Monday, June 18, 2007

Jesus And His Church

One of the benefits of coming to the states for a few weeks is that I can get caught up on my reading. Living overseas it’s almost impossible to find good books on current thinking in missions or the church. It seems the theme of my readings lately has been on the emerging church.

If you are not familiar with the emerging church term it is primarily used by the emerging generation (people in their 20’s and 30’s) addressing the need to read and see the culture in which we live today. Christ, Christianity and the Church are not synonymous terms. In fact, as the new culture writers see it, Christianity and Church, sometimes, is often a barrier for non-believers in becoming followers of Christ.

The most recent of these books is Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus But Not The Church. Though I have only read a third of the book thus far, it’s interesting enough for me to comment on. The underlying theme in Kimball’s work, and a common thread with all emerging church authors, is that to reach people with the Good News of Jesus we must emulate Him. This takes on two forms. First, Jesus was revolutionary in that His work was outside the established religion of His day. Though Jesus was a Jew and a student of theology (manifested in the Mosaic Law), His message was seldom to those within confines of the religious order. Not only was He not a part of the religious establishment, His harshest criticism was to those who had become captive of formal Judaism. Though the emerging church writers make an attempt to steer away from harsh criticisms of the Church, they freely point out the weakness of the establishment.

The second theme, common in these emerging church books, is the need for followers of Jesus to engage people of their culture outside the confines of the local church. Kimball’s list of “Six Common Perceptions of the Church” is:

1. The church is an organized religion with a political agenda.
2. The church is judgmental and negative.
3. The church is dominated by males and oppresses females.
4. The church is homophobic.
5. The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.
6. The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.

According to Kimball, most people he talks to like Jesus, they just don’t like the church. Jesus was a friend of sinners – ate with them, drank with them, worked with them and most importantly, talked with them. Many of the emerging church writers are trying to make the case that the task of the church is to be more like Jesus and less like the institutional religious industry that we have become.
It’s important to recognize that the emerging church proponents are dealing primarily with pre-conversion issues. There is always a tension between Christ meeting people where they are to where Christ wants them to be after they become His followers. You will read little to nothing about discipleship, spiritual growth or corporate responsibility in these books and that’s okay, as long as one understands there is a gap between helping the blind man see and then telling that blind man to go to the temple (or church) and perform religious rituals as an act of obedience in faith.

As a missiologist I can appreciate these current writings, as it is the same message I deal with in my teachings overseas. The established church, in many ways, is an impediment for the Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu. If I can engage others to talk about Jesus, rather than Christianity, I find that many of them respect Jesus…they just don’t like the church.