The controversial piece I had heard about Kimball's book was a story in it where Kimball had ripped out pages of a Bible because he was giving it to a new believer. Supposedly, Kimball was concerned that the new believer might be offended by some of the passages that discussed sexual sin (this new believer was still living with a girlfriend).
Needless to say, I went into this book with a bias, much like the bias I had starting McLaren's book. However, unlike McLaren's book, Dan Kimball's book won me over.
If you're a pastor reading this book, it might be hard not to take offense at times. Dan Kimball is brutally honest about how as a church, we have failed to keep up with the culture. We have not failed in the message, for the message never changes, but we are failing with the method. We've created a Christian sub-culture that can repel rather than attract those that need to learn about God's saving grace.
As I mentioned, I went into this book with a bias. However, as I read it, I noticed I kept shaking my head in agreement. Even though I am in the Christian sub-culture he describes, I can see the problems and understand how this can cause barriers to others.
A list of non-Christian perceptions of the church addressed in this book are as follows (taken directly from the table of contents):
- The church is an organized religion with a political agenda
- The church is judgmental and negative
- The church is dominated by males and oppresses females
- The church is homophobic
- The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong
- The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally
What about tearing out offending pages of the Bible? That turned out not to be an accurate portrayal of the story.
What really happened, was that Dan Kimball had been sharing his faith with a young man for some time. One day, the young man said he'd really like to read the Bible for himself. Kimball excitedly drove to the church and grabbed one of the new believer New Testaments fresh out of a box and rushed back to the coffee shop.
Before he went in, he flipped through the pages and noticed that throughout this version of the New Testament there were commentaries on what you could no longer do as a Christian. He started to try to tear these commentaries out but there were too many. So he went back and got an non-editorialized version of the New Testament and gave that to the young man instead.
I totally understand Kimball's concern with giving a seeking non-believer a Bible full of commentary on what you must now give up as a Christian. I've had this discussion with my brother in the past over his concerns about Christianity. It's hard for non-Christians to grasp\believe that Christianity is not about rules. Everything that needs to be done for you to be saved has already been done by Jesus on the cross.
We should share the good news that there's a better way. However, let God's Word speak to the heart about one's sins. Let the Holy Spirit do the convicting. This does not mean condoning any life style or actions that are contrary to God's Word. The point is, as Christians we need to be able to point out the need for salvation without making is sound like holy living is a prerequisite.
Jesus died for us, while we were still sinners. The transforming of the heart comes afterwards. It comes not through rules but through the miracle of grace.
I highly recommend They Like Jesus But Not the Church. It's not flawless and you may not agree with all of Kimball's points. However, if you follow each point to it's conclusion, you'll find that he keeps his doctrine sound. As with any Christian book, weigh what you read against scripture.