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The Gospel after Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions

by Ryan K. Bolger, ed.

Baker Academic, P.O. Box 6278, Grand Rapids, MI 49516, 416 pages, 2012, $29.99.

Reviewed by Brian C. Hull, assistant professor of youth ministry, and director of Christian Ministries Resource Center at Asbury University.

What does the Church look like in a multicultural, global, hybrid world where the categories of the past, the dualism of the West, and the individuality of modernity no longer apply? We are already aware that “business as usual” is not an option. Many people are ready to move past the deconstruction of the last decade and move on to exploring what new expressions can look like in a post-Christian world. As Eddie Gibbs notes in the Afterword in this book, the snapshots offered here are exhilarating, encouraging, and at times discomforting because they are so different.

The Gospel after Christendom provides a well-rounded and diversely-voiced look at the new expressions of church in a post-Christendom global environment. This book is appropriate for the professor, denominational/organizational leader, and active practitioner. It contains chapters from twenty-eight authors (all scholar-practitioners), and is broken down into five parts. Part One focuses on the new expressions in seven different people groups/nations. Part Two is focused on six cultural themes (covering areas from earth care to globalization to consumerism) that the editor initially developed out of his consultation with seventy-six different leaders.

Part Three examines four Christian practices (worship, formation, mission, and leadership) interacting with the cultural themes. Part Four dives into eight “experiments”, revealing how new expressions are lived out within a particular post-Christendom context. The last part shows how three different denominations from different parts of the world are attempting to make appropriate changes in these times. The book concludes with a chapter from the author, who attempts to find a few common threads amidst the voices.

The beauty of this book is that it gives an excellent overview of the prominent issues for the Church in a post-Christendom world by both discussing the issues and providing pictures of how some new expressions have been developed, adapted, and innovated to those issues. The stories provided here are unique and help move the conversation about practices into some new areas. The book flows remarkably well for the large number and diversity of authors and includes sidebars which extend the conversation across each chapter.
In true postmodern fashion, the book is rooted in and stays in the local. It is therefore descriptive and not prescriptive. This could prove frustrating to some, but ultimately helps the reader to understand the importance that these new expectations place on knowing their neighbors. The conclusion offers surprisingly little focus on missiology, even when it seems that missiology might have some helpful language and insights for the conversation.

While focusing so much on the local, there is almost no discussion of contextualization or the use of anthropological tools to better understand that local context. Nor is there any discussion of the need for criteria for identifying movements as Christian, which seems much needed in the diverse hybrid world in which we now live. Despite these absences, the book is an important contribution to those focused on where the Church is going and how it might best get there.

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EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 497-499. Copyright  © 2013 Billy Graham Center.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

 

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