Monday, March 16, 2009

Deliberate Simplicity - A blog tour with Dave Browning

This is my first "blog tour" and I was honored when my former co-worker, Andrew Rogers who now works for Zondervan, asked if I would participate.

Deliberate Simplicity by Dave Browning, founding pastor of Christ the King Community Church, is a bold attempt to charge the church with reducing the level of complexity. This reduction is large scale. “Deliberate Simplicity advocates restricting the activities of the church instead of expanding them.” (37) They have chosen to “forego meetings, bazaars, programs, fairs, potlucks, conferences, and other activities typically associated with church so we can have more energy available to put into our priorities.” (43) A guiding principle is “What is the simplest thing that could possibly work?” (40) Part of this includes reducing doctrinal matters to only the essentials. At Browning’s church (abbreviated throughout the book as CTK) they have four statements: 1) God and his Word are trustworthy, 2) Christ is the Savior and King, 3) There is hope for the future and forgiveness for the past, and 4) The church holds the hope of the world in its hands. (41) Their priorities are reduced to three: 1) worship, 2) small groups, and 3) outreach. (44) Illustrations abound from American corporations and the manner in which they streamline their businesses by reducing complexity. There is much to learn from Browning since many churches have burdened themselves with more than is necessary.
One of my questions concerns being a “doctrinal minimalist.” (40) Browning wants to major on the majors and says that “first-century Christianity was simple and uncluttered. Early Christian teaching cut through the complexities of culture and allowed what is primary and essential to surface.” (41) The problem is that not all doctrinal development, and the complexities that go with it, is bad. As Michael Wittmer notes, “Doctrine typically develops in response to heresy. The church states what it believes when it must refute what it doesn’t.” (Don’t Stop Believing, 153) The church fought some hard battles with heretics to clarify and defend some important truths about God and Christianity. To simply bypass those years and look to the first century is not wise. It may sound nice, and simple, to say “God and his Word are trustworthy” but how is “God” defined and what is his “Word?” Elaine Pagels would be right at home here with her gnostic idea of God and a “Word” that would include the Gospel of Thomas. Furthermore, what is God’s Word trustworthy for? Some might say they trust it as a guide among many others on a spiritual path to enlightenment but it may not be the most trustworthy guide. Eckhart Tolle would grant that God’s Word is trustworthy in so far as he interprets it. I appreciate Browning wanting to focus on the majors but I fear he has overly simplified them. To merely define the essentials of the church by the standards of the first-century church is not the answer.
Addendum: After writing this I visited the church website (same as above but given here again for convenience). There I found a 10 point doctrinal statement and a separate article on Baptism. Here it is clearly spelled out that the church believes in the Trinity and the Scriptures are defined as both Old and New Testament. I was very happy to find this but left rather confused because I was under the impression from the book that the Church made no statements beyond the four listed (I do see that it says "the essential matters are summarized in these four statements" (40)). So what role does the doctrinal statement serve? The article on baptism is a standard expression of baptism from a traditional Baptist perspective although it does not address mode or recipient. When Browning says in the book that people "from every conceivable church background. . . have found a home at Christ the King" (he lists 18 different denominations, 40) do they all now hold to this view of Baptism?


Dave Browning said...

Thanks for the thoughtful review.

I would clarify the theological aspects of deliberate simplicity by saying, "While there are many things we believe, there are not as many things that we emphasize." I personally have a view on just about everything (my original denomination required it!). But we have found great joy in the CTK story by keeping the main thing the main thing. As Augustine said, "In essential matter, unity. In non-essential matters, diversity. In all matters, charity." We have simply focused (deliberately) on the core Christian beliefs that are life-changing. In many other areas the church does not have an "official" position.

Thanks again for your perspective. I appreciate it.

Andrew said...

Louis and BBH friends,
Kem Meyer posted a short interview with Dave here:

Who knew he had such strong political connections? ;-)