11 February 2006

The Continuing Conversion of the Church (intro)

I recently finished reading Darrell L. Guder's book, The Continuing Conversion of the Church, one of the books in the Gospel and Our Culture series that also includes the classic Missional Church, edited by Guder. I don't think it's an exaggeration for me to say that this has been the most formative single book I've ever read, apart from the Bible and perhaps the World Scripture (which is a topic for another time). Do I think there's one book, apart from the Bible, that every thinking Christian should read? Heck no; everybody's at a different place in her journey. But if I did think in such a one-size-fits-all manner, and I did think there were such a book, this might be that book. At least until I finish Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society,which I'm reading now. (After that, it's David Bosch's Transforming Mission. Serious stuff, wot?)

So anyway, I think Continuing Conversion is a pretty enormously important book, and since I know it's not going straight to the front of everybody's "to read" queue, I'm going to go ahead and try to give a taste of the book in a series of posts. I don't pretend I'm up to the task of doing it justice, but maybe it'll be helpful to somebody nonetheless.

This book took me a long time to read. There were several reasons for this. First, I was trying to read a whole bunch of other things at the same time, like I always do, and I'm not a particularly fast reader. Second, it's not exactly Harry Potter. Every sentence of this book is packed with profound theological/ecclesiological/missiological meaning, and I really needed to read a little bit, chew on it a lot, then read a little more. Third (and I really only realized this as I was nearing the end), this book was somewhat painful for me to read, because I kept on reading some of the book and thinking, "Yes! Yes, that's it! I need to go and put that into practice!" But in my current context, with the vast bulk of my working time devoted to my secular day job, and with my "big church", Holy Comforter, really only beginning (in my opinion) to grapple with what it means to be a missional church, I kept on feeling this let down feeling: no matter how much I wanted to put this theology into practice, I really couldn't right now. Not much, anyway.

Anyway, I finished the book, and like I said, it's had quite an effect on me. So in this series of posts I'll do what I can to pass a tiny bit of that transformation on to you, gentle reader. In this intro, I'll just try to summarize the overall argument of the book. This may not make too much sense until I unpack it in follow-up posts, so bear with me:

The fundamental identity of the church is that of a people called and commissioned by Christ to be, do, and say his witness. Living that mission requires that these witnesses translate the gospel whenever it engages a new culture. But a hazard of that necessary translation process is that in the process of translation, the gospel will be reduced and diminished. This gospel reductionism has happened repeatedly in Christian history, and today's church is captive to its own gospel reductionism in many ways: some dating from before the dawn of Christendom and the establishment of Christianity in the Roman Empire under Constantine, some from the modern age, and others from present-day cultural compromise. This fundamental identity as Christ's witnesses means that the heart of Christian ministry is evangelization, but the most urgent need for evangelization is the continued conversion of the church itself: an invitation to the church (at every organizational level) to repent of its gospel reductionism and move toward the fullness of the gospel.

Got all that? I'll attempt to make sense of it in follow-up posts. Prayer may be required. :-)


Aj Schwanz said...

That was a serious *a HA!* book for me: read it last summer, and things have never been the same. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who enjoyed it! Looking forward to hearing further thoughts.

Mike said...

I'm looking forward to the series, Mike!

Mike Exum said...

I read part of the book several years ago, gave it to my Dad and he just came alive with it. We discussed it for months.

I remember the observation on reductionism. That was the singular idea that stayed with me over the years. It is a powerful little book, very convicting.

Many blessings...

MsJess said...

Seeing that my own reading list is long, I'l be looking forward to your posts on this book, Mike. I'm rather interested in the idea that the church must grapple with its reductionism of the gospel. At the same time though, I wonder whether we all must grapple with reductionism in our day to day lives as we work to interpret things and make meaning of them.

Lenny said...

LOL! Reading the book now and just Googled it to see if anyone else loved it as much as I am. :)