Seeking Church: Emerging Witnesses to the Kingdom (Missiological Engagements Series), Darren T. Duerksen and William A. Dyrness. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.
Summary: An approach to the development of indigenous churches within a culture, shaped by emergent theory’s understanding of how cultural and historical forces interact with biblical understanding to form churches in culturally diverse ways.
If we are reading the same Bible, shouldn’t our churches all look similar to one another? And if not, is there something wrong, or right about that? The authors of this work, while contending for some common marks of transformative churches, would argue that it is inevitable for churches developing in different cultural contexts to look different.
They argue first of all that churches are inevitably shaped by the cultural values within which they are birthed. They then argue for an “emergent” process in which cultural influences, historical factors, and biblical understanding interact. They make the argument that this is always how God has worked and show through case studies of different churches examples of this at work.
They begin by showing that all actual instances of the church in both history, and in the contemporary world reflect this emergent dynamic. Furthermore, they argue for the reality of a “reverse hermeneutic” in which culture interprets gospel, sometimes helpfully and sometimes obstructively.
The writers then turn to biblical descriptions of the church as the body of Christ, a pilgrim people, and a community of the Spirit. They consider worship practices, especially communion in light of emergent theory and focus in on the question of what biblical markers, across culture mark transformative churches, both rooted in their home culture and forming people to be part of a coimmunity of every nation and culture worshiping God. They contend for five markers:
- The story of Christ is heard and obeyed.
- A community forms around this story.
- This community responds to the story in prayer and praise.
- The community seeks to live in peace with each other and their wider community.
- There is an impulse that drives the community to witness to Christ and the transformation the Spirit has brought about.
There were two aspects I found helpful in this book. One was the recognition of ways indigenous religion and culture inform the church. Rather than a wholesale rejection, there is an openness to what is good, as well as destructive to a biblical witness. Second are the examples of the distinctive forms churches have taken within different cultures, including some of the novel approaches within Islamic and Hindu cultures.
One of the tests of this emergent theory may be whether churches develop that are recognizably Christian in terms of the transformative marks outlined by the authors, and still reflective of the best of the culture within which they have been birthed. It seems that there might be two dangers, a rigid form of “Christian practice” the conforms to cultural values, or a vitiated form of Christianity that is more cultural, particularly in the way of assimilating Christianity into existing belief. The authors point to a third way that is both culturally distinctive but formed into communities shaped by the Christian story and Christian mission in the world.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.