Archives For Ecclesiology

 

God: Initiating and Sustaining Conversation

A Review of
An Unsettling God:
The Heart of the Hebrew Bible
.
by Walter Brueggemann.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

[ Read an excerpt of this book here ]


An Unsettling God:
The Heart of the Hebrew Bible
.
Walter Brueggemann.

Paperback: Fortress Press,  2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]


Brueggemann - UNSETTLING GODWalter Brueggemann’s An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible describes first of all a God-in-relation, YHWH understood as he is in dialogue, most especially with Israel, but also with human persons, the nations, and all of creation. Locating God’s primary identity not in unilateral commands or creeds, but rather as an engaged dialectical partner, Brueggemann identifies God’s covenanting act as one in which he is an “available agent who is not only able to act but is available to be acted upon” (9).  Indeed, the agency of Yahweh is seen to be inviting a reciprocal act of participation and conversation from the dialogical partners, suggesting that the response of Yahweh’s chosen people – in attentiveness and discernment – extends the possibilities in the work of reconciliation.

Israel’s identity then, as a people, is also best understood as it is in relation: “If we are to identify what is most characteristic and most distinctive in the life and vocation of this partner of YHWH [Israel], it is the remarkable equation of love of God with love of neighbor, which is enacted through the exercise of distributive justice of social goods, social power, and social access to those without leverage” (29). The demands of justice and holiness are fulfilled within the gathered community of Israel, as they are in relation themselves and with Yahweh. God, as characteristically in relation, places Israel, and consequently all of creation, into a dynamic role in the narrative of God-in-history. In fact, God’s dialogue partners are “invited, expected, and insistently urged to engage in a genuine interaction that is variously self-asserting and self-abandoning, yielding and initiative-taking,” (65) all of which may be characteristics of any good conversation, but when extended to Yahweh as a partner, it becomes the narrative by which God is known as embodied on earth.

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A Brief Review of
Real Church: Does It Exist? Can I Find It?
Larry Crabb.

Hardback: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
Buy now:  [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

As a bit of a reactionary against the prevailing culture of individualism, I am always interested to read what others are saying about the meaning of the church in today’s world.  Thus, I was excited to receive a copy of Larry Crabb’s new book REAL CHURCH: DOES IT EXIST? CAN I FIND IT? from the publisher, Thomas Nelson.  At the heart of this book is Crabb’s two-sided depiction of what the Church should be (and not be).  The first part is a critique of answers commonly given to the question: “Why should I go to church?”  Granted, this question is a flawed one since the church as a people is something we are, not somewhere we go.  However, Crabb’s critiques are useful here in starting to break through our selfish misperceptions of what church is about: it is not about making my life better, nor about showing me “how Jesus wants [me] to change the world,” nor about “saving lost souls” and promoting visible morality among the saved. The second part of Crabb’s depiction, on the other hand, spells out what the church should be about, including 4 “Marks of the Church I Want to be Part of”:

  •    Hungers for the Truth that sets Addicts Free
  •    Respects the Necessary Ingredients in the Remedy for Addiction
  •    Finds Contentment in Wanting What Jesus Wants
  •    Is Mission-Energized.

I imagine that REAL CHURCH may be helpful for some deeply-embedded evangelical folks in getting them to consider the significance of the Church.  However, there are some very troubling problems with this work.  First and foremost among these problems is that the text is working primarily from a self-centered narrative.  Toward the very end of the book, Crabb begins to grapple with this issue by emphasizing his own (and everyone’s) addiction to self.  But if we are called to follow in the way of Jesus – who Crabb notes is the only one who is not addicted to self – should we not be vigilant about guarding our theology, and the language with which we express that theology, from our selfish addictions?  Using language like “the Church I want to be part of” unmasks our self-centeredness and is not useful for thinking about the meaning of the Church.  This self-oriented language often gives the book a strong flavor of consumerism, where I seek, find or choose a church community based on my own desires.  This language and practices of consumerism (as Will Samson has emphasized in his recent book Enough) is antithetical to our finding contentment in the way of Jesus, which Crabb takes as a key virtue of a church.  Making matters worse, Crabb often conflates the meaning of the term “church,” sometimes using it to refer to a Sunday gathering (e.g., see the above reference to his use of “going to church”) and at other times using it to refer to a community of people (as it should).  Crabb also demonstrates an unfortunate misunderstanding of what it means to be a missional church.  It seems that at the root of Crabb’s misunderstanding is his perception of missional churches through the lens of a self-centered narrative: e.g., “how Jesus wants [me] to change the world.” In contrast, I would argue that to be missional is to recognize that Jesus is changing the world, and has called the Church as a community of people who bear witness together to that transformation.  Although to be fair, there are probably many churches that think of themselves as missional and do fit Crabb’s depiction.  My final critique is aimed at Thomas Nelson and not Crabb.  The almost-40-page excerpt from Crabb’s forthcoming book might seem to someone like a good marketing idea, but it is a waste of paper and ink!  Interest in this coming book could have been piqued just as well, if not better, with a 1-2 page ad.

I might recommend this book to some of my evangelical friends, and the task that it sets out to do (explore the meaning of the Church) and the authenticity with which Crabb pursues this end, greatly outweigh the book’s flaws.  May Crabb’s work here set us on a journey toward being set free from our addictions to self and toward becoming in the local church communities to which we have been called real expressions of the Church.

 

In our continuing effort to fund the publication and free distribution of The Englewood Review, we are going to be collaborating more intentionally with Christian Book Distributors.  Primarily, we will be offering you the opportunity to buy bargain books from CBD that we think of are interest.  Buying books this way is a win / win / win proposition.  You get great books for a great price,  CBD gets the sale and we get an excellent referral fee from CBD.  These books make great gifts!

 

This week’s bargain books (Click to learn more/purchase):

  • The Story of Christianity.
    by Justo Gonzalez
    (1 vol. edition – Hardback) $12.99  Save 76%!!!
  • The Land is Mine: Six Biblical Land Ideologies.
    by Norman Habel
    (Paperback)   $0.99!!!
  •  Why Church Matters: Worship, Ministry and Mission in Practice.
    By Jonathan Wilson (Paperback)   $2.99 !!!
  •  

    Ultra-Brief Reviews.

    By Chris Smith

     

    Heretics for Armchair Theologians (WJK 2008) turns what for many people would be a dry topic  from the dusty pages of historical theology into a lively stroll through the heresies of the Early Christian era.  Justo and Catherine Gonzalez, both eminent church historians, are our guides on this whirlwind tour and Ron Hill’s cartoon illustrations add to the levity of the book.  The text is book-ended nicely by the first chapter, which defines what is meant by “heresy,” and the last chapter that examines the significance of remembering these heresies as we pursue theological inquiry today.  This book is a wonderful resource that could be used in high school/college classes on church history – or for anyone in thye Church who desires to know more about the stories of the heretics and why they are still relevant to God’s people today.

    Christian Community Now: Ecclesiological Investigations (T&T Clark 2008) is a wonderful collection of papers that survey the present state of ecclesiology in the theological academy.  However, it is intended for academic audiences and thus is not for the faint of mind.  One particular highlight here is Paul Collins’s paper “Ecclesiology: Context and Community” which explores “how the methods of contextual theology and pastoral theology may influence and change the way in which systematic theologians approach the task of reflecting upon what the church is and what it is for” (135).  I pray that the fine research that undergirds this book would filter down to our church congregations and challenge us as we daily seek to be the people of God.

     

    In Transition Handbook (Chelsea Green 2008), Rob Hopkins uses the ecological concepts of resilience and permaculture to argue for the emergence of local cultures in a world after peak oil.  Hopkins is founder of the “Transition” Movement, which seeks to move communities in the direction of greater resilience.  The latter chapters of the book tell the stories of “Transition towns” in the UK that have committed to moving in this direction.  This book demands the attention of any church that would seek to share life together in ways that nurture creation in the places where they are.  It provides language for helping us to understand where we need to go ecologically and furthermore offers us practical advice for moving in that direction.

     

    Heretics for Armchair Theologians.
    Justo and Catherine Gonzalez.

    Paperback: WJK, 2008.
    Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $14 ] [ Amazon ]

     

    Christian Community Now:
    Ecclesiological Investigations
    .
    P. Collins, G. Mannion, G. Powell, K. Wilson, eds.
    Hardcover: T&T Clark, 2008.
    Buy now: [ Amazon ]

     

    Transition Handbook.
    Rob Hopkins.

    Paperback: Chelsea Green, 2008.
    Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]