Creating Christian Communities in Postmodern Cultures
Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger
Here, at last, is a book that delivers what Don Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church promised but failed to deliver: a conversation with the Emerging Church. Where Carson's book raised barriers to conversation, this one pulls the barriers down, opens the door and invites the reader in.
A wide-ranging discussion follows in which Gibbs and Bolger question and challenge emerging church leaders, record their conversations and take a close look at what emerges: an approach to faith that refuses to accept the status quo, that's determined to bridge the gaps that are all too common between mainstream expressions of Christianity and contemporary culture.
Gibbs and Bolger are, by their own admission, an unlikely partnership: Gibbs, a well-respected elder statesman of the UK church, an established author with IVP and now a Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary; Bolger, when the research for this book began five years prior to publication, an up and coming doctoral research student involved in the USA emerging church scene, now an assistant professor of church in contemporary culture also at Fuller. Yet both share a common concern that the church is becoming increasingly marginalized by a failure to engage with postmodern culture (preface, pp.7-8).
The book is well written, having been painstakingly compiled from detailed and careful research calling on books, blogs, email exchanges, phone calls and face to face conversations held by the authors with fifty emerging church leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. These conversations are recorded as biographical snapshots of those leaders in an appendix, "Appendix A: Leaders in Their Own Words", pp.239 - 328. A second appendix, "Appendix B: Research Methodology", pp.329 - 335, outlines how the data was collated and analysed.
Bolger and Gibbs are not, as they put it "starry-eyed about emerging churches" — on the contrary, they identify and discuss potential pitfalls. But the main concern is to provide space for conversation, to give emergent leaders a voice and to give those outside the movement an opportunity to hear an authentic voice from within it (p.11).
Instead of a theology built on a predetermined, rigid set of doctrines, an open-ended theology emerges that allows for a dynamic exploration of what it means to be a Christian in a postmodern context: a journey with Jesus to wherever it leads, a relational spirituality arising from a missional imperative. The whole ethos remains biblically based but avoids dogmatic strictures, allowing church to be redefined as a community that holds its doors open to all comers, as an area where there is no separation of secular and sacred because the whole of life belongs to God.
The book has its limitations, of course: most of those interviewed are from the UK and USA, and this is recognised by the authors; and of the fifty leaders featured in Appendix A, only nine are women. Nonetheless, this is a book that deserves to read as widely as possible, both by those outside the emergent movement who wish to gain an understanding of it and by those within who wish to gain a broader perspective.
It's also a book that calls for a sequel a few years down the line as the emergent movement continues to evolve: long may these conversations continue.
Phil Groom, April 2006
Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.SPCK | Order from www.christianbookshops.org