11/05/2014

Adventures in Churchland (by Dan Kimball)

It's some years since I first came across Dan Kimball, an American writer who's now a pastor, but who has a lot of sympathy with people who would like to follow Jesus, but have a hard time with other Christians. I saw this book recommended on Amazon and was delighted to receive it a a gift recently.

'Adventures in Churchland' is a thoughtful look at what we call 'church', including the author's own experiences with some most unhelpful Christians and church styles. He contrasts what he calls 'Churchland' (the typical culture and traditions that often go with church congregations) with 'Graceland', the ideal church as Body of Christ.

He writes with clarity and honesty about the horrors of judgemental and rigid church leaders, of the rejection of those who are perceived as 'different', of the worst kind of controlling religious stereotypes who may be rare, but, alas, do exist.

He also writes of his warm welcome by a small group in London. He began to relate to people very different from himself, who encouraged him to ask questions and explore any problems he had; who didn't criticise the way he dressed or the habits he indulged in, but offered him love and acceptance as a person made in God's image.

As well as the interesting biographical adventure, Kimball writes about the universal church, which consists of all who love and follow Jesus, whatever their nationality or denominational affiliation. He points out that we're created and saved not just to secure a spot in the heavenly afterlife, but to be part of God's Kingdom on earth, to build up and encourage each other within the Christian community, and to be a blessing to those around us, both believers and non-believers.

There's nothing new or radical in this; still, I found myself nodding at times, agreeing with his explanations of Scripture and empathising with many of his experiences. I rolled my eyes slightly at the chapter giving an evangelistic message; it's sensitively done but I don't suppose there are many readers of this book who have not committed themselves to God already.

Towards the end, Kimball writes about his perception of the importance of being a part of a local gathering or congregation, something he sees as a small expression of the universal church, within one's neighbourhood. The reasons he puts forward are solid: so that we can learn alongside each other and help each other not to fall into error. He points to the Biblical analogies of the human body: if each of us has a role to play, however small, then we need to be present to play that role. Perhaps the local congregation can get along without one of its fingernails, but it's not quite complete. We all have gifts, and God can use us, but not unless we're in the right place at the right time.

And I agreed with all the theory, even though he did not address the problem of those who - for whatever reason - feel that it's not currently right to be part of any local congregation.

I don't know that it's particularly helpful for followers of Jesus who are currently 'called out' of the local structured church. But it's a thought-provoking book, which could be useful for anyone who has been hurt or attacked by Christians, or who had one bad experience with a local congregation and then reject them all (understandably) in reaction. I thought it very readable and it certainly made me think.

Recommended. Available in Kindle form as well as paperback, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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