LTRP Note: We are reposting this book review because, as it was in 2008, another presidential election year is upon us, and we are witnessing another onslaught against conservative Bible-believing Christians by mass media as well as emerging church authors and figures. A perfect example of this, which we will be writing about soon (already working on the article), is a YouTube video by a member of Mark Driscoll’s church titled “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus.”
BOOK REVIEW: THEY LIKE JESUS, BUT NOT THE CHURCH
Dan Kimball’s new book, They Like Jesus But Not the Church should really be called They Like (Another) Jesus But Not the Church, the Bible, Morality, or the Truth. Kimball interviews several young people (one is a lesbian) who tell him they “like and respect Jesus” but they don’t want anything to do with going to church or with those Christians who take the Bible literally. Kimball says these are “exciting times” we live in “when Jesus is becoming more and more respected in our culture by non-churchgoing people” (p. 12). He says we should “be out listening to what non-Christians, especially those in their late teens to thirties, are saying and thinking about the church and Christianity” (p. 12).
According to Kimball, it is vitally important that we as Christians be accepted by non-Christians and not thought of as abnormal or strange. But in order to do that, he says we must change the way we live and behave. He says things like Christian bumper stickers (p. 40) and Christian words like “fellowship,” (p. 41) are “corny” and might offend a non-believer or seeker. Kimball insists (p. 19) that “those who are rejecting faith in Jesus” do so because of their views of Christians and the church. But he makes it clear throughout the book that these distorted views are not the fault of the unbeliever but are the fault of Christians, but not all Christians, just those fundamentalist ones who take the Bible literally, believe that homosexuality is a sin and think certain things are wrong and harmful to society … and actually speak up about these things.
Incidentally, Kimball devotes an entire chapter to homosexuality, “The Church is Homophobic.” Now his chapter titles are supposed to be what these skeptical, disheartened emerging generation persons see in the church. If we would not be homophobic, they would like us much better. Kimball explains:
Quite honestly, and some people might get mad at me for saying this, I sometimes wish this weren’t a sin issue [homosexuality], because I have met gay people who are the most kind, loving, solid, and supportive people I have ever met. As I talk to them and hear their stories and get to know them, I come to understand that their sexual orientation isn’t something they can just turn off. Homosexual attraction is not something people simply choose to have, as is quite often erroneously taught from many pulpits. (p. 138)
This is alarming that Kimball is saying this. Substitute the sin for pedophilia and hear how it sounds: “I sometimes wish molesting children wasn’t a sin issue, because I have met pedophiles who are the most kind, loving, solid, and supportive people I have ever met.” Kimball says (p. 110) we need to focus more on what we stand for rather than what we are against. If I had his views I wouldn’t want anyone focusing on criticisms against them either.
While the book is a theological disaster, many new believers probably won’t know that. That is to be expected. That is why we have pastors and leaders. But this presents some serious concern. One of the most respected leaders in Christendom has his endorsement in the book. Josh McDowell tells readers “it would be foolish” to not carefully study Kimball’s book. Gregory Koukl of Stand to Reason (an apologetics ministry) also endorses the book:
With insight, gentleness, and an unswerving commitment to the wisdom of the past, Dan Kimball shows us what we don’t want to see but must see if we care about the Great Commission in the twenty-first century.
McDowell’s and Koukl’s endorsements are nestled between staunch emerging church/New Thought promoters: Leonard Sweet, Tony Jones, Mark Oestreicher (Youth Specialties) and several others. One example of Kimball’s poor biblical theology is in his chapter titled: “The Church Arrogantly Claims All Other Religions are Wrong.” Kimball refers to John 4 where Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman. Kimballs says: “He [Jesus] stopped and asked questions of the Samaritan woman and didn’t just jump in and say, ‘Samaritans are all wrong.'” But that is exactly what Jesus did! He didn’t ask her any questions. Kimball has misled his readers! Jesus confronted her straight on, something Kimball says (throughout his book) is a terrible thing to do to an unbeliever. Listen to Jesus’ words to the woman:
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
The woman saith unto him, I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.
Kimball’s entire premise is largely based on this type of faulty reasoning, that Christians should not do or say anything that might offend unbelievers, even if that anything is truth and Scripture. But the Bible says that the message of the Cross is offensive and foolish to the unbelieving heart: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).
Kimball says that “to them [the unbelievers], Christianity isn’t normal.” He adds: “This is really important to realize” (p. 29). But the Bible is so clear that those who belong to the Lord Jesus are not looked upon as normal by the world. In fact, Jesus tells us to expect it:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15: 18,19).
Kimball says “Christians are now the foreigners in a post-Christian culture, and we have got to wake up to this reality if we haven’t” (p. 30). He is desperate for this realization to happen saying “we aren’t respected” by those outside the church nor are we sought after for advice by unbelievers (p. 30). But Christians have always been foreigners in the world, and they have suffered terribly for it. Throughout Christian history, there have been countless murders and atrocities that have been committed against Christians. Jesus said, “I am not of this world” (John 8:23) and also: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The apostle Paul said: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body….” (Philippians 3:20), and Jesus said: “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:14)
Perhaps what is most damaging about this book is Kimball’s black and white, either or reasoning (the very thing he accuses Christians of). He makes it very clear that you cannot be a Christian who takes the Bible literally and also be a humble, loving thoughtful person. They are two different things, according to Kimball. There is no such thing as a loving, humble Christian who takes the Bible literally. His book further alienates believers in a world that is already hostile to those who say Jesus is the only way to salvation, the Bible should be taken literally, homosexuality is a sin, and we are called out of this world to live righteously by the grace of God. Some of Kimball’s other black and white statements are: “The church is homophobic” versus “The church is a loving and welcoming community.” (Kimball denounces those who take any kind of stand publicly against homosexuality.) Another: “The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong” versus “The church is respectful of other people’s beliefs and faiths.” Once again, Kimball says it can’t be both ways. Christians who do claim that all other religions are wrong contrast those who are respectful of other people. He says they can’t be both.
As do so many leaders in the emerging church movement, Kimball speaks as if the generation today of young people is so different than young people of any past generation ever, that special means must be applied if these young people are to see truth. But he is wrong as wrong can be. It is the Word of God that pierces the soul and reveals truth … In the 1960s and 1970s, there was another generation of confused, searching young people, many who were looking for life’s meaning. The hippies were as every bit as different as the generation of young people today. Yes, some of the atmosphere was different, but the sins, the questions, and the problems were not. When multitudes of hippies began getting saved, what caused that? Did the pastors of the day start going barefoot and wearing their hair long? No, they gave the hippies the Word of God. Straight forward, loving but uncompromised. Did they take LSD so they could better understand where we were coming from? No, they gave us the Word of God. Did they apologize to us for telling us we were sinners (as Kimball suggests the Church needs to do today)? No. They gave us the Word of God. And it is that Word that brought so many of us into His Kingdom of light. They presented the Word, and we saw Jesus Christ, and He became our Lord and Savior. They didn’t have to say things like, “I wish the drug thing and the free sex thing weren’t sin issues.”
In the book, Kimball distorts logic. Over and over he says that good Christians aren’t like what unbelievers think about Christians and the church. Good believers don’t have strong opinions against homosexuality and other sin issues, nor do they take the Bible literally. Kimball’s just talking about those extreme Christians who behave like that. So in other words, you better not be one of those kind of Christians if you want to be liked by unbelievers. But in truth, Christians hold these beliefs on these controversial issues because the writers of the Bible held these same exact attitudes. What Kimball hates in reality is what the Bible says.
According to Kimball’s book, there are two categories of Christians. Here is the first Kimball describes:
[P]eople who are always saying negative things about the world, are anti-gay, take the whole Bible literally, are card-carrying Republicans, are pro-Israel, read end-times novels, and endorse snake handling and fire-and-brimstone preaching. They think of King-James, finger-pointing, teetotaling, vengeful people who credit God for using natural disasters to punish people for sin, and who use Christian jargon and are arrogant and unloving toward anyone but themselves.
Kimball masterfully condemns Christians who are pro-Israel, take the Bible literally, study Bible end time prophecy and talk about hell, and likens them to negative, arrogant, unloving and vengeful people. He makes a mockery of the Bride of Christ and thus a mockery of Christ Himself. Kimball is careful to install built in defenses into the book that will self-validate his message. He says that if you are uncomfortable reading the book, it may be that you NEED to read the book because you are guilty of all these things. So who is going to want to say anything bad about Kimball’s book?
Toward the end of Kimball’s book (p. 234), he does further damage. He claims that “The classic Bridge Illustration portrays the separation between humankind and God, and how faith in Jesus bridges the chasm.” But now he says everything is different with this generation (and it is basically because of these weird fundamentalist Christians), so now before sinners can come to Christ, Kimball says “First we must build their trust and dispell their misperceptions [not all Christians are like those weird ones]. Then we can dialogue with them about key theological issues preventing them from understanding the problem of sin and their need for a Savior.” So in other words, the mediator between man and God (Jesus Christ) needs the emerging church leaders and their concepts added to bridge the gap between God and sinner.
The glue that binds all this together is in Kimball’s last chapter, “A Great Hope for the Future.” He starts the chapter off with a quote by mystic Henri Nouwen. You see Kimball is a contemplative proponent. He promotes the use of labyrinths and stations of the Cross (meditative centers). He also encourages lectio divina and recommends books by mantra meditation proponents like Gary Thomas, Mike Yaconelli, John Michael Talbot, Brian McLaren and others. In They Like Jesus But Not the Church Kimball recommends Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus and John Shelby Spong’s book, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (though he gives a disclaimer of this latter but still thinks it’s good to be “familiar” with it). However, Kimball gives no disclaimer for his recommendation of Nouwen who said:
Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God.(Sabbatical Journey, p. 51, 1998 edition).
Who is this Jesus that Kimball tells us these unbelievers “like and respect”? Is it the Jesus of the Bible, or is it a Jesus that the world has formulated to fit into their mold. The biblical Jesus told the Pharisees that if they did not believe that He was God in the flesh and Christ, they would die in their sins. That is the very essence of dogmatism. Jesus didn’t dialogue with them and say, “I can understand why you don’t think I am the Messiah, and I can respect that.” He was dogmatic! As Paul says in Scripture, it is another Jesus that they preach; for if it were the real Jesus, they would not like or respect Him until the day they bow down before Him, worship Him as God, and give their lives 100% to Him, denying all other gods and belief systems. “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God” (II John 9). Doctrine means teachings and the writers of the Bible address a number of issues on the nature of God and human conduct. Just read the book of Proverbs to see that this is true, which is instructions on righteousness. For instance, Proverbs 6:32 warns that those commit adultery destroy their own souls. This may sound harsh to some committing adultery but it is done to warn rather than just for the sake of being contentious. Some people may feel this approach is arrogant but their basis for it is concern for the person’s well being rather than a sense of superiority. Kimball is trying to take the teeth out of the Bible so it fits in with our “do whatever you want” culture.
Jesus Christ has paid the price with His blood so that anyone who receives Him, by His grace and His mercy, can repent and be forgiven of their sins and have eternal life. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine [Jesus’] and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.”