Emerging Church Book Review and Barclay Press

[this post was edited to reflect the publication of the review on BP].

This weekend I finished two big tasks I’ve been working on for a while. For one thing, I completed my book review for Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibb’s book, Emerging Churches  which is now published on Barclay Presses website.  The reading and writing for this review has been already been a great experience for me, and as I get a chance to hear feedback from those who read it I expect the experience will be even better.  I hope that in the review, people not only understand the implications of this book for the church but also how this book may inform, encourage and challenge the Friends Church.  As a theologian its important for me not only think about the use of good theology for all the whole church, but also the specific churches of which we are committed too (Both here as we attend Pasadena Mennonite Church) and in the future when we work with the Friends Church more closely.

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The were a few main things that struck me about this book:

1. Though the book is called Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Communities in the 21st Century, the book has universal implications for church practice. The emerging church is a good example of how churches should be doing mission in today’s world. In fact this book, in my estimation, gives us a pretty good picture of what a good Anabaptist or Quaker church might look like if we updated our practices and theology to face postmodern challeneges.

2. This book is rooted in scholarly theology, good research and practical insight, things that are often hard to come by. Their research includes over 100 interviews with emerging church leaders, theology built on the works of such scholars as NT Wright, John Howard Yoder, Dallas Williard and stories from real live congregations looking to live faithful lives with Christ in today’s world.

3. This book, the emerging churches interviewed and the authors, are Jesus centered activists. In other words, this book baulks in the face of the modern dualism of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, conservatism and liberalism, democratic politics and republican politics (the list might continue indefinitely). Bolger and Gibbs discover that all emerging churches both follow Jesus and are socially radical. An interesting point that lays outside of the purpose of the book is that the authors also break those modern dualisms. One thing about Ryan that I like, is that he doesn’t fit well into the conservative camp. Typically conservatives who love Jesus do not carry out their faith in social and political ways (cf. NPR podcast with Richard Mouw). But on the other hand, the liberals can’t make sense of him either. He is socially aware because of his strong Jesus-ethic. He has told me on occasions that if your ethic can’t be rooted in the Gospels and in the Life and sayings of Jesus, then its not a Christian ethic.

4. Finally I like the readibility of this book. It has easy to follow sub-headings and plenty of narrative account from the many interviews that they recorded during their research.

Therefore, though there can be critiques on the emerging church, as there should be with any Christian movement, this is the book and these are the guys who have their fingers on its pulse.  Their work has the possibility of going far beyond this 21st Century movement and influencing the larger church community in some very interesting ways.