by Bryan Bishop
Baker Books, 2015.
—Reviewed by Laura A. Chevalier, doctoral student, Boston University School of Theology.
Few topics have captured the attention of the contemporary Church like the phenomenal growth of Christianity in the Global South and the increase of those who identify as “Nones” in the West. The Christian faith looks more diverse than ever and has moved beyond the bounds of the West, presenting endless opportunities for study. At the same time, concern for organized religion in the West has led to a plethora of scholarship focused on analyzing and reaching the “Nones.” While most authors focus on one of these topics, Bryan Bishop combines them and proposes that the West might have something to learn from growing Jesus movements worldwide.
By exploring his own journey of discovering “insider movements” to Christ in various parts of the world, Bishop proposes principles for application in contexts where people are leaving the Church. It is a disarming approach that seeks to understand a somewhat controversial topic. Using detail-rich stories, he introduces his readers to real people who follow Jesus within the religious milieus of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Native American spirituality. Referencing John Travis’ C-scale, he describes believing communities along the spectrum. In particular, Bishop focuses on those he classifies as C5—those who follow Christ, but do not necessarily call themselves “Christians.” Using the Bible as a guide, he first explores whether or not it matters if one uses the term “Christian.”
After two introductory chapters, the book contains three parts. In part one, the reader experiences various communities that Bishop visited on his own journey: a Jesus-focused Hindu-style satsang (truth community) in India, Muslim Jesus-followers in Bangladesh, Buddhist-background believers in Thailand, and Native American Christians in North America. As Bishop weaves his story, he addresses the questions, and sometimes misgivings, he has about such movements. Despite his uncertainty, he describes these followers of Jesus with openness and respect, believing they have something to teach us.
In part two, Bishop offers four principles that he believes have application in other contexts: the centrality of the Bible, movement toward Jesus, the adoption of local rituals and forms, and seeking truth. Finally, in part three, he tells stories of people who are already applying some of these wider principles in their own contexts in the West. Bishop gives specific ideas for practical application in this section. The appendix also contains a ten-session Bible study with further information for group facilitators available on the book’s website.
The book is rooted in a wide variety of academic literature, including classic works by E. Stanley Jones, Roland Allen, and Paul Hiebert. Interestingly, some of the principles and practical applications resemble characteristics of emerging churches in the West (e.g., focus on Jesus, experimentation with worship forms), yet this literature is strikingly absent from the work. Whether the omission was an oversight or a purposeful exclusion of another controversial topic is unclear. However, what is clear from the work is that different ways of expressing faith can bring new vitality to following Jesus.
Check these titles:
Cole, Neil. 2005. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Herber, Hoefer. 2002. Churchless Christianity. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
McDermott, Gerald R. 2000. Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions? Jesus, Revelation & Religious Traditions. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic.
EMQ, Vol. 52, No. 1 pp. 100-102. Copyright © 2016 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.