“The Deep Wisdom of the Cross
and the People of God”
A review of
Right Here, Right Now:
Everyday Mission for Everyday People.
By Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford.
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Right Here, Right Now:
Everyday Mission for Everyday People.
Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford.
Paperback: Baker Books, 2011.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
What Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford have offered us in their new book Right Here, Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People is a sort of handbook for being part of a missional church. Most of the books to date on “the missional church” require a fair amount of theological background, and as such, have been aimed primarily at church leaders (pastors, church planters, etc.) This book, however, is not that sort of book. Generally, as I read a book that I know I will be reviewing, I’m thinking about what I will say in the review, and the thought was running through my head as I was reading is that Right Here, Right Now was for both clergy and laity. However, I arrived at Alan Hirsch’s final chapter in which he makes the passing comment that he rejects the clergy/laity distinction, and I realized that, of course, he was right, and it is better to speak of this book as being for all members of the church. The book is structured to provide a good mix of basic missional church theology, which comes primarily in the form of Alan Hirsch’s introductory and concluding chapters which frame the book, and discussion of the practicalities of how this theology is embodied in church contexts – in the intervening chapters by Lance Ford. Although a good deal of the book will be beneficial for churches in any setting, I should be clear up front that the chapters on praxis are targeted primarily at suburban readers (and maybe upper-/middle-class urban folks as well).
Right Here, Right Now excels at what it sets out to do; it is readable, clear and challenging. The thought occurred to me that this book is strikingly similar in its audience and aims to David Platt’s best-selling book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. Both books are aimed at the middle-class, suburban church members of Western culture and expose key powers and principalities that pose major threats to the witness of the Church in the West. However, unlike Radical, Hirsch and Ford offer here real, viable solutions to these challenges that take the church community seriously and point us toward a deeply-rooted hope in Christ’s transforming power. Indeed the hope of transformation lies, as Hirsch proclaims at the outset of his first chapter, “not with a trendy new movement, but by reconnecting the current Christian church with the power of the original one” (29). In this opening chapter, Hirsch’s emphasizes the virtues of place, community and conversation – ones that have been essential to our life together – at Englewood Christian Church – and thus sets the tone for the practical explorations in the following chapters. He observes, for instance, that:
Christians are not necessarily good at conversation. We tend toward functionality in our relationships, we lack cultural breadth, and we are too quick to want to get to the Bible and spirituality. In short, we should strive to be more culturally interesting.
These brief sentences could very well serve as a mission statement for what we do here at The Englewood Review of Books! On a similar note, Lance Ford takes the baton from Hirsch and launches into a couple of delightfully simple and clear chapters on contextual discernment, of knowing the people and culture of the place in which we embody Christ. From there, he goes on to point out some significant threats to missional witness in the Western culture and particularly suburban contexts. Drawing upon Jesus’s parable of the weeds mixed amidst the wheat, he concludes: “I [discovered] that there is a lot of mixture in suburban culture that works against growing missional followers of Jesus, and the same principles that guide a knowledgeable gardener must be applied here as well – not least of which is to know your soil.” At the heart of the book are two of its finest chapters, one on house churches/small groups “as communities of mission” and one on the practice of hospitality. These chapters breathe life into the concept of a missional church that the authors have described in the early parts of this book and elsewhere. They serve to stir our imagination as the church community in exactly the sorts of principality-resisting ways in which David Platt’s Radical cannot.
Alan Hirsch concludes the book with a superb reflection on the sort of ecclesiology that undergirds the missiology and praxis developed over the course of the book. He concisely describes “a faithful expression of the church” as a covenanted community that is centered on Jesus and that nurtures the virtues of worship, discipleship and mission. His work here is excellent (echoing his work elsewhere) but is particularly fitting here, as the sort of conclusion that notes possibilities for further and deeper reflection. Hirsch has a bit in this chapter on the relationship of church and kingdom that I hope to explore further in the near future. “[T]he basic mistake here,” he says, “is to make a complete correlation of the church … with God’s kingdom.” His thoughts along this line are of interest, because they – on the surface of things, anyway – stand in contrast to Scot McKnight’s emphasis in his new book One.Life that we need a stronger correlation between kingdom and local church. (My intuition, and what I’d like to explore a little further, is that both writers are on the right track in addressing crucial problems with our Western understanding of the church / kingdom relationship.)
Right Here, Right Now is a wonderfully challenging book that applies the deep wisdom of the cross and the people of God to some key challenges facing churches in the Western world today. It is intended to be read widely among Christians, and I hope and pray that, for the glory of God’s coming kingdom, it will be so.