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on February 9, 2014
A Review of
They Like Jesus But Not The Church
by Dan Kimball (Zondervan, 2007, 271 pp)

I found They Like Jesus But Not the Church by Dan Kimball to be a helpful complement to the well-known Barna Institute publication UnChristian by David Kinneman. The Barna Institute book provides us with statistical analyses of young people’s disconnect from mainline Christianity. Kimball’s book provides us with anecdotes that put a human face to the statistics.
The focus of They Like Jesus is on the same issues that Kinneman identifies. The topics discussed from pp. 73-209 are:
• 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.
Kimball’s approach to these issues is to interview young people in settings outside the church. His research methodology is more like a focus group than a random sample survey. As the pastor of a growing congregation, Kimball recognized that he had begun to live within the Christian bubble, so he made a concerted effort to open conversations in the public square. One of his major pleas is that Christians converse openheartedly with their unchurched neighbors and colleagues, probably forcing themselves out of their comfort zone as he had to do. He concludes the chapter on “Why I Escaped the Church Office” saying:
Are you in the prison of the Christian bubble? Have you become comfortably numb?.... Are you planning your escape? People who like Jesus are waiting on the outside to meet you. (p. 48)
The phrase “people who like Jesus” opens up a major theme of the book. He found in his conversations that people were attracted to Jesus, basically seeing him in their own image: “The pop culture Jesus is the loving, hypocrite-hating man of peace who taught us not to judge others.” (p. 55) At the conclusion of the book, Kimball addresses several criticisms of his approach and evaluation of this pop culture view. He admits that it is grossly inadequate and narrow, but “we should celebrate their interest in him and use that as a springboard to engage them in conversations about who he really is.” (p. 256)
In order to do that, though, we need to be respectful and open. We need to gain people’s trust. We need to see ourselves in a foreign mission field, learning the culture and expressing the call of Christ in ways and terms that the unbelievers can understand. “Hear their thinking and understand their hearts,” he urges. (p. 260)
Kimball gives examples from his own parish where they have tried to organize and present in ways that make outsiders comfortable. His congregation intentionally attempts to incorporate and harness the energy, creativity, and cultural relevance of young people. He tries to avoid the image of the know-it-all preacher by using dialogue in his sermons. He accommodates their desire for personal prayer time by occasionally having only prayer stations instead of corporate worship on Sunday mornings. He explains traditions of the church and its ancient liturgies when he uses them.
One plea that Kimball makes relates well to our Lutheran theological tradition. He says that people want to learn about Jesus, and Lutheran theology is deeply Christ-centered. Besides “Solus Christus,” we also have “Sola Scriptura,” and people want to learn what the Bible says. They don’t want someone forcing personal opinions or political issues on them. They want to become better people, more Christ-like. As one interviewee put it, “it feels more like they are trying to shame you and control you into their way of thinking… rather than it being about becoming more like Jesus and a more loving human being.” (p. 104)
Kimball is an evangelical pastor, so he is at great pains to relate his concerns in ways that do not compromise the faith. In the section on Fundamentalism, he argues that we should all be fundamentalists in the classical sense, basically adhering to the doctrines of the Creeds. However, we should be respectful, humble, and open on other matters. Kimball takes this approach on issues like the role of women in the church, infallibility of Scripture, evolution, homosexuality, other religions, etc.
Kimball points out that people today get information on Christianity and other faiths from many different sources. No longer is the church’s interpretation of truth the dominant one. We must understand the other viewpoints, and we must address them intelligently. For example, Kimball several times mentions his struggle with the scholarly interpretation that the basic narrative of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection is a repetition of ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman myths. Anybody who watches TV or reads general works on religion has seen this viewpoint. Do we know it, and are we able/ready to address it, he asks.
Kimball advocates that churches and pastors must become much more intentional and thorough in their teaching ministries. Members must learn how to interpret Scripture in all its complexities, not just gather isolated passages to use as ammunition. They must understand and appreciate other religions, not just dismiss them as demonic. “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it” just won’t do anymore. Too many Christians “don’t know why they believe what they do.” (p. 202) They certainly can’t then explain or defend it to others. We need to do the hard work of understanding our faith in terms of the questions of our day.
Kimball urges that people are hungry for Christians to make sense of the faith. “I see attraction and even relief when they hear rational and heartfelt reasons for having some core theological beliefs.” (p. 206) Kimball begins the next-to-last chapter with this great question: “If you were ever to go to a church or return to a church , and if you could shape it, what would that church look like?” (p. 213) He summarizes the view of the outsiders: “ We want to be taught the Bible to learn about Jesus…. Give us the opportunity to ask questions… We want a learning environment, not a watered-down lecture….” (p. 223)
In the eloquent expressions of some interviewees (pp. 224-25):
• “Make church a book club with soul.”
• “I want (church) to be like a family… where you are all looking out for each other.”
• “I wish the pastors and leaders were like baristas or bartenders.”
• “I want the church to be diverse and to accept diversity and love diversity.”
In conclusion, Kimball summarizes his message to the church to offer a humble apology and an informed apologetic. (p. 250)
Clearly, the book is a great one for a discussion group. It is written for Christians to discuss together, but one could also envisage doing it in a more community forum such as a coffee house, neighborhood discussion group, campus ministry, or book club. What a humble, openhearted way for Christians to learn and share.
Especially in such a forum, one of the great strengths of the book is the numerous discussion questions at the end of each of the chapters. They are incisive and challenging. A few examples:
• “If you were raised outside of the church…., do you think you would like Christians? (p. 35)
• “Does the rising interest in the pop culture Jesus excite you…. or do you see it as a threat….?” (p. 59)
• “Imagine a stranger visiting…. What would (he) observe that would clearly point to Jesus? (p. 95)
• “How do you think people in your town would describe your church?.... What are you known for?” (p. 113)
• “How would visitors know that your church respects females and gives them a voice in the life of the church?” (p. 135)
• “How would the average person in your church explain why they believe Jesus is the only way to salvation?” (p. 186)
• “What specific stumbling blocks can you list that prevent people from ever reaching the point of stumbling over the gospel?” (p. 244)
• “Do you feel optimistic about those who like Jesus but not the church?” (p. 254)
Kimball’s plea is that we feel optimistic and prepare to engage them intelligently and joyfully.

Herb Hoefer
Concordia University
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on May 5, 2015
Kimball does a really good job of getting down to the issues, and it was compelling for me to reflect on them as he experienced them. I think his personal approach towards this issue is exactly what was needed. Several other books on the issue that I've read are dry and pretty much like a dictionary: define the terms, give a few examples, and make some predictable application. Kimball talked about real people with real lives, so it was much more grabbing.
My only complaint is that he's sometimes theologically inconsistent. I don't particularly want to dig into the issues, but it seemed to me like he wanted traditionalists to bend to accommodate and then told them to not budge in order to maintain their integrity. I understand that there's not really a lot you can do with that, but I thought that it could have been cleared up a little bit.
Overall, great book. If you're looking for a first-hand experience into this topic and don't want someone locked up in an ivory tower giving you bland commentary on the subject and not the people involved, this is your book. Yes, yes, and yes.
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on May 6, 2017
I got this book after learning of it from my Pastor. I am working on my Master of Divinity degree and this book has been an excellent resource for my thesis. However, beyond that, it has given me great insight into why the church is in decline. I pray I learn from this and can be the kind of Christian that people want to know, so they may know Jesus through me.
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on October 2, 2008
Nobody has written as extensively on young adult ministry as Dan. This book cuts through the quick, and addresses the central reasons why this generation sees Christianity as the monolithic beast that the church has made it into, and better yet, how to overcome those obstacles. Christ never intended for His church to be so institutionalized, and in the process of the modern church movement, we (Christians) have become more church centered (building) than we have about soul centered. It has become more about religion than relationship, and Dan has opened the doors and the windows in an effort to bring a fresh change to the way that we can reach the next generation for Christ. Don't dumb down the message of the Gospel, but reveal it and make it approachable. More churches need to focus on reaching these young people, BEFORE they leave the church - NOT after they are gone. Roughly 70% of churched Christians who go off to college will stop attending church within their first 2 years of school. Most will never return. It's time to recognize that these young people need to be ministered to, and that our methods need to change in this new age. Wake up churches!! Dan's books will help you see how to reach them. Excellent book to help us see inside their minds and their hearts.
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on August 20, 2014
This was a great testimony of the emerging generation. It's so refreshing to hear words from their own mouths received with a Christian's listening ear and open and honest heart. I am encouraged that we are not required to back down from the Truth that we hold to be most valuable and we need not run from difficult ideas or things we don't understand or questions we can't answer.

Thank you, Dan, for drawing out the Truth in Scripture showing the loving way that Jesus longs to engage with this world without fear. Perfect love drives out fear, after all (1 John 4:18), and I believe that a community practicing the love of Christ within itself and reaching out to share it with the culture in which it exists will drive out the fears keeping the emerging generation (and all generations) from the church. The love of Jesus will defeat the fear in the hearts of both the lost and the found.

This book presented a clear picture of a problem that the the church has connecting with and sharing the love of Jesus with the emerging generation. Left there it would have been depressing, but Dan Kimball does not leave a reader without hope that we CAN repair the relationship that the church has with the world. My prayer is that the hope that was communicated in this book will be the catalyst to spur us on in a life of faith to pursue loving, intentional, Jesus-centered relationships with those presently outside of the church that they may be drawn to Jesus and gladly enter His church in celebration to the glory of God!
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on December 9, 2015
I liked how he interviewed people from various backgrounds. The book covered areas which I feel are important to the emerging generation; a generation for which I am no longer a part of but would like to engage in a non-combative, but, compassionate, articulate and loving manner. The book challenged me to think on somewhat of a deeper level and ways I have always thought of particular "sins."

As an African-American and a Believer, the one thing I didn't like and would challenge Dan Kimball to maybe do differently in the future is if he could possibly find a few more culturally diverse participants to interview to gain that perspective as well.

I would highly recommend this book for those who serve in their local communities with the emerging generation and would like to engage them in most meaningful and intentional ways.
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on March 21, 2015
Through a series of encounters with people in the course of his everyday activities, Dan reveals how listening to un-churched opinions about the church can help the pastor take measures to make the church more friendly and safe for "outsiders" to come in and learn what Jesus is all about. He stresses building friendship, being non-judgmental, asking questions and listening with full attention to what "they" have to say about "us." He notes that Christians cannot expect that "they" will come to "us" in the church, but that we have to put ourselves out into the community and love them with our listening ears and personal friendship. It takes time and personal investment in the surrounding community to build the kind of trust that enables us to have meaningful conversation about Christ, God's purpose and plan for human beings, and how that impacts every life.
This is a fresh look at what church is meant to be in a very broken world.
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on July 28, 2014
Dan Kimball's book is very provocative, and I think, essential reading for every church leader, hoping to grow a church that will impact the community it's part of. He interviews lots of people who are on the fringes, and their perspectives - many of which have been formed in ignorance - are worth taking note of. The church, generally speaking, has also not done itself any favours in this regard. I've met some of those (in the minority, fortunately) in the church who are dismissive of unbelievers; who rarely, if ever, socialise with unbelievers, and who are quite happy to live out their lives in this way. It's almost a case of "well I'm OK, Jack!" Sadly, folk like this seem to have a disproportionate influence on outside perceptions.
I was pleased that the author makes it clear what his doctrinal position is on certain key issues facing society today. Some of these issues can be very thorny, even divisive. Any Christian leader needs to know how to address them in a loving, humble way, yet remain clear and uncompromising on biblical authority. I thought the author handled this very well and I'm looking forward to reading more from him.
It certainly stirred me to get out of my study and start looking at people through new eyes.
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on January 8, 2016
It's tough to hear the feelings and thoughts of the outsiders Dan interviewed for this book. Tougher still is to think about how many times I've said and felt some of those things towards people outside the church. Reading this really made me think, and gave me some tools to make some positive changes.
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on June 5, 2017
I didn't read this book but it's forcing me to write a review. This book appeared on my Kindle and I don't know why. Reed The book if you want.
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