Completely Revised and Expanded Edition of Struggling to Belong
Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith
Here's the thing in a nutshell: former LBC student Simon Jones doesn't want to give up on church communities made up of a wide variety of ages and backgrounds, he thinks that the Bible should be central and he believes the Church can work. Even so, the man who famously wrote "The church in the West is a terminal case, strapped down on a stainless steel slab.... I'm not so keen for her to get up and walk in her present form", Mike Riddell, has been persuaded to write a very positive introduction.
The book is written a very familiar and easy to read style. Jones much prefers anecdotes about people to discussions of abstract theology, and at times it seems like every third paragraph introduces a new name and illustration "Jane was a mother of 4 who felt that the church..." By the end, Jones is writing, asking us "Do you remember Max, who I told you was..." and the readers are almost wishing that they'd started keeping dossiers on these people from the start. But this does keep the book from ever straying away from real life, something which books on the church have a tendency to do.
It probably goes without saying that this is not a book with easy answers, no recipe for a new church-like scenario that corrects the problems and points the way forward. Indeed, one of the best reasons for reading the book is to keep centred on what the church should be doing, and often such a centre acts to caution the over-zealous embracing of some new model for "doing church".
The reader feels that Jones is restraining himself in his critiques of some of the new movements, but the connections are still there to be made in his writing. For instance one "old fashioned" church is criticised because a new-comer who notes the presence of a church in the neighbourhood walks in from the street at the time that the board in front says, but then isn't helped through the complex service or made to feel that they belong or are truly welcome. It's clear without Jones saying so that such a person would be even less well served by the "new" idea of like-minded individuals deciding to meet to read the Bible and think about God either at the pub or at one of their homes at times that change from week to week as people find it convenient.
Jones does a wonderful job of examining what the church really should be up to and also of beginning the process of educating folks in what needs to change. He's honest and genuine about the church's and his own strengths and weaknesses throughout the book. This is a book that every Christian can benefit from. If IVP put out a study guide, it'd be a natural for church House Groups, giving people reasons to affirm what they do already and also challenging them to move forward.
Conrad Gempf, October 2001
Dr Conrad Gempf teaches New Testament at London School of Theology. He is the author of Jesus Asked (Zondervan, 2003), Mealtime Habits of the Messiah (Zondervan, 2005) and Christian Life & The Bible (LST, 2006). He writes extensively for various books, journals, magazines and websites; here's his blog: Not Quite Art; Not Quite Living.IVP | Order from www.christianbookshops.org
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