Featured Reviews, VOLUME 4

Featured: MISSIONAL SPIRITUALITY – Helland / Hjalmarson [Vol. 4, #24.5]

The authors, Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson, understand this situation. In the burgeoning category of books on themes related to missional and emerging churches, if I may be permitted to lump those two together, this book seems to make a unique attempt at linking mission and spirituality.  In Missional Spirituality, the authors present us with a thoughtful, clear, and edifying read on what this spirituality is, how it fits with discipleship and what it might look like in us and through us for the sake of the world. They root their presentation in the call of the Great Commandment to love God completely and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.  Missional spirituality is, as they say, “an attentive and active engagement of embodied love for God and neighbor expressed from the inside out.”  That’s a statement pregnant with meaning.  Helland and Hjalmarson deliver a neat package that opens up to explore a wide range of topics as they develop their point.  This book grew on me and continued to draw me in over the course of my journey with it.

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I’ll mention that the authors are Canadians (I’m an American).  While I can’t be certain just what difference that has made I can say the book, unlike a few others these days, is without discernible hype or dire warnings of the Church’s soon demise. That’s not to say that the authors suggest anything like a business-as-usual mindset towards the church and its mission, but neither is this an anxiety laden tome.  It is, in its own way, a gentle and humble offering and I mean that as praise.  It’s pretty much what I would hope to find when approaching the subject of missional spirituality.

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The opening chapter of the book makes an initial exploration into missional spirituality via the authors’ own unfolding stories in the present context of rapid cultural change within the Church and the world at large.  After this, they proceed to consider, chapter by chapter, challenges to a missional spirituality, four theological foundations of this spirituality, and historical examples of missional spirituality in the Church. This is followed by five more chapters which examine practices linked to elements of the Great Commandment, which the authors believe will serve ‘to form and feed’ a missional spirituality. The closing chapter addresses what a missional spirituality might actually look like on the ground for those people who embody love for God and neighbor.  The book also includes three appendices, one of which, “Equipping for a Missional Spirituality in the Church and Academy,”  I found to be a good start on an aspect of this subject which surely deserves more attention.  I assume that constraints of space prevented the authors from taking this point further.

In the chapter addressing challenges to missional spirituality Helland and Hjalmarson identify and name eight specific challenges; disenchantment, excarnation, abstraction, consumerism, entitlement, extraction, mutant pietism and programism.   Identifying and naming these is a good start.  Overcoming them is another thing.  The challenge of disenchantment, for example, the understanding of many that we live in a material world with only a rumor of spirit, is a worldview level issue and worldview change is the most difficult kind of change to bring about in an individual and a society.  At this point I am reminded of the words of the social critic Ivan Illich, “If you want to change the world you must begin to tell a new story.”  Similarly, if you want to change a worldview you must tell a new story.  The gospel, that is, the story of God’s action to set this beautiful but broken world right, reaching its climax in Jesus Christ, is the power of God for salvation to all who will accept it.  That is, in the very telling of the Story lies the seed of Spirit empowered change that falls upon the hearts of men and women to germinate and eventually break forth in a new kind of life and vision for life.  Here is where spiritual practices are key in revisioning and rehabituating patterns of thought and action so as to bring one to a new place of seeing and living life on a mission from the inside out.  What the authors unmask in the way of presenting the aforementioned challenges to missional spirituality is not new, but their presentation is succinct and on point and will be helpful for many if they are willing to embrace change.

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