Some of my favorite non-fiction, non-Christian books are “looks under the hood” of movements, organizations, and individuals. Books such as Moneyball by Michael Lewis and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell take an objective look at situations and people who have changed the landscape of their particular field or context. Their formula is fairly simple – “With odds against them, how did Company X become a trend setter and revolutionize their industry.”
Unfortunately, Christian literature lacks this writing approach. Besides Philip Yancey, I can’t think of any Christian authors who approach their subjects in somewhat of a journalistic way. Instead, we have works that are originating largely from one point of view. Usually, I never really notice this aspect but in the case of Renovation of the Church, I began to scream for a different perspective.
The authors, Kent Carlson and Ken Lueken, are the co-pastors of the church, Oak Hills, that is the subject of the book. They explain and present their transition from a church that is built on a consumer model of church organization to a church designed on a spiritual formation model. As far as I know, me being from one of the hotbeds of evangelical church environments, their approach is extremely novel and even “out there.” I admire their courage and commitment to this endeavor and am envious of their experiences and church life. But as a reader who is a thousand miles away from their church, I needed more from their story than observations from the driver seat. I wanted to hear the other side of the story. What was it like for a church member to experience such a drastic change? What conversations were church members having among themselves? What were the success stories? How has a focus on spiritual formation changed individual lives? Lueken gave a few examples but they were often sparse.
This is where an outside perspective could have really made this story riveting. Instead, we get a hodge podge of commentary on the state of American churches mixed in with the authors’ personal philosophy on church leadership. In the end, we find out more about the authors’ transformation as pastors than we do the church’s transformation. This certainly serves a purpose and I am in high agreement with Carlson and Lueken’s criticism of the American church and its pastors but their was more to be told there.
Personally, I could identify more with Eugene Peterson‘s tales of church work in his memoir, The Pastor, than I could Renovation of the Church. Peterson told stories on himself as well as members of the church he pastored. His stories could speek to the transformation that can occur in church and to churches under the reality of the Gospel. Carlson and Lueken never reached this level of reflection and expression.