SLOW COOKED ECCLESIOLOGY: Book Review

A copy of a book review I posted on Amazon which I thought my benefit a wider audience.

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Over the last few years when it comes to “missional” there has been less of a band wagon and more of a juggernaut in the world of Christian publishing. It seems like the publishers think that the inclusion of the “M” word somewhere in the title of a book will automatically lead to sales, so month after month Amazon draw my attention to more and more “missional” books to try and tempt me into hitting the BUY button. Now some of these books I have found to be eye opening, inspiring, informative and they have renewed my passion and love for the church. I am thinking of books like “The Shaping of Things To Come” by Frost & Hirsch and “The Essence Of The Church” by Van Gelder. These books and some others have dramatically altered and shaped the way I think about what it means to live as a disciple of Christ and function as a leader in the Body of Christ. I won’t name and shame but I am becoming increasingly disappointed by the books being published in this field over the last couple of years. Too many have been simply a restatement (regurgitation?) of what others have said or more disappointingly little more than tried and discredited Church Growth theory rebranded and repackaged.

I bought Graham Hill’s book “Salt, Light and A City” hoping it belonged to the former category rather than the latter and I wasn’t disappointed. I understand reviews in Amazon aren’t the place for deep reflection on the author’s thought so I want to cut to the chase and say what the book is about and who I think should buy it.

This is a extremely well researched book which will form part of a wider writing project that the author is embarking on. Here’s the basic lay out

Part One,
In this opening section the author shows his colours as a good academic. Whilst He himself confesses to being a free church evangelical, in this section he goes well outside his natural habitat to look at what 12 significant thinkers from the church’s major divisions (3 Catholic, 3 Orthodox, 3 Protestant, and 3 Free Church)are saying about ecclesiology. I have read several of these authors in their own words and I wish now I had read Hill’s summary first because he provides some excellent insights into these major theologians thinking on the church and mission. (Don’t get on your high horse about these scholars all being white and from US / Europe, Hill promises us he will be looking at theologians from the majority world in a subsequent work, and maybe from a different gender?)

So here is an outline of the scholars whose ecclesiology he is describing and their background.
1. Roman Catholic (Joseph Ratzinger, Karl Rahner, & Hans Kung)
2. Eastern Orthodox (Thomas Hopko, Vigen Guroian, & John Zizioulas)
3. Protestant (Letty Russell, Jurgen Moltmann, & John Webster)
4. Free Church (John Howard Yoder, Barry Harvey, & Miroslav Volf)

Part Two
Part Two for me is the heart of the book and where I spent most of my time reflecting on what was being said. (having said that don’t be tempted to skip part one, its foundational)
Hill attempts to build a missional ecclesiology (do we need to still call it missional ecclesiology? or have we won the argument that ecclesiology is inherently missional so there is no such thing as a non missional ecclesiology?)

The chapters titles will give you a good idea where Hill is heading and the ground he covers.
1. The Thinking-in-Community Church: Encountering a Life-Giving Theology
2. The Mission-Forged Church: Participating in the Mission of God
3. The Christ-Centred Church: Following the Messiah and His Eschatological Mission
4. The Spirit-Empowered Church: Responding to the Spirit’s Power and Presence
5. The Trinity-Imaging Church: Reflecting Trinitarian Communion and Mission
6. The Courageous and Future Church: Being Salt, Light, and a City

SUMMARY

My criteria for whether a book connected to missional theology has been worth reading is basically whether it moves the conversation on and makes me think. This books gets a big thumbs up on both accounts. I would probably not on my own initiative have delved into the work of some of the theologians Hill dialogues with but now I have some of their books on my list for 2014, that speaks for itself. Any book that stretches my thinking and takes me beyond my comfort zone in a positive way is worth its price and on that criteria I don’t regret buying this book.

So should you buy it? ….. Well let’s be clear if you are looking for a prepackaged programme for your congregation or the latest model in how to do church this book will be a bitter disappointment to you. This book instead helps you to think theologically about the church and mission and then gives some pointers as to how that theology might apply in your own unique context. Think of the difference between fast food from the local burger joint which is ultimately bad for your health and food from the “slow food” movement which requires preparation and work, is made from the best of ingredients, takes time to savour but will prove ultimately far more nutritious, well this book is a “slow food” missional ecclesiology.

So who is this book for? … If you are a student doing any sort of study in the field of ecclesiology and missiology then this needs to be on your reading list. I can see it becoming a standard introductory text in those fields in many theological institutions. If you are a pastor / church leader / church planter then this is also a book you should invest in and perhaps also invest the time in not just reading it on your own but perhaps reflecting on it with other fellow practitioners using the helpful questions which are included.

So in summary, an excellent, thoroughly researched, well written and thought provoking book which will help broaden and deepen your understanding of missional ecclesiology and ultimately help move the whole conversation on. My advice leave that “How To” book on church on the shelf and instead buy this “Why To” book.

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