A Beautiful Mess: A Review of “Adventures in Churchland” by Dan Kimball

The church is a mess worth participating in.  At least that is what Dan Kimball wants to convince you of in his newest book Adventures in Churchland. The book is largely autobiographical, as Kimball recounts his own experiences in the mess that is organized religion. But even as he tells his own story he always has an eye towards a more general application for all. Kimball undermines the stereotypes and offers correction to the failures of the church throughout the book all with one goal: to demonstrate that when the church if functioning properly she is a great witness to the King.

Most of us know that Christians can be awful sometimes. For all our talk of grace we can be incredibly slow to show it. And for all our talk about the the “authority of Scripture” we can impose our own opinions and preferences on others. In fact it is these two specific failures of the church that Kimball wants to undermine in the book. Most commonly Christians have been identified as judgmental and as controlling. He writes:

I could address so many questions in a book like this, but I find that two issues come up over and over when I talk with people. The first, is the perceived judgmentalism of Christians. Many people who are attracted to Jesus have been turned off by encounters with Christians who came across as self-righteous and condemning. The second issue is that many people believe that attempts of organized spiritual expression degrade it into man-made structures for asserting power and control, and many have had bad experiences with this. (69)

Part two of the book focuses primarily on answering these objections. Part one sets up the context by showing us a contrasting picture: a church that did not function like those that Kimball encounters in the U.S. as a young convert.

The whole work revolves around the story of Dan’s conversion and growth. His playful tone makes this an easy read, and his stories will be relatable to many of us. From his days in the Rockabilly music scene, to his signing in the church choir, to his work with youth, to planting a church, in each scenario Kimball balances between some of the failures and the importance of the church. His discussion of singing in the choir is hilarious, but he is quick to point out the sincere intentions of his fellow believers. He often talks about what he learned in bad experiences, and especially why, after all that he experienced, he doesn’t just bail on the church.

In today’s world when a church or an individual Christian does something embarrassing, it certainly makes headlines quickly enough. But for all the wrongs committed in Jesus’ name, there are many more acts of kindness, mercy, grace, and forgiveness that beautifully represent the name and the message of Jesus. Often, it’s hard to see the beauty when the mess is what is highlighted and gets the attention. But it is all around us, if you look for it. (197)

God has called us to be part of his community called the church, and it is a mess worth participating in.

This book serves as a great, simple, and easy to read introduction to the defense of the church. Far too many Christians these days have abandoned the regular assembling of themselves with other believers, something we are expressly told not to do in Scripture (Hebrews 10:25-27). Some have legitimate hurt caused by the church, some are just selfishly motivated, others are just ignorant, but none of it is an excuse for abandoning the gathering, the assembly, the church. There’s no denying that the church is a mess, we’ve all seen it. But we are part of that mess, and if we stay and help we can be part of fixing it too.

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