Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: Who Stole My Church?

Who Stole My Church? Gordon MacDonald. 2007. Thomas Nelson. 250 pages.

I began our meeting with words I'd rehearsed several times during my drive through the rain to the church: "I feel as if I've failed you."

I honestly don't know what to think about this one. It is fiction. But if it's to be considered truly fiction, then it's didactic fiction. Fiction meant to teach, to illustrate, to amuse, to persuade. Because this "fiction" book is all about trying to persuade the reader to share the author's view point: that the church NEEDS to change--and change drastically--if it's to survive or thrive in the 21st Century. His points are many. The main point being is that the church has ALWAYS changed and adapted throughout the centuries. That the "traditions" of today--or even the traditions of yesterday--were new and controversial when first introduced. Another main point, perhaps it should be THE main point, is that the church does not belong to you and me. It doesn't belong to one generation over another. The church belongs to Jesus, the church is his bride. And he paid a price for his bride, and the church MATTERS to Christ. The church is not something that one individual can "own" or "possess" or "control" or "manipulate." Well, not if it's a healthy church. Not if it's a gospel-driven, Bible-preaching, church.

So essentially the author has made himself and his wife into characters in this fictional church, fictional community. He has created a dozen or so characters and put words in their mouths. He frames the novel into a dialogue between people with different--sometimes very different--points of view. His character then tries to reason and persuade this committee to see things his way.

I could see some of the author's points. But not necessarily every point. For example, he stresses over and over again how today's generation is not familiar with hymns and that singing hymns in church is a turn off. That these 'new' believers will go somewhere else. That if the church is to stay relevant, then it needs to set aside hymns and embrace the songs these 'young' people want to hear, want to sing, etc. The way he phrased it--and I'm not sure he quite intended it to be like this--was that today's generation just can't be bothered with hymns. That hymns weren't worth introducing to new believers, a new generation. It almost sounded like an excuse, today's generation doesn't want to work at learning them or today's generation can't appreciate them, doesn't want to even try to appreciate them. I'm not sure that's fair or true. But it sounded like he was making big assumptions. I *do* think there is value in knowing hymns, in singing hymns. I do think there is great value in some of the lyrics. The lyrics MEAN SOMETHING. And they can be a great foundation in the faith.

I just don't think you can "outgrow" songs like Amazing Grace, Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus, The Old Rugged Cross, What A Friend We Have In Jesus, etc.

I think the book has some value. But it also could be slightly annoying in places.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible


Annette said...

Good review. I had thought of reading/reviewing this book but chose another book.
Did you feel that the author had an attitude of "I know what is best?" The reason I ask that is there seems to be preachers and evangelists that have an attitude of I am "the one" that can interpret Scripture correctly and I am "the one" that can state emphatically that churches as a whole need to change, improve, become more relevant so that this new generation will want to go to church.
Each generation has its own peculiarities and characteristics. This is not something new.
Maybe just maybe this current generation is a little too full of itself in thinking their way is "the best."

chatstack said...

Thankfully I earned a PhD in Biblical studies from a conservative Seminary, or I might have been taken-in.

The book is interesting and well written but extremely unscriptural. Like other purpose driven pastors, the author has the dillusion the church building or home groups are the forum for evangelism, and we are responsible for the salvation of others. He believes the younger generation has always led the church. Flat out fantasy!

We are only, according to Scripture, repsonsible to bring the gospel to others by preaching it, and disciple them once they are saved. Convicting a sinner of his sin, opening a person's heart to the gospel, saving a person is the work of the Holy Spirit, not man. Nowhere in Scripture are we accountable to "reinvent" the church to get people saved. While evangelism is the mission of the church, fellowship (aka the local church) is the place for a believer to grow in their faith and be prepared for the work of the ministry (telling others about Jesus' gospel.) The church is NOT a crusade or a place for evengelism. Though the unsaved are welcome at church and should hear the gospel there, the Apostles never stated the church fellowship was the place for evengelism, nor did they run things in the fellowship of believers as though it were for evangelism. The youth have never historically run the church fellowship. Though Paul did tell a young leader not to allow his age to be a hinderance, it has always been the elders that led the church and always been the elderly that were told to teach the younger in the church, according to Paul's writings.

The author's misconception that hymns, relevent for hundreds of years, are not relevent for today is also rather silly. Historically older people have always passed on music from their generation to the younger, and younger children are usually open to such music. I learned many folk songs and old fashioned tunes from my grandparents and used to listen to my mom's oldies but goodies all the time as a teen. My own teenagers really like the music I liked as a teenager. I found in my own teen years, my desire to play music too loud was rebellious, and not simply a "new generation expressing itself." I agree it's good to utilize the talent of those in our younger generation for worship. But the author's premise the youth playing the worship music so loud it's ear damaging, is so the "vibration" can make them feel like they are "dancing," is silly. No one needs to hear music to the point it damages their ears to feel like they're dancing. If they do then they should just turn down the volume to an acceptable level, that does not harm the ears of children, and dance. The author's allusion people not accepting loud contemporary woship are really unsaved is bogus and insulting to everyone over 45.

The author's setting of a dialogue group, is an example of what's wrong with the church. Nowhere in Scripture are we told to have groups centered on dialogue or centered on the books like purpose driven pastors. The church used the word of God in its fellowship. A pastor teacher was gifted for the purpose of teaching or feeding the flock. Paul warned the church not to heap up for itself many teachers to tickle their itching ears. A dialogue group is many teachers heaped up. A book dilutes the pure word of God. The author's premise is we need to "bring the church into the 21st century" when what we must do is take the church back to the first century apostolic church. His premise we must "reinvent" the church or it "will die" seems to be unfaithful of God's promise the gates of Hell would never prevail against Christ's church.