by Jonathan R. Wilson
Jonathan R. Wilson believes that the “practicing church” declares God’s redemptive work and enhances the church’s witness through the empowerment of the Spirit.
Brazos Press, P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287, 2006, 160 pages, $ 19.99.
—Reviewed by Robert L. Gallagher, associate professor of intercultural studies, Wheaton College Graduate School, Wheaton, Illinois.
Jonathan R. Wilson, the Pioneer McDonald Chair in Theology at Carey Theological College in Vancouver, believes that the “practicing church” declares God’s redemptive work and enhances the church’s witness through the empowerment of the Spirit. The first chapter of Why Church Matters expands the idea of practices in the church such as proclamation, sacramental celebration, worship, and evangelism, and serves as the foundational piece for what follows. Subsequent chapters are divided into three sections: practices that maintain the life of the church—how worship is work, witness, and warfare, and how it grounds us in the good and the true and the beautiful, and how it teaches and shapes us in the language of faith; practices that need rejuvenation—the importance of the community called to worship, the “evangelism” versus “social action” debate, and consequential kingdom practices; and practices that come from the renovations of the previous section—an in-depth view of three practices: baptism, communion, and foot-washing. The writer further explores how confession and the formative power of prayer and suffering shape the Body of Christ.
It is Wilson’s conviction that the present North American evangelical Church does not have a clear sense of what it is called to do or why; and thus does not know when it is being faithful or unfaithful. Questions such as “What does the celebration of communion signify for the life of the Church?” shape the span of the book with the conviction that it is by God’s grace in the practice of the gospel that the Church bears witness. According to Wilson, “I am convinced that the greatest threat to the faithful witness bearing of the Church is the absence of vibrant and vital practices of the gospel. When the life of the Church is alive with practices faithful to the gospel, the witness of the Church simply has to point to these practices” (p. 11). Further, the author believes that because of the essential relationship between the gospel and practice and the contemporary lack of grace-filled practices in the Church, “a recovery of the practices of the Church is crucial to continued faithful witness to the gospel” (p. 12).
In summary, church matters because this is how a community of believers practices the gospel, and thus participates in the Kingdom of God. In other words, it is how the church demonstrates that it is real in obeying Christ and becoming “participants in God’s work by God’s grace” (p. 21).
Other Books Received
Blasi, Jean Kirsle. 2008. Prophetic Fishing: Evangelism in the Power of the Spirit. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Chosen Books.
Nachtigall, Patrick. 2008. Faith in the Future: Christianity’s Interface with Globalization. Anderson, Ind.: Warner Press.
Punt, Neal. 2008. A Theology of Inclusivism. Allendale, Mich.: Northland Books.
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