Tag Archives: book review

“Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission,” some thoughts

41TfHkM5ZmL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Chester and Timmis offer another insightful, Biblical, and helpful book on “church.” Their previous book Total Church is one of my ecclesiological “must-reads.” This book is helpful because it applies the foundations of “gospel and mission” (discussed extensively in Total Church) in the current Western situation.

They open with a provocative observation on the decline of Christianity in the Western World. Rather than spend too much time bemoaning its fall, they quickly look for the gospel opportunity. I would argue that their underlying question (laid out on pp. 13-21) is this: Do we want to hold on to Christendom or Christ?

It is likely that for all Christendom’s good you can’t have both. And that’s not to mention its many demonstrated ills. Christendom cannot exist in a pluralistic society because it requires political and/or military power. Following Christ requires radical love and service. Conversion cannot be coerced by power but must be won by love.

It is a losing battle to only focus on rechurching the dechurched (see p. 26). Reintroducing Christian culture without Christ is a painfully misguided attempt at returning to the glory days. What is needed is a radical commitment to reaching the unchurched with the gospel. To do this requires that Christ and his message be the central principal of our lives EVERY DAY.

We need to do church and mission in the context of everyday life. We can no longer think of church as a meeting on a Sunday morning. We must think of church as a community of people who share life, ordinary life. And we cannot think of mission as an event that takes place in an ecclesiastical building (p. 28).

The church is about the “people of God” not some sort of “building of God.”

One of the central contentions of this book is that our marginal status as Christians in the West requires us to think differently about mission. One way is by dropping our preoccupation with church [defined as a building] (p. 85).

The foundation of Gospel community is the word of God (1 Peter 1:23). Nothing can supplant that foundation. If the word is first and final, then the way it says “to do” mission is important. Mission in the Bible is not primarily “attractional” (e.g., “come and see”) but “go and tell.” Even when crowds came to Jesus, he was “among them.”

Much of the message of this book is broken down into four basic truths about God. These liberating truths are for those we pastor and those who pastor (p. 76).

  1. God is great, so we do not have to be in control.
  2. God is glorious, so we do not have to fear others.
  3. God is good, so we do not have to look elsewhere.
  4. God is gracious, so we do not have to prove ourselves.

IMG_2758The discussion of pastoring based on the greatness, glory, goodness, and grace of God (pp. 82-83) was the most helpful and convicting part of the book for me. It helped me identify some latent sin in my heart toward God and the church. As a result, I could identify with various levels of “over-pastoring” (e.g., self-importance, domination, micro-managing, proving myself) and “under-pastoring” (e.g., fear of others, conflict avoidance, seeing people as burdens.”IMG_2759The same truths that inform pastoring are truths to be proclaimed to those we are seeking to reach with the gospel. This book is wonderful in its biblical depth, theological acumen, and cultural analysis. However, it is also very practical. The chapter on “everyday evangelism” recognizes the necessity of sharing the “good news” on which our faith is built but also the difficulty that many of us have. Not everyone is a natural evangelist! How do you develop the ability to share the gospel in everyday life?

  1. Make your everyday conversations with other believers about the gospel! By talking about Jesus more with your Christian friends you will find it easier to talk about Jesus with your non-Christian friends (pp. 111-112). “If you find it hard to talk about Jesus with Christians, then how do you expect to talk about him with unbelievers?”
  2. Let your unbelieving friends in on your everyday Christian community. If your unbelieving and believing friends are sharing a meal at your house, your unbelieving friends are bound to overhear your conversations about Christ (p. 112).
  3. Don’t assume that people have a Christian background. As a result, your gospel presentations must be more holistic, more big-picture, and more patient (p. 112).
  4. “Sometimes less is more” (p. 113). Silence is okay. Give people time to think. Give the Holy Spirit some space to work. Don’t expect that everyone can make the journey that has taken you a lifetime in a few minutes.
  5. Allow the people you are sharing the gospel with to ask their questions. Don’t just answer the “popular” objections to Christianity.

Chester and Timmis suggest that “story” is the primary way that people in the modern world interpret life. As such, everyone has a “story” that includes their version of salvation. Look for points of intersection between the “true” gospel story and the functional gospel story that most people have.

The authors bring the book “full circle.” They started explaining the marginal status of modern Christianity and end similarly “at the margins.” As such, the Biblical admonition to expect persecution and suffering should be taken seriously. The result is a paradoxical coexistence of joy and grief amidst suffering. But suffering is no threat to the will of God. Suffering has no power over the “hope of glory” (e.g., 1 Peter 1:6, 4:13).

In the end, the authors are challenging the church to take the mission of God seriously “every day.”

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O Me of Little Faith (review)

I must commend Jason Boyett for catching that most illusive of literary prey — readability.  His book (O Me of Little Faith:  True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling) is both interesting and enjoyable.  It is pleasant to read.  He combines vulnerability, humility, and self-disclosure with brief (possibly too brief) discussions of Christian apologetics.  All the while he tells interesting stories and provides funny illustrations.

This book provides a personal, ongoing journey through valleys of doubt and peaks of faith.  Along the way it provides wonderful gems of Biblical, cultural, and spiritual insight while also running into a few logical and Biblical potholes.

Boyett has a knack for observing the inconsistencies of modern American “churchianity.”  He rightfully notes that many of the intellectual and pragmatic objections to Christianity are answered unsatisfactorily by Christians (so-called).  For example, he notes the false god of “American evangelical Christian religion” who is “totally cool with the money we spend on concert lighting in the worship center while the widow down the block has a hole in her roof” (p. 129).

One of Boyett’s greatest strengths is also one his greatest weakness.  The reader is deeply empathetic with his doubt struggles and particularly interested in the answers he has found to deal with his rollercoaster of faith and doubt.  Unfortunately he either refuses to give answers by hiding behind the “I’m no theologian/scholar” excuse or giving examples of unsatisfactory responses he has found (e.g., Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell are not at the top of my list of credentialed, well-researched, exegetically qualified, and philosophically sound apologists).

Boyett takes issue with a hard deterministic view of God’s sovereignty, the philosophical “problem of evil,” and purely rational (as opposed to presuppositional) apologetics.  While this book cannot answer every philosophical issue of Christianity, I would have hoped Boyett could have offered a few alternative Christian views on these subjects.  The only intense objection I have with this book is the conflation of the Biblical perspective of doubt with Boyett’s personal doubts.  In the Bible various characters doubt the trustworthiness of the promises of God, but Boyett is doubting (it appears) the very existence of God.  I cannot find a Biblical character doubting the existence of God.

All-in-all reading this book is like sitting down for a drink with a close friend.  You are never exactly sure where the conversation will take you (e.g., church history, liturgy, sin, existentialism, apologetics, etc.) but you will be glad you had a chat.  Along the way you will be challenged and maybe even frustrated.  You will learn some good spiritual lessons and you will be encouraged to give voice to the questions and doubts with which you wrestle.

“Why We Love the Church” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

Overall Impression

I just finished reading the most recent DeYoung/Kluck collaboration (they previously teamed up on Why We’re Not Emergent).  My only previous experience with either writer was through DeYoung’s blog and hilarious book on finding the will of God (“without dreams, visions, fleeces, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc.).  I was excited by the subject matter (as evidenced in the title) and the praise from theological heavyweights such as J. I. Packer, Al Mohler, and Mark Dever.  This book is well-informed, balanced, readable, funny, and God-glorifying.

Positive

The basic premise of this book is that there is no such thing as a “churchless Christianity.”  The authors are clear that they are trying to correct the common notion that Christians do not need “organized churches.”  In fact, the Scriptures indicate that organization (i.e., structure in corporate worship, leadership, etc.) is essential to the health of a church.

“Community” is a buzzword among modern evangelicals, but many “emergent” (whatever that means) types are unwilling to be shaped by a community of believers that does not mimic their particular hipster style.  It is essential that each believer be a part of a church that is full of imperfect Christians.  The result of old and young coming together to worship despite differences of opinion regarding musical style and church architecture is mutual edification and personal sanctification.

DeYoung and Kluck are particularly critical of modern Christian “revolutionaries.”  Christianity, they argue, needs more “plodding visionaries,” that is, people who are concerned with obedience to the gospel and faithfulness to the commands of Christ.  Giving up on local church because it does nothing for you or because you can find a deeper spirituality somewhere else is, frankly, narcissistic and contrary to the commands of Scripture.

I was thankful for the historical perspective the authors provided in two areas:  (1)  They clarified the oft repeated maxim that “Christians have done terrible things throughout there history.”  While this statement, they say, is true it is not absolutely true without qualification.  For example, while race-based slavery was condoned by some Christians it was also abolished largely because of Christian abolitionists.  (2)  The authors also busted the myth of the early Christian utopia.  You and I have both heard the call to be a “New Testament church.”  There are few problems with this statement.  On the one hand the Bible is full of terrible churches rife with division, heresy, and immorality.  On the other hand, just because something is not mentioned in the Bible does not mean that is impure (e.g., buildings, pews, etc.).

The authors argue that the most important reasons to love the church are because it is the God-ordained means for the proclamation of the gospel and the sanctification of believers.  Good reasons that stand in stark contrast to the modern Christian’s “what’s-in-it-for-me” mentality.

Negative

This book is an admirable attempt to correct many problems in modern evangelicalism.  Despite claiming a robust ecclesiology, this book is far from comprehensive.  It has barely a mention of issues such as covenant membership and ordinances.

The authors demonstrate a great balance in their personal understanding of the church’s relationship to God and culture.  However, they set up a false dichotomy between “emergent-types” and “traditional-types.”  The authors unfortunately caricature “emergents” as a modern incarnation of the liberal social gospel.  This dichotomy is unnecessary.  One can be concerned with a true gospel and a culturally appropriate presentation of that gospel.

Though I understand the intention to defend the “traditional” church, I am still uncomfortable with the language of church as “institution” and the authors consistently assume that particular incarnations of modern church are Biblical and healthy.

Concluding Remarks

On the whole this book provides balance to contemporary tendency to “church-hate.”  While neither comprehensive or without fault, the authors are clearly attempting to glorify God and obey the Scriptures.  Love Jesus and love his bride.