Featured: GIVING CHURCH ANOTHER CHANCE by Todd Hunter [Vol. 3, #16]

April 30, 2010 — 1 Comment

 

“For Those Who Have Tried Church
And Found it Wanting”

A Review of
Giving Church Another Chance:
Finding New Meaning in Spiritual Practices.

by
Todd Hunter.

Reviewed by Jeff Romack.


Giving Church Another Chance:
Finding New Meaning in Spiritual Practices.

Todd Hunter.

Hardback: IVP Books, 2010.
Buy Now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Todd Hunter - GIVING CHURCH ANOTHER CHANCEGiving Church Another Chance is a book, according to author, Todd Hunter, “for everyone who has tried church and found it wanting, but somewhere deep within they still desire a spiritual life in the way of Jesus.”  If his publisher has a solid marketing plan they could do quite well considering the size of the target market.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  Actually, they have their work cut out for them considering the number of recent books in the genre of spiritual practices and/or the genre of ‘they love Jesus but not the church.’  Still, the number of people who have tried church and found it wanting must be enormous and growing larger each week if you believe the word on the street.

Hunter has written for us a book intended to stimulate our thinking toward fresh vision for what he terms the repracticing of traditional forms associated with the church.  A worthy introduction counsels us that repracticing the familiar forms is not an end in itself but best understood as a key move in forming and empowering us for the sake of God’s purposes through us and for the world. So far so good. Hunter’s mindset is missional and his concern that people be brought to faith and discipled is clear.  He, by his own admission, is not emerging, describing the theology of the emerging church as “fuzzy” and the concern for evangelism as limited.  Hunter comes across as a generous evangelical that has landed in the Anglican Mission in the Americas (related to the Anglican Province of Rwanda), at least for this part of his journey, and wants to tell us how it works for him and how it might work, perhaps, for you and me.

The author identifies nine spiritual practices, each addressed in its own chapter, which are intended to point us toward ways of actually living in the world.  Because Hunter wants to steer us from Christianity as a system of belief to Christianity as a way of life he presents all but one of the practices as verbs in the gerund form. These include going to church, quiet prelude, singing the doxology, Scripture reading, hearing sermons, following liturgy, offering, taking communion, and receiving the benediction.

Most or at least many Christians will be familiar with the above-mentioned forms even if they don’t practice all of them.  It is; however, the meaning that Hunter seeks to invest in each of these familiar forms that is essential to their functioning as a means of formation and empowerment.   The nine meanings identified and addressed corresponding to the forms are summarized for us as; being sent as ambassadors of the Kingdom, a life centered on peace, radiating the glory of God, embodying the story, easy yoke of obedience, lifestyle of the work of the people, simplicity of life, a life of thankfulness, and blessing others. I found the discussion on each of the practices clear, straightforward and with some fresh takeaway in nearly every chapter. Hunter’s writing exudes a certain ease and accessibility which is critical in light of who he is speaking to and what he is trying to accomplish with this work.

Giving Church Another Chance is a book I might not have read had I not first had opportunity to learn something of author Todd Hunter’s background.  He details his personal journey in a somewhat lengthy biographical preface.  Hunter’s interesting and circuitous journey through the landscape of several expressions of the American church over the last 40 years is one with which I have much in common. Ten years ago I, too, had it up to here with the charismatic side of things as well as the evangelical.  One Sunday morning in Phnom Penh where I was living at the time, I wandered into the Anglican church.  The rest is history, as they say.  Some will remember that way back in 1985 Robert Webber in Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail foresaw a movement of evangelicals toward the Anglican/Episcopal and other mainline churches.  I’m not sure that all has gone just as Webber imagined, but it is clear he was on to something.  Unlike Hunter, I have not gone the route of an Anglican bishop, but after reading this book I feel as if I know Todd.  In fact, at one or two points in his story I felt like I was Todd!  Judging by the number of quotes in this book it seems clear that N.T. Wright has been a formative influence on Hunter.  Same for me. Interesting.

Hunter’s path from churched (Methodist, Calvary Chapel, Vineyard) to un-churched to re-churched (house church and now Anglican bishop) made me very curious to know what he has learned along the way about the Church, and various kinds of churches.  His story allows him to approach his subject from a slant that a lifelong Anglican clergyman could not.  Several of those who have written touts for the book, found in its opening pages, also make reference to the author’s unique background. Giving some focus to his history with church was a good move.  What Hunter has to say about spiritual practices is of real value.   Of equal interest and value, in my view, is understanding just how he came to the place in which he now stands.

Questions do arise.  How about those who have been doing church, practicing the traditional forms seemingly forever, and for whom it is all remains as dry as toast?  How does one go about attaching new meanings to old forms and making them stick?   Is the simple suggestion of the possibility of new meanings for all too familiar forms sufficient?  I think not.  At this point I believe Hunter’s key insight is right on.  Spiritual practices do not just drop from the sky.  Rather, they arise out of the context of God’s storied relationship with his people and their response to living in that story.  The kind of restoration Hunter believes is possible for those who are still looking requires their being ‘re-storied’ and then learning how, with the use of the practices, they can retell the story together so as to edify one another. Here’s to hoping that this book will be an aid to many on that quest.

 

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