Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Emerging Churches by Gibbs and Bolger – A Literary Review

With a lot of tension in the air about Emerging Churches and Emergent in particular, I think if you want to get a sense of this movement, Gibbs and Bolger give us a lot of help in their book Emerging Churches. Whatever you think about Emerging churches, (I have given some of my thoughts here a while ago) one cannot avoid the brutal truth that the church needs to take Newbigin’s advice and embody herself in our new context.  To get a better sense of the Emerging Church, a must read is Scot McKnight’s – Five Streams of the Emerging Church – an article in Christianity Today.

I basically start with my sense of the author’s thesis, followed by a
general overview of the book, and then I focus on themes that are
pertinent to my research. With that said, here is my review.

Gibbs and Bolger are convinced that the church in the West is a modern institution in a postmodern world and that she will continue to dwindle in numbers if she doesn’t embody the gospel within this postmodern context.

Gibbs and Bolger begin with giving eleven reasons why we must study and engage our current culture. They follow this with defining the emerging church, and distinguishing it from other forms of church.  In the heart of the book they identify three core practices of emerging churches and the six practices that unfold from these.  While the first three are imperative for any church they considered “emerging,” not all nine were.  The book closes with 50 stories of emerging church leaders.

Gibbs and Bolger give us  eleven compelling reasons to study and engage our current culture:

  1. Because of the Incarnation
  2. Because Cultural Understanding Has Always Been Essential to Good Mission Practice
  3. Because Christendom and Modernity Are in Rapid Decline
  4. Because the West is in the Midst of Huge Cultural Shifts
  5. Because the Church is in Decline
  6. Because the Majority of Current Church Practices Are Cultural Accomodations to a Society The No Longer Exists
  7. Because the Primary Mode and Style of Communication in Western Culture Have Changed
  8. Because a New Culture Means That New Organizational Structures Are Required
  9. Because Boomers Are the Last Generation That is Happy with Modern Churches
  10. Because of the Increasing Appeal of Spirituality Derived from Other Religions
  11. Because Many Christians No Longer Follow the Religion of Their Parents 16-23)

The three core practices are explained in chapters 3, 4 and 5.  They are:

1. Identifying with the life of Jesus
2. Transforming secular space
3. Living as community

The six that flow from those three are described in chapters 6-11.  They are:

1. Welcoming the stranger
2. Serving with generosity
3. Participating as producers
4. Creating as created beings
5. Leading as a body
6. Merging ancient and contemporary spirituality.

While these nine practices were the focus of the book the other vital element that they mentioned, but didn’t go in-depth with, is the various theologians that have helped to shape the emerging movement.  They mentioned a number of people, including – N.T. Wright, Leslie Newbigin, Dallas Willard, David Bosch and John Howard Yoder.

The subheadings within each chapter make it easy to navigate and get further descriptions of each of the nine practices quickly, and hearing how people are practicing these nine essentials from the mouths of the practioners makes this book worth reading and studying again.

3 Responses to Emerging Churches by Gibbs and Bolger – A Literary Review

  1. JR You might be interested in some ramblings from Ireland!
    I am reading the book by Gibbs and Bolger- the section on the differences between the US and the UK.
    In many respectsIreland has a mixture of the US and UK cultures.A huge number of our population and certainly the majority of our under 35`s live in or very near to a large urban center.Like the UK there is a very big club culture,there are large,very historic urban areas which are going through rejuvination. Like the USA,it still has a high Church going population the majority being Roman Catholic rather than Protestant of differing hues.However the adherence is declining significantly and much of the observance among young adults is according to family pressure or cultural adherence.It really doesn`t bring any particular Christian perspective on life in general.WE have all the statistics of the other Western countries.Increasing growth in individualism,and (sorry to say)Ameriacn style materialism,increasing divorce rates,increasing births outside marriage.Increase in couples co-habiting,I meet many many who have a couple of children before they are married.Increase in all class drug abuse,high suicide rates etc.Like the UK if you advertised a Church based thing itis likely to be a big turn off.
    Yet at Christmas time Cathedrals(certainly the Anglican ones I know)will be packed and largely with under 35 age group.So there is a hunger like Gibbs and Bolger expressed for a spirituality.In the heart of it they still want the Good News of a real Jesus(because of the questions they ask in private),they still want the mystery,the smells and images,but not,absolutly not the clutter of tired religion-often they cannot understand the difference between the tired old religion and the wonderful Jesus it wanted to portray.
    It reminds me of the queues to write prayer requests in the books in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.It was very moving to see the young people of Europe-this curious mixture of secular,spiritual,uncommitted yet longing group hoping God was still there and hearing prayer.That feels like modern Ireland.
    Yet they don`t easily respond to the non historical,unmystical new Church scene.Undoubtedly there is a growing number of Evangelical/charismatic who would like to think they are the main scene.However inspite of their enthusiasim, significant growth and in some cases excellent outreach they are still considered by many to be out on the edge of Irish culture.
    I was the founder and leader of a new Anglican Church plant-it grew from a small group of 15 to a Sunday congregation of about 500.It was considered an emerging Church in many ways,but was seen as unusual-and the growth was never easy or consistant(who are these people!!!).
    Today as I talk to friends in ministry there is a sense with some of them of searching for something more.That there is something uniquely Irish that God can do which is in line with our historic experience of faith and yet meets the needs and longings of an increasing (rather mixed up)post-modern Ireland.
    What has been the experience from your contacts with other European countries.
    I realise that these have been ramblings and that there is much more to say and many more nuances.However it gives one perspective.

  2. JR Woodward says:


    What you share is very interesting, it is cool to hear about what is happening in Ireland and what you sense Ireland needs. I have friends in a number of European cities, and I connect with them, some more than others, but I don’t think that I would be the best one to speak to that issue, at this point. Maybe the US, but I will let Europeans comment on their country.

  3. Pingback: Dream Awakener » A Primer on Today’s Missional Church

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