Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: Stop Dating The Church

Joshua Harris is probably best known for his 'I Kissed Dating Goodbye' book on romance and not-dating for teens and twenties. Several years ago, he wrote a small book on giving up another form of dating - this time dating the church. In Stop Dating The Church: Fall in Love with the Family of God, Harris provides an emotional plea to pitch in with a local church, committing to it through membership and participation.

It seems that there's a great need for a book like this - the popularity of emergent types and the statistics that suggest that people love Jesus, but not His Church, and the anecdotal evidence of people being hurt by local churches and swearing off them. In Harris' words, there is now a generation of 'believers, but not belongers.' Such people are the church daters he is aiming at - me-centred, independent and critical.

Yet these people are missing out on so much by not being a part of a local church. If the church is God's vehicle for spreading the gospel, then to opt out is to prevent the world from hearing, to miss the family aspect of the local church, and also to miss our on what God will do in us through the fellowship of his church. Harris seeks to change us from consumers to communers, and he does this really well through his theological insights into how God views the church, and what it means to be part of a local church.

His style hasn't changed from his earlier books, and he continues to provide lots of personal discussion and stories from his own experience, as well as memorable turns of phrase. The chapters normally begin with a useful illustration or story about a person he knows, which introduces the theme at hand. Perhaps the best was his story about his friend who drives Jeeps and joined the Jeep club. His passion for Jeeps knew no bounds, writing about them, watching them, photographing them, using forums etc - the Jeep club was his club. Harris then asks what our club is - where we spend our passion and what drives us. He seeks to help us make the church our club.

There is a helpful section on deciding where to go to church, with some questions regarding the 'must-haves' and 'that would be nice' of potential churches. While being helpful, these questions were also a challenge for church members and leaders - is our church fellowship these things? His summary here was useful: we want to be part of a church which teaches, values and lives God's word.

Even with all this useful and helpful material there was one major section I wasn't entirely sure of. Harris is winding up to his big conclusion, he is reaching the crescendo and encouraging us to commit to church, and to know the grace that Jesus provides to church-daters and the restoration that is available. So he attempts to use the restoration of Peter in John 21, the questions 'Do you love me?' as the questions to the church-dater, and, in his words, 'I think many of us church-daters are like Peter. We really do love Jesus; we just have trouble putting that love into action.' I'm not sure that this passage is saying what Harris is wanting it to say, despite his spin.

Another slight issue I had with the book was the number of times he mentions his fellow pastors or friends, and the number of books he recommends within the main body of his boo. At one point, there were two paragraphs, each of which were book recommendations. Perhaps the place for such things is in the endnotes or an appendix?

Over all, I think it's a helpful book for teenagers and twenties to use to discover or rediscover just what God thinks of the church, and how important it is in the plans and purposes of God. I'm not sure that it would be for an older age range, but for teens and twenties it's probably useful given its small size and ease of reading. Some things I'll take from the book so it's good enough.

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