Recipes for Evangelism and Discipleship for Today's Church
Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith
The Economist sent me a free book this morning entitled Negotiation. Apparently it will tell me how to negotiate both on the international stage and in my own home. On the cover is a picture of two men shaking hands. But each man has two faces; one smiling into the handshake and the other, facing away, deadly serious.
Talking amongst ourselves about Christian faith today can sometimes seem like a negotiation. It's not that we don't care; it's quite the opposite. The problem is that our answers just don't always sit easily together.
Our question: In the tumbling malaise that is contemporary culture, how on earth does the church find its feet? Anna's answer: Share a feast. In other words: dialogue. Anna compares our task to that of a chef. We have both long-standing stock ingredients and ever-changing seasonal produce. To concoct a masterpiece requires an experienced balance of the two. Her style is generous, but equally suffers no fools. If a product is past its sell-by date, be it stock or seasonal, bin it.
This is a refreshing approach. To the reader envisioned by new movements and ideas, e.g. emergent, alt worship, post-liberal thinking to name a few, Sharing the Feast provides a welcome critique of the excesses of traditional Evangelical thinking and practice. Most notably, Anna's whole approach fights against reducing our faith and practice to one overarching idea. This is a book comfortable with tension and passionate about well-considered balance.
To the more traditional Evangelical reader, however, this book pulls no inappropriate punches. Anna rejects the downgrading of Scripture to an optional extra and provides an equal critique of the potential that trendy Christian movements show for dissolving connection with traditional Christian ideas.
For a relatively short book, Anna crams in an immense array of ideas: perspectives on evangelism, priorities for discipleship, essential theological themes and savvy sociological analysis. Most of all though this book provides the inspiration to reflect, imagine and create.
In any negotiation the fear is that those involved will have to compromise to the extent that they lose their identity. The hope, on the other hand, is that all concerned will together find a more constructive and enriched future. Sharing the Feast is a positive work of negotiation; a manifesto, outlining a way forward together.
It is not, however, to borrow the topical term, a Road Map. The book's, arguably deliberate, weakness is its paucity of practical strategies for implementation. What would a church of people thinking this way actually look like? How does one actually go about balancing these competing ideals in a community? This is the sort of book that will change the way you think, but to apply it to your situation will take some extra effort.
Sharing the Feast gives a remarkably comprehensive approach to thinking about faith and how we practice it in today's world. But it needs an implementation-focussed sequel.
Negotiating that path is down to you.
Matt Valler, January 2006
Matt Valler is a former LST student (graduated 2003), currently serving as Youth Pastor at Finchampstead Baptist Church, Berkshire.
Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.Order from www.christianbookshops.org | Order from St Andrew's Bookshops
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