Category Archives: Books

Book Review: On the Verge – Alan Hirsch & Dave Ferguson

The aim of this book will not surprise those who have read Hirsch’s earlier work: “The task of this book is nothing less than to call the church to recover her most ancient, her most potent, and her most beautiful form, that of the apostolic movement.” p17

This book does answer a question that had perplexed me for a while; what in the world inspires Hirsch an apostolic movement through missional, organic church planting to move to the US, home of the mega-church and all things bigger and better, a few years back.

Hirsch believes “he is called to North America on the assumption that the future of the church in the West is somehow bound up with what happens in and through the church in this context…  I have come to believe, we simply have to activate what is clearly one of the most significant church movements in the last fifty years – the megachurch in its various forms- an allow them to help negotiate a way into a new future.  It won’t be the only form of apostolic movement that will emerge, but it will be a very significant one.” p18

“The integration of the contemporary megachurch thinking with the more missional grassroots approach will result in better-resourced, better-led, savvy expressions of church, reframed by the deepest currents in the biblical story (missional-incarnational) and restructured around the world-changing organizational paradigm of exponential people-movements.” p43

In line with this thinking has been the creation of a learning group called Future Travellers, “a two-year learning cohort initially composed of twelve megachurches… committed to seriously factoring missional movements into their current equation of church… a major commitment to somehow reframe their relative churches as high-impact, exponentially reproducing, missional movements.” p24 This book represents an effort by Hirsch and Ferguson to articulate this “dynamic learning journey.” p24.

While I remain sceptical of attempts transform an entrenched, existing structure, particularly one as complex and large as a megachurch, I was intrigued by the idea and pray for it’s success.  For what it’s worth I think rather than attempting to turn a battleship, that is a large or mega church, rather we should set aside and release smaller, more flexible, mobile missional teams in order to begin exploring new ways to do church.  This to me is a more likely both-and scenario than the one Hirsch and Ferguson are attempting.

Confessing that might explain why I found the sections Hirsch (strategist and missional theologian) wrote far more interesting and stimulating than those Ferguson (megachurch pastor and network leader) wrote (although I found his two chapters on innovation very helpful).  Hirsch admits that those familiar with his writings will find that while there is some new material here, it is fundamentally an attempt to “process and apply” some of his previous writings most notably The Forgotten Ways.

If you have read Hirsch before you will find here a good synopsis and some interesting application of his work.  You will find some of the usual themes like “dethroning Constantine”, systems theory, apostolic genius and the paradigm shift in the West needing to be mirrored by a paradigm shift in mission/church methodology.  It is always good to “watch” as a thinker/strategist is forced to work through their thinking.  If you have never read Hirsch before – read him!  You probably won’t agree with everything he says but no matter where you land when you put his book down you will have been stimulated to think in new directions, consider new alternatives and be inspired to genuine mission to a changing world.

If you are a leader in an existing more traditional structure then read this book, it will probably be an even better read for you than The Forgotten Ways, Hirsch’s previous book.  However, if you are more interested in the missional, organic church movement then read The Forgotten Ways or The Shaping of Things to Come (with Micheal Frost).

Here Hirsch & Ferguson discuss some of the key themes in the book:

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Communities of Light

Tim Chester has posted the final extract from his new book “A Meal with Jesus”.  

I particularly liked this quote:

“The future of Christianity lies not in a return to the dominance of Christendom, but small, intimate communities of light. Often they’re unseen by history. But like yeast they’re what transforms neighbourhoods and cities.”

Related: Engage primarily with people then with culture

Two forgettable books

I guess this blog post has to happen only because I said it would.  Because I have reviewed books in the past I occasionally get offers to review books on my blog.  Often I don’t bite but this time I did… twice as it happens and they turned out to be eminently forgettable books.  Basically I do not recommend either of the books but I have to review them so here goes:

Andy Stanley: The Principle of the Path (received from Booksneeze)

I have watched a few of Andy Stanley’s teaching series before and enjoyed them but I have never read any of his books.  So I thought this might be a good time to check one out.  I was also doing quite a bit of reflection about my life and direction at that time so this seemed like it could be a good book to read.  The most redeeming feature, however, was that it was an easy read so I did not have to waste more than a weekend reading it!

It falls into that stereo-typical American popular (Christian?) authorial style – of inane stories, massive repetition and superficial content. As I said I have been encouraged by some of Stanley’s teaching and was quite frankly disappointed.  While the book certainly talks about God and his role in our lives and encourages us to know him and submit to his plan, there is very little gospel in the book.  The agent for change is very often right thinking, self-awareness, self-improvement or at times minor scale legalism.  At some points I found myself wondering if I substituted the obvious references to God in certain sections whether a non-Christian author could have written something very similar.  Not that I think Stanley is anything other than, from what I have seen, a man deeply committed to Christ and has a strong grasp of the sovereignty of God, the all-encompassing nature of Christian discipleship and a deep love for Jesus.  I am, however, disappointed in this book and probably won’t ever read any of his other books.

I would rather recommend: Tim Chester’s: You Can Change or Jonathan Dodson’s “Fight Club: Gospel Centred Discipleship”

Kyle Idleman: Not a Fan (received from Zondervan)

In one sense there is nothing wrong with this book in its theology and message.  There is just nothing unique or memorable about it.  It’s main theme is neither new nor original.  The content has been done before – just better!  The writing style is bad – sentences are often clumsy and badly written.  And despite his constant attempts at humour, he is just not funny – certainly not to anyone over 18 would be my guess.  Just because you have a good idea does not mean that you ought to write a book.  Like the above book the author may have been better served writing a pamphlet – such is the lack of substance to fill an entire book, padded out by needless repetition.

I suspect the main reason this unremarkable book got published was as the blurb on the back says, Idleman is the “teaching pastor at… the fifth largest church in America.”

Again I would rather recommend Tim Chester’s “The Ordinary Hero”

Note: These reviews are way overdue but I hate writing content like this so true to my nature I have procrastinated until I forced myself to be done with this and write them.

Engage primarily with people then with culture

Tim Chester has just posted another excerpt from his new book, “A Meal with Jesus”.  This quote caught my eye:

“Much is said of engaging with culture. Much that’s right and helpful. But we must never let engaging culture eclipse engaging with people. People are infinitely variable and rarely susceptible to our sociological categories. If you want to understand a person’s worldview, don’t read a book. Talk to them, hang out with them, eat with them.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Everyday Church: Mission by being Good Neighbours

Somehow this has become the unofficial Tim Chester promotion week.  I had heard this book was in the pipeline, a follow-up to Total Church.  But that was about all… until I stumbled across this promo video

As a sidenote – washing up must be Tim’s favourite analogy or illustration for almost anything.  He has even done this talk on “The Theology of Washing up”.  Actually a really great talk – well worth a listen.

But I must confess when I stayed with Tim for a few days a couple of years back, I remember trying to figure out where to put all the dishes when you did the washing up… those English kitchens are rather narrow!

A Meal with Jesus

There are few contemporary authors who have influenced me as much as Tim ChesterThe Gospel-Centred Church (co-authored with Steve Timmis, and later expanded in Total Church) & Good News to the Poor were books that both radically changed my thinking, as well as giving words to a general unease in my soul when it came to contemporary church.  Neither of these books are simply easy-out deconstruction of contemporary evangelicalism but are an attempt to address significant issues with solid theological reasoning and a call to a radical gospel-centred, counter-cultural lifestyle.

Here is a short introduction to Tim’s New Book, “A Meal with Jesus”

Tim has posted two excerpts from the book, entitled “Loving the real individuals sat round the table”“The son of man come eating & drinking”.  Here are a few of my favourite quotes

“Hospitality involves welcoming, creating space, listening, paying attention, providing. Meals slow things down. Some of us don’t like that. We like to get things done. But meals force you to be people-oriented instead of task oriented. Sharing a meal is not the only way of building relationships, but it is number one on the list.”

“Many people love the idea of community. But when we eat together we encounter not some theoretical community, but real people with all their problems and quirks. The meal table is an opportunity to give up our proud ideals by which we judge others and accept in their place the real community created by the cross of Christ with all its brokenness. It’s easy to love people in some abstract sense and preach the virtues of love. But we’re called to love the real individuals sat round the table.”

“Jesus spent his time eating and drinking … His mission strategy was a long meal, stretching into the evening. He did evangelism and discipleship round a table with some grilled fish, a loaf of bread and a pitcher of wine.”

You could also read an excellent interview with Tim here:

One final quote from the interview:

“The great thing about using meals to do community and mission is that it doesn’t add anything to your busy schedule. We already have 21 ready-made opportunities each week. Nor do you have some kind to special missiological training. You just need to love Jesus, love people and enjoy eating! It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Sometimes you may want to make a special effort and celebrate the goodness of creation in a fancy meal. But most of the time it is just a question of sharing an ordinary meal with people.”