Review: Dwell–Life with God for the World

dwellDwell: Life with God for the World, Barry D. Jones. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: A focus on mission and a focus on spiritual formation are often divorced from one another. This book argues for a missional spirituality rooted in the incarnation of Jesus, his dwelling among us to restore broken shalom that is revealed in spiritual practices that herald the vision of the kingdom that is both present and to come.

If I were to draw a Venn diagram (remember Venn diagrams?) of the group of people who are missional, and the group of people who care deeply about spiritual formation, I would probably draw one with two circles with only a small area of overlap. And sadly, we sometimes have people who live at one of two extremes, either rabidly engaged in mission but lacking in spiritual depth and self-understanding, or people whose spirituality has seemed to turn in on itself, with little or no concern for the world.

Barry Jones believes that the key to a life that brings mission and spiritual formation together is the incarnation of Jesus, his dwelling among us both in a vibrant relationship with the Father and for a mission to restore the broken shalom of the world. He organizes his discussion of missional spirituality around the incarnation of Jesus into three parts: vision, practice, and context.

Chapters one through four focus on gaining a vision of God’s intention in the world. Chapter one begins with the biblical narrative, contending that the concluding vision of the new heaven and earth shapes a spirituality that is creation affirming, people affirming, body affirming, intimately connected to God, and God’s just reign. Chapter two centers on the breaking of God’s shalom by human rebellion and contends that the most appropriate response is a sacred discontent that looks beyond ourselves to God to address the world’s condition. The next chapter explores our deep thirst, a longing for God fulfilled in the outpouring of the Spirit of God through Christ giving us living water and making us as the church, the dwelling place or temple of God on the earth. Finally, in chapter four (which I think should have preceded chapter three) he explores how Jesus incarnation reveals God’s vision for the world as boundary breaker, shalom maker, people keeper and wounded healer.

In the next five chapters, he explores how various spiritual practices flesh out living the vision of God in the world. Chapter five focuses on a “grammar” of the spiritual disciplines, a substructure that governs the appropriate engagement of disciplines in a missional spirituality that includes attentiveness, receptivity, embodiment, community and rhythm. Then in succeeding chapters he focuses on four practices among others that sustain our life in God for the world. These are prayer, worship (the work of the people), sabbath rest, and feasting and fasting. He has some challenging remarks in the chapter on sabbath about engaging relationships and disengaging from our technology. And he observes that feasting as well as fasting are spiritual disciplines that reflect our incarnate life as we long as we long for the world to come.

The final part, on context, consists of just one chapter, which was somewhat surprising. It would seem that much more might be said about this. His focus is first of all on what he sees as a post-Christian western world in which he believes our call is to live question posing lives of faithfulness sustained by our practices and centered around vibrant, parish-like communities that take seriously the physical place in which they are located.

I appreciated the grounding of missional spirituality in the doctrine of the incarnation. The dangers of over-spiritualizing both mission and formation find their corrective in the God who truly has dwelt with us in human flesh and continues to dwell among us and in us through his Spirit. Jones’ ideas about the embodiment inherent in the practices, the incarnational presence of the church and particularly the concern for “placed” parish missional life are helpful contributions to developing a missional spirituality. I hope the author will continue to flesh out these ideas, perhaps thinking and writing more about the third category of context and how congregations may live out an embodied spirituality and missional presence in their local contexts.