A Review of
Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion.
Reviewed by Timothy Stege.
When I was in high school, my siblings and I loved to discover new buffets. We had our favorites spread throughout the southern suburbs of Chicago, but we always hungered for new smorgasbord experiences. We could rotate through our favorite ones based on our appetites – this one had great chicken wings and banana bread, another was all Polish food, yet another had rib night. One day, though, we finally hit pay dirt: Five Islands Buffet. This place seemed like a dream come true for us; the food was arranged in different islands, with the American-style food on Coney Island, then Italian, Chinese, Mexican, and dessert islands. It was buffet heaven – food for every mood, and all good. I’m pretty sure we wore out our welcome over a span of several months, and hopefully the eventual demise of Five Islands had nothing to do with the significant hit we would put in their food supply each visit.
Dan Kimball’s newest book, Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion, has a lot of the same appeal that made us frequent visitors of Five Islands. Kimball says this book is a “product” of his earlier work, They Like Jesus but Not the Church, written to “help leaders in the church understand…why many people don’t like the church,” or Christianity, though they may like Jesus just fine. Adventures in Churchland takes these issues further but is written to church members, seekers, and those turned off by the church and the common images of Christianity presented in our culture.
The buffet-like offerings of the book are the result of two things: Kimball’s ability to reference pop culture and biblical history and archaeology as if they are natural bedfellows, and the genre mash-up of the book itself. Kimball says on his website (http://www.dankimball.com) that the book is “somewhat memoirish,” as he weaves much of his backstory into the book. These aspects of his writing make the appeal of the buffet broader, making this book accessible to the new or even not-quite-yet follower of Jesus, as well as stimulating enough to carry the conversation forward for those church leaders who have benefited from Kimball’s other books.
The book is sectioned off into three parts: Churchland, which recounts a selection of the author’s early encounters with the church and his journey of coming to grips with it in all of its beautiful weirdness; Finding Beauty in the Mess, exploring judgment and organized religion; and Graceland, an attempt to jettison Christian subculture and encourage an understanding of the church as people immersed in culture for the purposes of sharing Jesus and shaping the world.
Part two serves as an interlude of sorts between Churchland and Graceland, and was the most satisfying and engaging part of the book. In this section, Kimball sets up a three-part movement to serve as a corrective for judgment and organized religion. For both issues, movement one is “You have heard that the church is…”; followed by movement two, a view of historical and scriptural context to understand the biblical stance better; and finally, movement three, “But Jesus says the church is…,” clear in its affirmation of the need for the church in all its organized messiness and flawed beauty, a much-needed affirmation in the year that Newsweek proclaimed on its cover that we should all follow Jesus, and forget the church. I also find encouragement in Dan Kimball’s reminder that, “Christianity is not bound by practices or traditions that are limited to a particular time or culture, and the church can be a beautiful, flexible, ever-changing community of creativity.”
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
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