has written a stunner with They Like Jesus But Not The Church: Insights From Emerging Generations. I have to be honest, though. I was really skeptical when I picked up the title. When you’re in this job, you read a lot of similar titles and learn very little. It’s a sad reality, unfortunately. And there seems to be no end to books on the shelves written by Christians trying to understand the mind of the unbeliever, Christians dialoguing with unbelievers, Christians apologizing to unbelievers, the list goes on. However, Kimball differentiates himself from the others by actually capturing the voice of people who don’t believe in Jesus as their savior. Rather than presenting the (often) fallacious arguments and belligerent attitudes of skeptics, Kimball presents here the hearts and minds of those who have deep-seated questions and doubts about the Church as an organized religion.
The first section of the book reads like many other titles like this and isn’t exactly all that impressive. Thankfully, the book is written in such a way that it’s not important that the reader have read Part I of the book before moving on to Part II. However, if you’d like to know the gist, it acts as a journal of sorts for Kimball as he realizes certain unalterable facts about the world Christians have built around themselves to insulate themselves from those on “the outside.”
However, it is Part II where things really pick up. It is in this section that Kimball spends time addressing several misconceptions nonbelievers have about the church, such as “The Church Is An Organized Religion With A Political Agenda” or “The Church Is Dominated By Males And Oppresses Female.” And while this portion of the title has a certain apologetic bent to it, Kimball relies heavily on the actual words of nonbelievers to craft his arguments. Instead of assuming what nonbelievers will say or that all their arguments are the same or that they are all stupid or that they are all hopelessly lost, Kimball uses as sweeping examples engagements he has had with actual people.
Part III of the book is where Kimball gives a response to Christianity’s critics, the harsh ones and the ones who simply are parroting what they’re heard others say, but have not graced the doors of a church. Page 234-235’s re-imagining of the classic “Bridge Illustration” that adds a second chasm of “Christianity and the Christian sub-culture” between man and God is of particular note and needs serious reflection.
The difficulty with a book like this is that, even though it is relational, lifestyle, emerging evangelism, it is still evangelism. There is still an endgame. At the end, even though we acknowledge that the people that we talk to about the faith have “real concerns” and aren’t just a bunch of morons (as many fundamentalists would have us believe), there is still the hope in the back of our mind that we will guide people to Jesus. As a person with a decidedly evangelical background, this isn’t a fault in lifestyle of course. Rather, when a book takes a laissez-faire, backdoor approach to Great Commission, I feel as if it is not being as genuine as it claims it wants to be. If the point is to come across as if there is no end game on the part of believers when we have an end game, we’re actually lying and, in a sense, showing a fair bit of shame in Jesus. And while I know that this approach is in response to the damage that years of fundamentalist ideology has presented Jesus and Christianity and grace as nothing more that a set propositions to believe, there is a distinct difference between shedding a label and shedding a name. While much of what Kimball says undoubtedly comes from a “shedding a label” heart, it many times feels like They Like Jesus But Not The Church is throwing out the baby and the bathwater.
Also, I recently read a book called The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose. In his volume, Roose admits that, while he held views about Christians (evangelicals in particular), he didn’t actually know any. And if recent research done by the Barna Research Group is accurate, then a great deal of people in America are just like Roose. They don’t know any Christians to truly speak ill of—not on a personal level anyway. Thus, when I try to consider what Kimball is saying, take it to heart, and breathe life into it in my own context, it gives me pause. Have the people with whom Kimball has talked to shown any more sincerity than we are showing them by [initially] appearing to not be Christian at all? Are we couching our approach in such a way that somewhat denies our passion for Christ because we’ve been lied to? I’m not saying this is the case. I simply think it is something that ought to be taken into consideration.
Despite my misgivings about the approach this title takes at times, I think Dan Kimball has done Christians a service by providing them with a volume that honestly tries to look for a way to answer the postmodern objections that are the order of the day. An Evidence That Demands a Verdict approach is not working anymore. Many people are not looking for tangible, empirical “proofs” of the faith like they were 20-30 years ago. Most data bears out this fact. But, the data shows that they are no less spiritually hungry. It is this hunger that Kimball speaks to in an open and honest manner. I recommend that pastors and laypersons trying to figure out why the old ways aren’t working pick up They Like Jesus But Not The Church.