29 September 2009

A Good-Natured Rant

by Frank Turk

With DJP trapped in a vacation of his own making in high-altitude parts-unknown, and Phil suffering through the urban delights of Houston (Eat at Papasitas, Phil!), you're left with me to carry the water for the week, and fortunately for all of us I have a giant stack of books to review in order to maintain my credibility as a blogger who lives up to his end of the bargain when someone sends in a PDF or promo copy for the sake of good will.

If you visit my blog, there are about a dozen books in the sidebar I have listed as "required reading" mostly because they are books I have enjoyed and benefitted from. There are some other books I need to add to that list, but the book I have in my hand today would probably serve most of you as a sort of survey of those books -- a survey of the landscape of the evangelical church.

Warren Cole Smith has published A Lover's Quarrel with The Evangelical Church, which is a sort of late-comer to the cottage industry of recounting the evangelical church's loss of its first love, as they say. Smith sees himself as an insider and longer-term traveller inside the conservative evangelical movement, and as such he has come to a lot of the same conclusions a lot of the rest of us have -- the church is facile, ahistorical, sentimental to the point of being trite and irrelevant, ironically market-driven in spite of its irrelevance, more concerned with gaining an audience rather than growing disciples, and so on. There's a chapter on each of those subjects, and you can really see the problems pretty vividly when he's done.

Which, of course, is fine. These are observations made by David F. Wells, Mark Noll, David F. Wells, Os Guinness, David F. Wells, D. A. Carson, David F. Wells, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, and of course David F. Wells. maybe it's actually David Wells who has done all the legitimate leg-work here and everyone else has sort of cited him or referred to him.

In that, it may be unfair of me to make that my primary criticism of Warren's book: it's not really anything new. However, that criticism misses the numerous and copious end notes (sorry, Dan) he has provided to the reader to demonstrate that he has in fact done his homework and he is in fact not the first guy to bring all this up.

In a real way, all that work makes this conversationally-styled book perhaps all the more damning as it seeks to speak the truth in love to the English-speaking church: this has all actually been said before, and the problems are not really getting all that much better. At some point, the church has to stop reading books which tell us how charming we are or ought to be and instead hold up the mirror to ourselves and say plainly, "you didn't really mean to come out of the house looking like that now, did you?"

So here's the thing: I enjoyed this book. It's nice when a book can say something is deeply wrong with the church and still have confidence (even if it is a sub-textual confidence) in the Gospel in spite of the flaws of the people in churches today. I appreciated the non-apocalytic tone of the book -- it was urgent and serious when it needed to be, but not hardly a "this may be the last Christian generation" sort of jeremiad. It was sort of an old friend in a new pair of jeans and some loafers who came over to the house for a bit of a good-natured rant.

So I recommend it -- on a scale of 5, I'll round up and give it a 4, though students of David Wells will chide me for grade inflation.

I have a couple of other books to review tomorrow, so we'll pick up there, then.


Anonymous said...

I guess I am realising more and more how it is the 'in-thing' these days to criticise evangelicalism (at least from the American standpoint).

I am glad someone challenged also providing hope at the same time. As I believe the good ol' G.K. Chesterton said somewhere: 'Hope lights a candle rather than cursing the dark.'

James David Beebe, Jr. said...

About it being said before, so often that it's a cottage industry: isn't that like God's patience? Multiple prophets for a long time going on and on about repenting before God chastens ... c'mon, repent ... you'd better repent ... please repent... here's what's going to happen if you don't repent... here it is, the enemy is at the gate, there's still time for one last chance ... you're declining the last chance, are you sure?

FX Turk said...

As a worker in the cottage industry for criticizing Evangelidom, I think there's a lot of merit in James David Beebe's comment here. It really does go back to who is actually running things around here (God) in spite of who we think is running things around here ("us", or worse "them").

I think somehow our prophetic inclinations have to be mixed with the object of all prophecy, which is Jesus Christ.

lee n. field said...

"n that, it may be unfair of me to make that my primary criticism of Warren's book: it's not really anything new."

He has details I had not seen before. Ex. "Becky", the notional audience Christian radio is aiming at. And he well names the "Christian Industrial Complex" -- that's worth getting into general parlance.

Yup, it's getting to be a regular genre, all by itself. Don't forget to add Michael Horton to the list. And Julia Duin's (IMHO flawed) book Quitting Church. And David Wells :-).

Of course it's not "the last Christian generation". It's not because Christ's church is not coterminous with American evangelicalism.

Question I have is, is anyone who matters listening? I can rant all I want and noone will pay me any attention.

DJP said...

I tap into high-altitude interwebs to say: good on you, Frank! If Phil's and my scarcity means more Turk... well, I'll have to vacation more often!

John said...

What, Phil in Houston? Forget Papasitas and Papadeaux, have to eat Chueys. It's in a James Bond novel, so it has to be good...

Dave .... said...

DANG! I was going to write that book!


Stefan Ewing said...

It is, sadly, an old issue. The first 66-volume book to deal with it was written over the course of 1500 years, from approximately 1500 B.C. to A.D. 95.

MJ said...

While the food is mediocre Mexican, the warm salsa at Pappasitos is memorable. However, the wisest choice in Houston would be Cantina Laredo. Trust me on this. Off topic, but you mentioned it so...

Us said...

"At some point, the church has to stop reading books which tell us how charming we are or ought to be..."

The Bible says that "too much books" is wearying to the body.

...and in my life..."too much books" drags me away from pursuing Jesus Himself, the Vine.

Ecclesiastes 12:11-14 (NAS)

The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd.

But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.

For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.