Let me begin by saying this book frustrates me. A lot. And I think I'll likely be proposing it to my church board for the next all church study book.
So, what about it frustrates me? The author speaks to a post-Evangelical audience. I am so post post-evangelical that those arguments have no interest for me whatsoever.
The argument whether or not we should be centered set vs. bounded set is not one I even see worth entertaining. Indeed, if you need to question who we need to exclude... I don't have time or energy for you.
He writes about a third way when facing controversial issues that allows for room to differ over non-essentials and then defines the essentials as dogma - the ideas included in the Apostolic and Nicene creeds and says that if one does not hold those ideas, then they're talking about a different faith than Christianity. I'm not sure about that. Indeed, I come from a tradition that specifically rejects creedalism in favor of Statements of Faith which a very thoughtful friend of mine said must always be written in pencil. The author defines disputable issues as those that bring together competing implications from dogma and over which otherwise faithful people might reasonably disagree. I like the intent here... but fear we might disagree over what is disputable. Schmelzer includes the issue of LGBTQ folk here. I cannot see that as disputable. Indeed, reject those folk and you're talking about something other than Christianity in my mind. The bottom line is that I'm not sure how one defines the essentials vs. the disputables.
Perhaps most important of all, the author sees this new movement of the church standing on the statement - Solus Jesus (as opposed to sola scriptura). I like that... but I fear we might have a lot of very different understandings of who Jesus is. The implications of that range of images is very serious.
I observed earlier that Schmelzer is writing to a post-evangelical audience. This became most apparent as he embraces ideas that more mainline churches have held for a long time as if they are new ideas. He treats centered set as if it is new (he does give credit to a theologian from Fuller who wrote about it in the 70's) but in my circles it was part of the discussion in the 1980's. He speaks of joyful engagement with secular culture when the mainline church never rejected scientific inquiry, the arts, etc. etc. He calls for ecumenism when the mainline church embraced that wholeheartedly in the 50's and went on to wrestle with the even larger issues of interfaith connectedness.
Finally, the book doesn't really address the institutional questions with which I struggle daily. What does the coming Church look like? How does it work in society? What forms might worship take? Ministry? Do we have trained leadership and if not, what happens to a body of knowledge and wisdom that has been gained through centuries and requires a kind of commitment to it which lay folk don't have time or skills to address?
So... what do I like?
Their six distinctives are a good start... and especially for those in the post-evangelical world. I have a bunch of younger friends who grew up in evangelical churches, left as they became more mature, and have been inoculated against church, thinking that all real Christian churches believe and act like the ones they abandoned. There was no convincing them that something else exists out there where their gay friends would be welcomed, women can hold leadership, they don't have to leave their brains in the parking lot, and real faith is not identified with white middle class Republicanism. This may have helped...
The dsitinctives are:
- Our primary framework is SOLUS JESUS
- Our primary metaphor is CENTERED SET
- Our approach to spiritual development is CHILDLIKE FAITH
- Our approach to controversial issues in THIRD WAY
- Our approach to other churches is ECUMENICAL
- Our engagement to secular culture is JOYFUL ENGAGEMENT
I like his pointing at Francis as providing a model for the Christian life... and his call for a real embrace of diversity.
So... it is worth a read, especially if you're coming from an evangelical background and feeling as if there must be something more. If you're looking for hints as to what the next incarnation of Church might look like... you'll be a bit disappointed I think. I love to visit other churches when I'm travelling and will look for a member church of this organization as I travel.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.