by Ross Hastings
Intervarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426, 355 pages, 2012, $24.00.
—Reviewed by JR Rozko, director of operations & advancement at Missio Alliance.
Hastings gets it. The West is a mission field! But he also gets something that seems to lie beyond the gaze or grasp of many who offer proposals for helping the Church to navigate its increasingly post-Christendom context—namely, that the problems we face are, at the root, not simply pragmatic or methodological, but systemic and theological. Thus, this book offers “… hope for the re-evangelization of the West in the twenty-first century by promoting the concept that mission is participation of the church and its members in the missional God” (p. 16). Or, in the reverse, the witness of the Church is suffering because it is not sufficiently derived from our understanding of God, which suffers because we fail to see and appreciate God’s missional nature.
John 20:19-23 serves as the text around which the entire book is organized:
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
Jesus’ words of peace serve to make shalom the central concept of the theology of the Church for which Hastings argues. Chapters 5-8 deal with discovering shalom and 9-12 with disseminating shalom. In chapters 1-4, which are vital to the book, the author explores what it might mean for the Church to distinguish between its inculturation—the process whereby communication is adapted to features of a host culture, and its enculturation—whereby the Church takes on the norms and values of a host culture in order to find acceptance (p. 38). Chapter four is the theological backbone of the entire book in which, drawing heavily on the work of Karl Barth, Hastings propounds a missional vision of the Trinity. The subsequent sections of the book are, in many respects, masterful explorations in the application of robust Trinitarian theology to the structure, life, and mission of the local church.
While Hastings perhaps stretches the pericope noted above a bit thin, his theology and ecclesiology are compelling. By his own omission, the book is not meant to offer a singular model for the Church, but is “a book to build models on” (p. 36). To those looking merely to grow their church or combat its increasing cultural marginalization, this book will be of no value. However, to local church pastors or denominational and network leaders who intuitively understand that the Church in the West has lost touch with her theological moorings to the missional character and life of God, this will be a welcome resource.
Check these titles:
Fitch, David E., and Geoff Holsclaw. 2013. Prodigal Christianity: Ten Signposts into the Missional Frontier. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Stone, Bryan P. 2007. Evangelism after Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press.
EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 506-507. Copyright © 2013 Billy Graham Center. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.