Prodigal Christianity the Blog Tour – Signpost #7
I’m joining a number of other bloggers in a blog tour of Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier authored by my friends David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw. Other bloggers have reviewed the first six signposts. Today I will review chapter seven which is entitled – CHURCH: In Kingdom Communities – The Journey as the Body of Christ into the World.
If you haven’t yet read the book, or haven’t had a chance to follow the blog tour as of yet, Fitch and Holsclaw are giving us 10 signposts that we should pay attention to if we desire to be faithful and fruitful as we engage in mission in a post-Christendom context.
Now the tour is on signpost seven – Church. Let me give you my understanding of their thesis of the chapter, followed by a brief overview and finally some of my personal reflections.
Fitch and Holsclaw, in developing their proposal of church and mission, contend that mission is not something the church does by either proclamation or social justice, nor is the church a result of mission, but rather that the church is mission. In regard to the relationship of the church and kingdom, they believe the church “both proclaims and makes present the in-breaking of Christ’s kingdom,” as we move away from programmatic ways of being the church, to engaging in Christ-given practices in our everyday lives, as the very means of shaping us into communities of the kingdom in the world, and for the world.
As in previous chapters, their basic approach is to look at the positive contributions from the neo-reformed tribe and the emerging church tribe, followed by where they think these perspectives are lacking and can lead people into an unhelpful direction. They conclude with their proposal.
Representing the neo-reformed tribe in this chapter is Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, in particular their recent book: What is the Mission of the Church? Fitch and Holsclaw commend DeYoung and Gilbert for teaching “that the worship of God is the necessary precedent to mission” and for reminding us that the church is sign of the kingdom. They critique them for bifurcating the gospel, separating out “the gospel of the cross” from “the gospel of the kingdom” and simply focusing on the former. Fitch and Holsclaw think this bifurcation individualizes the gospel, limits witness to verbal proclamation or “right information” and makes God’s mission into something we do instead of something we participate in. In this way, “mission sequesters the kingdom of God into the interiority of our hearts.”
In regard to the emerging church, they interact primarily with Tony Jones and Brian McLaren and those who are shaped by them. Fitch and Holsclaw commend their passion for social justice and emphasis on the kingdom of God, but find “the gospel of the cross” and resurrection lacking in McLaren, sensing that in the end it can become just about good people doing good works. And while they commend Jones for including an emphasis on the Holy Spirit, they feel his emphasis “asserting that God is working in the world” without “showing how God is working in the world”, “leads away from a local embodied mission and thus cannot lead us into a prodigal Christianity.”
In addition, they commend and critique Hirsch and Frost, with a desire to gain clarity on the church and mission. They commend them for pushing further than any in moving the church toward a prodigal way of being church. Yet they sense that an emphasis on a direct and unmediated relationship between the individual and Jesus coupled with the idea that mission precedes ecclesiology could “unintentionally separate us from Jesus by separating us from his ongoing body, the practices of his church, in the world.”
They conclude with their personal proposal which includes a description of what they consider to be crucial Christ-given practices essential for the church and how these practices can be reclaimed for mission in our everyday lives and neighborhoods, so that we might be kingdom communities blessing the world. Besides the Lord’s Table and the entry practice of baptism, the six Christ-given practices they describe are the proclamation of the gospel, reconciliation, being with people on the fringes, being with the children, the fivefold ministry and gifts, and kingdom prayer.
This chapter causes one to have to think deeply about the nature of the church, church and mission, church and kingdom and what it means to be the church in the concrete realities of everyday life. The strengths of the chapter is the articulation of the thesis, in saying that the church doesn’t do mission, or result from mission, but that the church is mission. I think that has to sink in deep before we can understand the implications of that statement. Their emphasis on a robust gospel that refuses to bifurcate the gospel of the cross and the gospel of the kingdom is vital, and I appreciate how they have taken a number of Christ-given practices and helped reclaim them for mission (one of the best parts of the chapter) as well as root our practices in the extension of Christ’s presence and ministry.
Fitch and Holsclaw are very familiar with the current evangelical terrain and so choosing some writers from the neo-reformed tribe and the emerging church tribe in which to contrast their views has some merit. Yet it is also a difficult task, in that in dialoguing with writers we may unintentionally misrepresent them, or misunderstand the context to which they may be speaking. As an author myself, I know that this happens. But the beauty of writing for the public is that if any author feels misrepresented, they can answer back to those who have critiqued them.
This dialogue is important in our day, and I feel that Fitch and Holsclaw approach it in civil way. Having as an emcee provoked debate between Fitch and Hirsch, trying to bring out the contrasts in their writing, I always find that dialogue is important and that both people can get a better sense from which the other is coming.
I actually think it would profit the church if we could get McLaren, Jones, Fitch, Holsclaw, DeYoung, Gilbert, Hirsch and Frost in dialogue about the church and the kingdom and the church and mission. For I think there is something about dialogue and debate that brings a sense of clarity and a sense of the Spirit (See Acts 15).
What I would have liked to seen addressed a bit more in this chapter is the relationship between the church and the kingdom. Some good questions were asked, but I didn’t sense a strong sense of clarity (Though we can only do so much in a chapter). For while it is clear that the church is central in God’s purposes today, and having concrete missional practices derived from Christ is crucial if we are going to practically incarnate the good news in our neighborhoods, yet lacking a good understanding of how the church and kingdom relate can lend itself to the problems of yesterday, where the church didn’t seem to distinguish between the two, and fell to pride, theological arrogance and a lack of understanding of how God is at work outside of his people as well.
With that said, I was thoroughly engaged by this chapter, appreciative of the thesis, and found extreme value in the concrete practices that root the church historically in the ministry and presence of Christ.