A Journey of Freedom for Pilgrims and Wanderers
Jonathan and Jennifer Campbell
Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith
There's a well known story about someone who stopped going to church. The vicar went to visit and they sat, talking, in front of the fireplace. As they sat there the vicar took hold of the tongs by the fire, reached in, removed a glowing, red-hot coal and placed it, by itself, on the hearth.
Soon enough the coal cooled off and lost its glow. Conversation waned — not a word was said about church — and the vicar left. The next Sunday, the missing person was back in church.
It's a quaint story that represents the traditional view of Christians and church: you go there on Sunday, perhaps occasionally in the week, but for sure, if you stop going, your faith will die.
But suppose that coal had fallen out of the fire by itself, rolled across the hearth and onto the carpet — suddenly the fire, until then safely confined to the fireplace, is everywhere: the whole house, perhaps even the entire neighbourhood, is ablaze.
That's the story which emerges in this book as its authors discover what for them, at least, is a more authentic way of following Jesus. It's not so much a story of emerging church as engaging church: a form of church that connects with its surrounding culture and sets it ablaze.
The fire spreads, no longer held in check by the constraints of dogma and doctrine: a repeated refrain throughout the book is that it's not what we know or believe but whom, not religion but relationship. Religion denies; relationship affirms. Religion stifles; relationship liberates.
This a very personal account of a transition from conventional church to creative community — from disillusion with structured belief systems to a dawning of hope in open-ended, free-form faith. There's plenty to disagree with, of course, but this book is your invitation to join the adventure — to leap not so much from the frying pan into the fire as out of the fireplace to ignite the furnace.
So far so good. Moving from review mode here to some personal reflection: should we all take this leap? Does the Campbell way mean that conventional church has seen its day? Do we close down our church buildings, do away with theological colleges and attempt to reboot the whole system from scratch?
If you'll forgive the switch to a computing analogy, I don't think so. I belong to a minority group in the IT world: I'm a Mac user. Since the turn of the century we've seen some massive changes in the way that Macs work — first a switch to Unix, now in 2006 a switch to Intel chips.
Yet with each step forward there's been a hand reaching out behind in backwards compatibility, allowing the new and old systems to work together, to create networks, to communicate. And within the newer systems an ability to run with the older environment, allowing users to carry projects forward rather than ditch them and start again.
That, to me, reflects the way of Jesus: moving ahead, reaching back. In the early church Judaism wasn't abandoned but expanded. Likewise today: emerging church needs the base of existing church.
The Campbells never quite explain what they mean by the Way of Jesus, but they're very clear what it isn't, that it isn't to be found in the church most of us belong to. There's no doubt that the church has lost the plot at times but that doesn't mean — as this book seems to imply — that it's a lost cause.
So, before I lose the plot: go for it. This is a book that deserves to read, perhaps even demands to be, as it seeks a way of following Jesus that doesn't subscribe to the American Way, that doesn't depend on business or commercial models but arises out of real life. Read, be challenged, respond.
Phil Groom, January 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.Order from www.christianbookshops.org | Order from St Andrew's Bookshops
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