Saturday, April 24, 2010

What I Don't Like About "Why We Love the Church"

I previously posted on what I like about Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck's book entitled Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion.

Please read that post before reading this one (by clicking here).

As I said in my previous post, I really wanted to like this book. I was hoping that the authors would present a biblical defense for today's traditional, institutionalized church. When I completed the book, I was very disappointed. I finished the book thinking, "Is that the best you can do?" While the book was engaging and pleasant to read, I found the biblical defense of the modern church to be unconvincing at best.

(For the sake of this post, from this point forward I'll use the term "institutional church" to refer to the modern church in the West. I'll use this term because the authors used it in the book subtitle).

I've listed below 10 negative aspects of Why We Love the Church:

1. Instead of first looking to the bible to see what it says about the church, the authors instead set out to defend the institutional church. The book title should make that abundantly clear. The problem this leads to is that they have selected certain specific verses to defend their practices rather than building a complete biblical ecclesiology. They have fallen into the trap of proof-texting to make their case for the institutional church.

2. Throughout the book, the authors write as if there are only two groups to talk about. The first is the defenders of the biblical gospel - those who are part of the institutional church. The second group is composed of those in the emergent church who do not take a strong stand for the gospel. By stating things this way, anyone who believes in the gospel feels forced to be part of the institutional church. There is a significant problem with the authors' reasoning. The problem is that there are far more than two groups to discuss. An obvious example is those who look to the biblical model for both belief and practice. I'm describing those who hold strongly to the gospel and also view the model of church set forth in the N.T. as prescriptive. Many of those in the house church movement fall into this category.

3. The authors say several times that since God loves the church, all Christians should as well. The problem is that they confuse the church universal with the institutional church. Of course we should all love the church universal. However, nowhere does the bible tell us to love modern practices that have no scriptural warrant.

4. The authors write that since the church is composed of sinners, we should not be surprised that the church has problems. I agree with this statement. However, they ignore the fact that at least some of the problems in the church are caused by institutionalized structures and practices that cannot be found in the bible. Just one example is church pews. They cause passivity. They, of course, cannot be found in scripture.

5. DeYoung and Kluck often write from experience. They speak about the things they like. On page 34, Kluck writes, "I'm also glad that my church is 'organized.' I'm glad I know where to put my toddler on Sunday morning." It's fine for the authors to have preferences, but they carry no authority and just confuse their arguments. If you consider reading this book, I recommend reading only DeYoung's chapters. Kluck's are fun to read but are based on experience and therefore carry no weight.

6. On several occasions, the authors use the phrase, "going to church." This implies a lack of understanding of what the church actually is. However, I know that these authors do, in fact, know what the church is. Therefore, I wish they had used more precise terminology.

7. This book shows an inconsistent view of church history. For example, they say you shouldn't leave the institutional church. They also quote the Reformers. However, they ignore the fact that the Reformers left the Roman Church.

8. The authors repeatedly dismiss the scriptural model as important. Let me give two examples. First, regarding meeting places, the authors write on page 120, "There is no command for Christians to meet in small numbers in homes and no reason to think they did so for any other reasons than necessity and convenience." They go on to say on page 121, "Here's the bottom line: the whole conversation about church buildings is much ado about nothing." Second, regarding church gatherings, the authors state on page 123, "The services at Corinth are not meant to provide a normative blueprint for Christian worship."

The problem with all this is that the authors are rejecting the model set forth in scripture. Here's the rub: the apostles were there with the early church. They gave approval to the practices that they did not correct. We can with confidence say, for example, that the apostles approve of meetings in homes. We do not know what they would say about many of our modern practices. We simply do not know. Would they approve of pews, stages, pulpits, nurseries, sound systems, ushers, etc.? We don't know. Can we live with that?

9. Many of their arguments show poor biblical exegesis. The reason for this is that they are trying to defend structures and practices that cannot be found in the bible. For example, on page 168, they argue for what they refer to as "elder rule." This is simply an unbiblical concept. On page 169, they argue that the church must have organization. I agree with this. The problem is that when they say "organization," they really mean "institution." For example, they actually say that there is a need for Robert's Rules of Order. On page 174, they argue for the importance of preaching in the church. They give biblical examples. However, none of these examples shows a a preacher preaching week-in and week-out like we see it today and like what the authors are trying to defend.

10. The authors spend a few pages dealing specifically with the house church (pages 179-182). They try to show that there are problems even in the house church. I agree with this; house churches are composed of human beings so there will be problems. They use an example from the Chinese house church situation to try to show these problems. Their goal is to prove (as they say on page 182) that, "every way of doing church and every context has its strengths and weaknesses." Here's the problem with their reasoning: the bible tells us how to deal with the problems they mention in the house church. On the other hand, the bible does not tell us how to deal with problems faced by large institutional churches that gather in large buildings. Somewhat ironically, on page 191 they tell of a gathering of a "small group" that they enjoy. This small group sounds more like a biblical church than does their large gathering!

For the above ten reasons, I found this book to be very disappointing.

I'll close this post with two direct quotes from this book that show what I believe is a lack of understanding of biblical ecclesiology:

Page 175: "God meets with and rules over His people, not through a facilitated experience of group sharing, but through the authoritative preaching of the Word of God."

Page 178, "Christianity is not whatever we want it to be. It is, like it or not, organized religion. And the church is what gives it its organization, shape, and definition."

With all this said, I still encourage you to read this book. We ought not be afraid to read books with which we might disagree. This text is an important defense of the institutional church. It is important for two reasons. First, many people like the book. It has been recommended by some big names in the evangelical world. I'm sure many traditional pastors will find comfort in what DeYoung and Kluck have to say. The second reason it is important is that its arguments are so poor. If this is one of the best defenses of the institutional church, then the institutional church is in trouble.

Read the book and see what you think. I remain unconvinced.


Aussie John said...


It seems that the authors are like I was many years ago, so busy defending the traditional status quo in which I was comfortable, that I was blinded to the proper starting point of any examination of ecclesiology.

Some years ago I gave nearly 500 books away to reduce my library. A large number of those, touching on "the church" had similar thinking to that which you describe.

Eric said...


This will not surprise you, but I'm afraid that there are many pastors who will line up to praise this book. So many people who claim to live by sola scriptura sure are selective about which parts of scriptura to follow.

Are Karlsen said...

Thank you! Interesting stuff. I´ve been attending house church in Norway for 6 years. It´s getting better and better.

Eric said...


Thanks for your comment. I'm so glad your house church is going well. Praise the Lord!

Alan Knox said...


Thanks for the review. Without reading the book, I noticed many of the same things you did from reading positive reviews of the book.

I'm surprised that you didn't get more feedback on this post.


Eric said...


I'm a bit surprised, too. It may be because I posted it over the weekend. It may also be because this book is difficult to defend from a biblical perspective.

cm said...

Problem #1 - Church is word that has no basis in the greek manuscript. ekklesia is the word used to describe those who have been "called out". Not sure that I have seen any bricks "called out" lately, but I have seen living stones. What they are really defending is man-made (bricks) versus the God-made (living stones).

Eric said...


There certainly is a lot of emphasis on the building. They also stress various types of man-made structures and practices.

Whenever we stray from the scriptural model, we will run into problems.