By Dan Kimball
Guest Review By: Paloma Douglas
What sets Dan Kimball’s book on contemporary church culture apart from all the others is the conversational empathy and understanding he extends to those hurt by “Churchland.” Kimball keeps a balance throughout the book that honestly addresses the flaws and shortcomings in the church, yet maintains a respect for the necessity of organization, structure, and correction within the body of believers. Perhaps what endears readers the most to Kimball’s humorous style is the narrative of his own journey through Churchland.
Similar to many others’ stories, Kimball’s first real encounter with the Gospel happened during his teenage years when a stranger asked him about his eternal destination. This led to Kimball repeating the sinner’s prayer. Years later, with little discipleship, Kimball felt curious, confused, and cautious about the church. Though people had hurt him within the church culture, he eventually read and studied the Bible for himself. He also met an older man, a major positive influence, who introduced him to Bible study and refused to pass judgment on Kimball’s lifestyle.
Now a staff member at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, Kimball identifies several perspectives and behaviors within the church that may hinder nonbelievers from fully embracing the community known as the church. He says, “there are many things Christians do—with good intentions—that can be quite embarrassing or confusing to others.” Many of these silly traditions seem completely normal to churchgoers, yet look and sound completely foreign and unappealing to everybody else, such as glamorized Christmas musicals and Christian lingo. Other examples, however, have much more serious consequences, such as picket sign-holders proclaiming doom and destruction, leaders focused on haircuts more than heart issues, and the hypocrisy especially highlighted in the realms of television evangelism and radio preaching.
One major downfall Kimball points out in much of the church is its eager willingness to condemn those outside the perimeter, and the hesitancy in judging and correcting believers who continually engage in sinful lifestyles. He even devotes a chapter to explaining the biblical method for confronting believers.
Though he points out the major flaws when the church focuses on traditionalism and legalism rather than bringing people to faith, he asserts the necessity of order as well. People will find it hard to have Jesus without the church because a body must function with and among its other parts. And if the church does its part well, people will change because they align themselves with Christ rather than follow a set of rules.
Perhaps the most challenging issue Kimball addresses finds root in Christians isolating themselves from the rest of the world, a clear deviation from the “in but not of” motto Christians like to quote. In his experience, he says that the more he immersed himself in Churchland, the more disconnected he felt from the world. He believes that as a part of the culture, people cannot just accept Jesus to get into heaven, but should fulfill the mission of loving people here on earth. Although the church sometimes creates a mess, he says, “What matters is that we stick around to help clean our messes up.”
Kimball’s book provokes much consideration and rethinking of church culture trends. The truthful sting of what he says motivates the church to change its approaches and methods. Kimball presents all this in light of the beautiful Gospel and biblical truths, and he offers “Graceland” as the alternative to Churchland. The church needs to share the Gospel with the world, and the approaches it takes will determine their effectiveness. The church makes messes, but it can also serve as a hospital for mess-makers. He says we must look at the positive and ask, “What mess will I choose to be in?”