Book Review: Emerging Churches

This book by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger is a vital read for anyone interested in the emerging church. This book is very informative, gives a good grasp of just who people are and what they are doing and thinking. Appendix B where 50 Emerging Church leaders tell their story is particularly helpful as it allows many of these leaders to speak for themselves. This really gave me a good grasp of what the various people and groups were trying to do or say, even where I did not agree with them.

Many of the questions that are asked and dealt with are really challenging and important questions that need to be asked in a post-modern context concerning ecclesiology.

This book reminded me of a number of things about the EC that really excite me:

a) The willingness to question assumed presuppositions and to re-evaluate our theology and practice with both culture and the Bible.

b) To read widely and outside of our current theological or denominational box. For that reason, a willingness to question the need for a theological or demoninational box at all.

c) Under the influence of prominent NT scholars such as NT Wright there has been a rediscovery of the gospels and what they have to teach us for life and church. Perhaps a call to recognise that Protestant theology in general in the last couple of hundred years as been heavily reliant on the theology of Paul.

d) The strong missional element present in many strands of the EC. A real desire to ask the questions what does it mean for me to live as a follower of Jesus in this day.

e) The space for creativity and artistic expression; as opposed to an over-reliance on strongly cerebral teaching activities and soft rock/light jazz music.

f) An accountable networking leadership structure rather than a more authoritarian, hierachical leadership structure.

g) The strong community element that believes that the local community is the best hermeneutic for the gospel. The modern church has been too individualistic and has by and large been weak at living out our faith and theology in a community that embraces not only the teaching of the Kingdom but the life of the Kingdom itself.

h) A call to get involved in issues of justice, ecology and social concern.

Having said that there were a few areas of weakness in this work:

a) I thought Gibbs and Bolger could have interacted a bit more with the ideas and given some more critical perspectives. I was often not sure where their own voice was and where they were simply chronicling the views of various thinkers.

b) Some sections I found very weak and one-sided; particularly when dealing with generalizations concerning modernity, modern churches and seeker-sensitive models. Here Don Carson was right EC practitioners do have a dangerous tendency to build and demolish straw men.

c) Whilst it was great that a voice was given to some of the other voices within the EC, I personally would like to have seen more interaction with some significant voices that are conspicuous by their absence – Brian McLaren for one is barely dealt with in the book – and like him or not his influence is immense within the EC. Other thinkers like Tony Jones, or even Scot McKnight would have been a welcome addition to the pages of the book, even if just as “expert opinions”.

d) Big churches are treated with suspicion – so Mark Driscoll, Erwin McManus and others who are part of the wider EC discussion are excluded and not considered EC. I suspect this is because mega-churches are modern, end of debate.

e) Whilst I really enjoyed the chapters on “Identifying with Jesus”; “Transforming Secular Space”; “Living as Community” and “Welcoming the Stranger”, the chapters on “Participating as Producers” and “Creating as Created Beings” and to a lesser extent “Leading as a Body” really irritated me. The values of participation and creativity (which by the way are values I hold very highly) are given an importance that is way beyond that which is right. I found these chapters very wishy-washy, let’s all hold hands and hum like hippys and watch a flower feeling.

The adage almost seems to be that unless every single person is doing something and is involved it is not real or authentic. Now I realise that this is an over-reaction against the modern church but in many cases I found the reaction to be an over-reaction, that has been influenced more by post-modern relativism, eastern spirituality and surrounding culture than by the Bible being incarnated in a post-modern context. After a while I stopped writing comments like “gone too far” in the margins.

f) There is a strong reliance on the Gospels to the exclusion of the Pauline and general writing (never mind the OT). There seems to be a real lack of balance here. Together with this there is a high regard for the writings of NT Wright.

g) The EC on a whole is weak on the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, and in some cases I am unsure of their orthodoxy on this issue.

h) Proclamation it seems is not a popular concept – I kept a sharp eye out for any mention of it and they were very few. There were times in the book as stories or ministry philosophies were shared when I felt like it was deliberately shied away from. In fact this is an issue it would have been good to see a bit of interation and discussion between the authors and those to whom they are attempting to give a voice.

In conclusion, a very helpful read but not one that will necessarily help you to think critically through the issues but will give you a good start in knowing the whose-who of the EC. It will also give you a good start in understanding the questions being asked and the issues that are being grappled with. Read it – you will be inspired, frustrated and challenged.


~ by John on June 8, 2008.

One Response to “Book Review: Emerging Churches”

  1. […] Smooth wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThis book by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger is a vital read for anyone interested in the emerging church. This book is very informative, gives a good grasp of just who people are and what they are doing and thinking. … […]

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