From Culture Wars to ‘Re’ Words: a book review

The Bible likes the  “re” words. No, I am not talking about: reduce, reuse, recycle. Those words are important but I can’t find them in my Bible (perhaps in the Message?). Nor am I talking about the lesser “re” Bible words: resisting, reacting and rejecting. Nope, the big, important ones are: redemption, renew, repent, restore, resurrection, reconciliation and redemption.  In Restoring All Things, authors Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet argue that these are the most important “re” words in the Bible, even if our Christian reputation most often reflects lesser ‘re’ words like rejecting and resisting (17). (Hey did you notice that ‘reflect’ is also a ‘re’ word?).

Smith is the vice president of the WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD magazine, author and radio program producer. Stonestreet is a speaker and fellow of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and host of BreakPoint (with Eric Metaxas) and The Point. They are both conservative (both politically and theologically) but they are gracious in their engagement with the wider culture. Much like Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, Smith and Stonestreet have not abandoned the convictions of their predecessors, but embody a noticeable difference in tone.

Chuck Colson still looms large in Smith’s and Stonestreet’s eyes, but Abraham Kuyper is their muse. The epigraph at the head of their introduction is the oft quoted Kuyper quote, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'” (17).  Their fifteen chapters are an attempt to bring the lordship of Christ into every realm of contemporary culture including: poverty, capitalism, abortion, the plight of women and girls in our world, education, restorative justice, race, the prevailing secularism in the university, ministry to the LGBT community and those with disabilities, promoting marriage, caring for orphans, the arts, and local action.  Both Smith and Stonestreet earn their bread as Christian commentators and that is their primary role here; however each chapter tells  the stories of Christians who are active in each of these arenas.

Four questions guide their quest on how to bring Jesus into the public square:

  1. What is good in our culture that we can promote, protect and celebrate?
  2. What is missing in our culture that we can creatively contribute?
  3. What is evil in our culture that we can stop?
  4. What is broken in our culture that we can restore? (25-26)

And so Stonestreet and Smith celebrate the good (like capitalism), look for creative Christian contributions (the arts) call us to put a stop to evil (Abortion on demand, racial injustice) and call us to restore that which is broken (the institution of marriage, the prison system, etc).

I really appreciate the stories of people and ministries that Stonestreet and Smith profile. They profile people I respect (i.e. John Perkins, Makoto Fujimura, Bob Lupton) and many others. The stories are my favorite part (and that is part of their strategy of capturing the culture). They take sensible stands on issues that many evangelicals ignore (such as the racism and prison reform). They also have helpful suggestions for readers to research deeper and begin contributing in each arena they discuss.  However on other points, I found the commentary one-sided (such as their passionate defense of Capitalism) or shallow. Perhaps a book that tackles this many issues is bound to be underwhelming in some places. Still I appreciate the aim and irenic spirit they have. I give this book three-and-a-half stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

We Got Spirit, Yes We Do: a book review

Every year Wheaton college hosts their annual Theology Conference. These gatherings host scholars discussing pertinent theological topics. While Wheaton and its conference are broadly evangelical, they gather an impressive range of scholars from various biblical, historical or theological disciplines and church traditions. The 2014 conference, The Spirit of God: Christian Renewal in the Community of Faithhas just been published by IVP Academic (edited by Jeffrey Barbeau and Beth Felker Jones). In it, you will find historic, fresh and challenging perspectives on the Holy Spirit and his work in the church and world.

Part one of the book, explores biblical and historical perspectives on the Holy Spirit. In chapter two Sandra Richter gives a ‘bird’s-eye-view’ of the work of the Holy Spirit through out Scripture. In chapter three, Gregory Lee compares the pneumatology of Basil of Caesarea and Augustine of Hippo, representative voices from East and West, discovering a great deal of commonality. In chapter four, Mattew Levering examines Thomas Aquainas’s theology regarding the Filoque clause that was added to the Western version of the Nicaea-Constantinople creed. In chapter five, Jeffrey Barbeau recovers the pneumatological insights implicit in Charles Wesley’s conversion (on Pentecost, May 21, 1738–a few days before John Wesley’s famous Aldersgate conversion). In chapter six, Oliver Crisp describes the insights of Reformed Pneumatology. Chapters seven and eight describe the Pentecostal movement. Allan Heaton Anderson profiles the global Pentecostal movement, Estrelda Alexander focuses on the African American Pentecostal experience.

Part two explores doctrinal and practical perspectives on the Holy Spirit. Chapter nine wrestles with the role of the Spirit in hermeneutics. Here, Kevin Vanhoozer expertly untangles the lack of pneumatology in many approaches to biblical interpretation and presents the crucial, formative role the Spirit has. In chapter ten Amos Yong explores the Spirit’s role in creation and Michael Welker does the same for salvation in chapter eleven. Geoffrey Wainwright presents the Spirit’s role in the liturgy of the church (chapter twelve). Doug Petersen talks about Pentecostals and social justice (chapter thirteen). In chapter fourteen, Timothy George explores the Spirit’s role in Christian Unity. The concluding essay (by Barbeau and Beth Felker Jones) argues three basic premises: (1) The Christian life should reflect our worship of the Triune God, (2) Christian theology is fully pneumatological and (3) Christian practice should be characterized by love.

Like all multi-author works, there are some stand out essays. Barbeau’s essay about Methodism and Charles Wesley’s contributions to pneumatology is quite good. As is Vanhoozer’s recovery of the Holy Spirit for hermeneutics. I found both of these chapters insightful–the first for offering an anatomy of conversion with an eye toward the Spirit’s work, the second for making hermeneutics spiritual. Yet my favorite chapter is Crisp’s presentation on Reformed pneumatology. Crisp hones in on the Spirit’s role in uniting us to God (and the Reformed, dogmatic presentation of that), and he offers two principles. The first is the Trinitarian Appropriation Principle (TAP) which posits that where one person of the Trinity is at work, all members are likewise at work (99-100). The Intentional Application Principle (IAP) claims that the aim at every Divine action is the telos, our union with God and the transformation of creation at the end of  the age (101). The second principle names the peculiar pneumatelogical dimension to God’s work. While Crisp extrapolates from the Reformed Tradition (Calvin and Brunner, and the various confessions), these are insights appropriate for the whole church. Beyond these three chapters, the essays are generally still quite good.

Unity in diversity is especially important in a volume devoted to the  Holy Spirit’s work. Of the fourteen contributors to this volume, three are people of color and three are women. The ecclesial diversity is somewhat greater. One of the contributors is Catholic, there are Pentecostals, Reformed, Methodists, and a Baptist (this book may be more ecclesially diverse than this, I am not sure of everyone’s denominational affiliation). Lacking is a Greek Orthodox perspective on pneumatology, though at least a couple of essays present on and interact with Orthodox perspectives (see especially Lee and Levering’s chapters). There also is not a Mennonite pneumatology here. I’m not sure what the specific Mennonite contribution would be, but since that tradition has helped shape my Christology and ethics I am curious about what Anabaptism may bring to the discussion.So certainly this group may have been more diverse, but it still does a fairly good job of presenting a good cross section of theological perspectives.

This is not a scholarly monograph but a collection of essays (originally lectures). The authors do not agree on every point, in either theology or historical detail. Still books like this give you a taste of various perspectives. I thouroughly enjoyed this romp through (mostly) Evangelical pneumatology. I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Start Tripping: a book review

Mark Batterson is the pastor of the National Community Church in Washington, DC and the author of several Christian bestsellers (The Circle Maker, The Grave Robber, All In, Soul Print, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, Wild Goose Chase). While I have read Batterson profitably, even if I have areas of critique. Richard Foth is a retired pastor a generation older than Batterson. When Batterson and his wife Lora arrived in DC to plant a church twenty-one years ago, they developed a friendship with Dick and Ruth Foth after they had Thanksgiving dinner at the Foth home. Foth became a mentor, friend and kindred spirit for Batterson.

Foth and Batterson team up to challenge us toward adventure. A Trip Around The Sun shares Foth and Batterson’s stories of how they each chose a lifestyle of adventure. In each of the twenty chapters, Foth and Batterson relate parts of their life journey. They tell stories of risk, adventure, learning, prioritizing relationships, investing in family, and trusting God. They aim at inspiring their readers to do the same.

Each chapter closes with a succesories-style-slogan summing up a little life lesson. Things like: “Choose Adventure” “When You Follow Jesus, All Bets Are Off” “Catch People Doing Things Right” “Never Lose a Holy Curiosity” “Don’t Sacrifice Your Family on the Altar of Success” “No One Can Worship God Like You or For You”

Both Batterson and Foth are good communicators (or Susanna Foth Aughtmon is, who helped them write this). I underlined things I found personally inspiring. Their challenge towards risk-taking and adventure is something I need to hear. I don’t want my life, vocation,or faith to just happen to me. I want to press into life, grab all that God has for me, participate in his mission of redemption for my community and world. I want to love well and live well. To the extent that I feel pulled in that direction by Batterson and Foth, this is a good book.

But I can’t say that I connected well with what I was reading. Foth talks about being raised as a third-culture kid (before the term existed), of meeting famous people, and his lifestyle of trying to live faithfully. Batterson tells of church planting, taking his kid to a super bowl game, reading two hundred books a year and kissing his wife on the eiffel tower. These accumulated experiences are fun, significant, important, but Foth and Batterson never connect the dots for me in a way I found particularly helpful. They offer slogans instead of a compelling vision.

But I did appreciate their relationship and the way their friendship finds their way into each others’ stories. Batterson sees Foth as a godly mentor for him, which I am certain he is and has been. In the acknowledgments, Batterson admits that his primary goal for this book was ‘to capture Dick’s stories for posterity’ (201). Dick sings Batterson’s praise throughout these pages. I like the way they model a godly mentoring relationship.

I give this book three stars. I appreciate their overall message, even if aspects left me feeling flat. Still, I choose adventure. . .

Notice of material connection. I received in exchange for my honest review.

This trip around the Sun, I will choose Adventure by praying risky prayers.

All the Good Things & the Bad Things that May Be: a book review

When Christians talk about sex, beware. Popular Christian communicators tend to either fixate on abhorrent sexual practices in our culture or sing horndog-songs-of-praise about the gift of sex. The former use sex as exhibit A in their fear-mongering case about national moral decay. The latter write Christian bestsellers about the joys of marital sex with their ‘smoking-hot-wives.’  There is a dearth of Christian literature  which speaks honestly about the gap between our church’s and culture’s visions of sex. That is part of what makes Redeeming Sex so refreshing.

Debra Hirsch is the wife of ,and co-conspirator with, missional guru Alan Hirsch (they co-wrote Untamed, which may be my favorite Hirsch book). She serves on the leadership team of the Forge Mission Training Network and is on the board of Missio Alliance. She brings to the topic of sexuality twenty-five years of ministry experience to and with the LGBT community. The church that She and Alan planted and led in South Melbourne had about 40% of its members come from the LGBTQ community. When Debra came to faith in Christ, she was living and identifying as a lesbian. This book offers her wisdom and insights (and part of her story) about how to approach the issues around human sexuality with grace.

The first thing to observe is that Redeeming Sex is not about ‘sex.’ That is, if you reduce sex to mechanics, genital stimulation and technique you won’t find what you are looking for here. This is a book about sexuality. It tackles Christian attitudes toward sex, sexism, gender, our approach the LGBTQ community.

Hirsch’s book divides into three parts. Part one, “Where Did All the Sexy Christians Go?” tackles our attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Here Hirsch steers us past prudish repression, fear-based responses and our tendency to elevate sexual sin above other sins. She points to how the life of Jesus, his relationships with men and woman, affirms the goodness of sexuality.

Part two, “Bits, Bobs and Tricky Business” looks deeper at Christian views, especially our approach to gender and same-sex attraction. Hirsch describes eight fumdamentals of sex: (1) the term sexuality names the impulse to genital sexuality and social sexuality, (2) sexuality involves the whole self, (3) sexuality is embodied, (4) sexuality celebrates difference, (5) sexuality is fractured, (6)sexuality is deceptive, (7) sexuality needs a chaperone, (8) sexuality is ageless.  These ‘fundamentals’ describe both the gifts and dangers of sexuality. In the following chapters, Hirsch discusses gender and homosexuality,  Hirsch pleads for dialogue and mutual self understanding of the various positions  on the options available for gay Christians (i.e. healing leading to heterosexual marriage, celibacy and affirmation of gay lifestye). She doesn’t commend a one-size-fits-all approach to ‘healing homosexuals.’ At one point, she observes that heterosexuals are also in dire need of healing in their sexuality because all of us are sexually broken (120).

Part three, “The Mission of Christian Sexuality,” draws these threads together. Hirsch offers a vision of participating in Christian mission in ways that  are cognizant and honor people’s sexuality. Hirsch urges us towards ministry that emphasizes grace, ministry that gets beyond our stereotypes to engagement with real people, affirms the way we all are God’s image bearers,  and ministry that is ‘centered-set’ versus ‘bound-set’ (not seeking to mark who is in or out, but helping people to take steps to follow Jesus in healthy sexuality where they are).

Despite Hirsch’s interest in ministry to the LGBT community and her personal history with it, I am not totally sure of her ‘theological position.’ I know that her church at one point of time worked with Exodus International but became increasingly uncomfortable with their position (Exodus International itself became uncomfortable with Exodus International’s position). She quotes affirming authors and promotes dialogue between conservatives and gay Christians, but this isn’t a book that tells you what your theology should be. This is a book that urges us to greater love and understanding as we reach out in the love of Christ. This is a message both conservatives and progressives need to hear.

I enjoyed reading this book. Hirsch is funny, irreverent and insightful. She doesn’t mince words about where we’ve mussed up a biblical vision of human sexuality AND the gospel of grace. Too often evangelicals are defined in our culture by their views on sexuality (i.e. homosexuality and abortion). Hirsch points us towards deeper love and mission to all who are sexually broken. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily abandon our theological commitments; however it means seeking how to love well. I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from IVP in exchange for my honest review.

Friends and Lovers: a book review

Wesley Hill self identifies as a gay, celibate Christian. That is, he is same-sex attracted but his theological convictions preclude him from joining in a romantic, sexual partnership with another man. His early book, Washed and Waiting (Zondervan, 2010) tells of his journey of seeking to follow God with his Christian faith and sexual orientation in tension. In his new book, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian, he explores the importance of friendship in the Christian life, especially for those in the LGBT community. Hill is bookish and thoughtful. He is also vulnerable about his struggles to form deep non-sexual friendships with other men. Despite the heartache he feels in pursuing the ideal of Christian friendship, he sees it as a gift to gay Christians. And us all.

This is a short book, consisting of six chapters, divided into two parts. In part one, ‘Reading Friendship’, Hill explores the necessity of friendship in the Christian life. Chapter one explores some of the ways that friendship has been marginalized and eclipsed in contemporary culture (6). Hill weaves together a narrative of himself naming his need of friends (on the eve of his confirmation) with theological reflections from Benjamin Myers, C.S. Lewis and seveal literary references. As a gay Christian, he feels the need for friendships acutely but the lack of cultural space for friendships impoverishes everyone.

Chapter two explores deeper the special dispensation of friendship and the cultural history of it. Hill points to Bethge and Bonhoeffer’s friendship and how they saw how fragile friendship was and the ways it was not recognized by others (25). A later readings of Bethge and Bonhoeffer’s relationship claim that it was ‘really a homosexual partnership’. Whatever the nature of that relationship (text and subtext), it does speak volumes that later audiences can’t conceive of such a close, male friendship without speculating about their sexuality (25,26). Hill  delves into the Christian tradition, exploring the insights on Spiritual Friendship in the writings of twelfth century Cistercian, Aelred of Rievaulx. Aelred wrote On Spiritual Friendship (which this book’s title alludes to) and described the value and same-sex, celibate friendships with the context of monastic life. And of course C.S. Lewis’s reflections on love, friendship (and homosexuality) are woven through these chapters. Chapter three explores the language of friendship (and family) in the New Testament.

Part two explores the practical side of ‘living friendship.’ Chapter four describes some of the challenges to developing friendships (especially the challenges to those who are same-sex attracted). Chapter five discusses suffering in love and relates a particular difficult loss of a friendship for Hill (when a heterosexual friend got engaged). Chapter six gives six concrete suggestions for recovering friendship as a Christian discipline:

  1. Admit our need for friends.
  2. Start renewing the practice of friendship with the friends we have (not the idealized friendships we want).
  3. Remind ourselves that friendship flourishes best in community.
  4. Realize that friendships strengthen communities.
  5. Imagine specific ways friendships are doorways to the practice of hospitality and welcoming the stranger.
  6. Look for ways to avoid the lure of mobility–staying put and investing in relationships with people where you are.

It should be evident from this list that Hill sees the importance of friendship for everyone. It would be impossible to read this book and not feel the call to deeper friendships. Hill is realistic on both the joys and sorrow, blessings and difficulties involved in cultivating friendships. Hill is in tune with how his sexual orientation informs his call to friendship, “I want to explore the way my same-sex attractions are inescapably bound with my gift and calling to friendship. My question, at root, is how I can steward and sanctify my homosexual orientation in such a way that it can be a doorway to blessing and grace”(79). He also writes, “My being gay and saying no to gay sex may lead me to more of a friend, not less”(81).

This is a great book for the way it roots the challenges and blessings of friendship in Hill’s own experience as a gay Christian. Too often sex is seen as the ultimate expression of human love, leaving those who are celibate (by choice or circumstance) feeling less than human. I think many traditional Christian apologetic of marriage and heterosexual love are pastorally insensitive on this point, describing the virtues of marital love as God’s design but declaring it off-limits to gay people. Hill presents a vision of friendship that is not ‘second best’ but considers orientation, vocation and love together. This commendation to friendship is not a ‘less-than’ proposition but is every bit as life-giving and challenging as marital vows. Those of us who hold to a more traditional stance on marriage need to have this sort of compelling alternative to offer to those who don’t have that option.

But this is not a book about gay friendships as the subtitle implies. This is a book about friendship. Hill thinks through the implications from his own perspective as a gay and celibate Christian, but friendship is necessary for us all to thrive in our Christian life whether we be single, married, gay or straight. There is so much here! I give this book five stars. ★★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Brazos Press in exchange for my honest review.

Accept no Substitute? a book review.

In recent years the idea of substitutionary atonement is often attacked. Substitution is the hallmark of classic Protestant thinking about the way Christ’s cross saves us from our sins; however many are questioning whether the language of substitution does adequate justice to Christ’s cross and biblical theology.  In Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul, Simon Gathercole surveys the contemporary discussion on substitution and its merits, the strongest exegetical challenges to the doctrine, and examines two key texts from the Pauline literature that explore the nature of substitution in Paul’s thought (1 Corinthians 15:3 and Romans 5:6-8). Gathercole is not attempting to eradicate the insights of substitution’s critics. He merely seeks to demonstrate that the language of identifying, representation and apocalyptic views of Christ’s atonement do not do full justice to the totality of the atonement or Paul’s theology of the cross. Gathercole is bringing the notion of substitution back to the table so we can see a richer picture of Chris’t work.

This book originated as an SBL paper in 2006 which underwent revision as Gathercole presented the material as a  academic lecture series  at three different institutions (Concorida, Biola and Acadia). Published here as part of the Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology series (ed by Craig Evans and Lee Martin McDonald), it still maintains the accessibility necessary for a public lecture format (10). Gathercole, here, is as brief as he is suggestive of the ways substitution rounds out our contemporary understanding of the atonement.

After an introduction, Gathercole’s argument unfolds in three chapters, a brief excursus and a conclusion.  In his introduction, Gathercole describes the importance of substitution for both Christian doctrine and pastoral care (14). He defines substitutionary atonement as ‘Christ’s death in our place, instead of us’ (15). While substitution is associated with penal models, Gathercole untangles this, claiming, “Substitution is logically distinguishable from related concepts such as penalty, representation, expiation and propitiation” (18). He t sharpens the idea of substitution by profiling the distinctions between substitution and penalty (18-20), representation (20), propitiation (21-2) and satisfaction (22-3). This helps set limits on what Gathercole’s claims in this essay. It is conceptually possible to speak of punishment, representation, divine appeasement and satisfaction apart from the idea of substitution. Substitution does not necessarily entail all (or any) of these other ideas. Gathercole closes his introduction with a survey of various contemporary criticisms of subsititutionary atonement (i.e. that it is a legal fiction, an immoral doctrine, its rejection on philosophical and logical grounds).

In chapter one, Gathercole turns to what he feels are three strongest antisubstitutionary exegetical cases for the atonement. He profiles the Tübingen understanding of representative ‘place-taking,’  Morna Hooker’s Interchange, and apocalyptic deliverance. The Tübingen school (building on the work of Gese and Hofius) describes Christ’s death through the lens of the Day of Atonement rituals (Lev. 4-5, 16). In the sacrifice of the bull and the goat, the priest and the people were invited to identify in the sacrifice through the laying on of hands. In a similar way we are set free by identifying with Christ in his sacrifice (36-7). Hooker’s interchange emphasizes our union to and participation with Christ in his death (41). The apocalyptic view focuses on how Christ’s death sets us free from the powers (46). Gathercole praises each of these approaches for the way they handle some biblical texts and describe aspects of the atonement; however, he also observes where each fails to do justice to everything that Paul says on the atonement. One area that he critiques  all of these approaches is in their failure to grapple with how Christ saves from our ‘sins’ (individual infractions) and not just our ‘Sin’ (our condition).

Chapter two and three provide the exegetical case for where Gathercole sees the language of substitution in Paul. Chapter two focuses on 1 Corinthians 15:3, “Christ died for our Sins according to the Scriptures.” Chapter three explores the vicarious death of Christ as described in Romans 5:6-8, “For although we were weak, yet at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might dare to die. But God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Between these chapters is a brief excursus on why if Jesus died in our stead, we still die. Gathercole argues convincingly that 1 Cor 15:3 builds on the notion of substitution with Isaiah 53 in the background whereas Romans 5 describes vicarious atonement with Roman and Greek parallels in the background.

Gathercole isn’t out to debunk contemporary discussions of how we participate in Christ’s death and his atoning sacrifice. He has no bone to pick with idenitfication, representation or Christus Victor undderstandings of the atonement. What this essay highlights is the way these, in various ways, fail to describe all that happens in the atonement (and even all that Paul has to say about it). Nor is Gathercole foisting on us an either/or understanding where we ought to see the atonement as substitutionary only. Rather he helps us see a fuller picture of the atonement where in a very real way, Christ died so we don’t have to. This book helps illustrate the richness of God’s work in Christ. Personally I found it helpful because while I appreciate some of the developments in atonement theology, I’ve found the blanket criticisms of all things substitutionary puzzling. Another insight I gained from the way Gathercole profiles the alternative views, is he shows how a totalizing vision of the atonement determined what a passage is allowed to say. When our conceptual framework is too rigid we fail to see the full richness of what is described in Paul’s theology (or other writers). Gathercole has a fuller atonement theology because he allows for the diversity in the meaning of Paul’s material. I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

How Preaching Participates in the Mission of God: a book review

Books on preaching are of two varieties (at least!). Some books focus on method and creative presentations for the preaching moment, others focus on the content and purpose of preaching. Books on the Missional church follow the same pattern. Some books are pragmatic, offering ideas about ‘new ways of being church’ in the community. Other authors focus on the conceptual framework of ministry shaped by our relationship with the missional God. Of course practical authors hope they are rooted in good theology and conceptual authors see practical application of their ideas, but they have different starting points.

When Patrick Johnson, pastor at Frenchtown Presbyterian Church and adjunct professor at Princeton Theological Seminary decided to tackle both topics–preaching and the missional church–he tackled the conceptual side of both, offering a theology of preaching and mission. The Mission of Preaching: Equipping the Community for Faithful Witness is conversant with the discipline of homiletics and  the missional thinkers who have framed the contemporary discussion, people like Newbigin, Bosch, Barth and the Gospel in Our Culture Network (GOCN). He  is thoughtful about how preaching serves God’s mission and where it fits in the larger context of the church’s witness of Christ. Johnson is suggestive of ways to be more intentionally communal and formational through preaching.

Johnson’s four chapters represent several conversations about preaching and mission. In the first three chapters, Johnson discusses preaching as witness, the witness of Christian community and the witness of missional congregations.. Chapter four forms a nexus, connecting the early conversations and offers a ‘missional homiletic of witness.’

Chapter one examines three different approaches to preaching, from three authors, who each see the function of preaching as witness: The Witness of Preaching by Thomas Long, Preaching as Testimony by Anna Carter Florence and Confessing Jesus Christ: Preaching in a Postmodern World by David Lose. Each of these authors argue that witness is the most appropriate way to understand what a preacher does, though they diverge in their theological commitments, assumptions and points of emphasis. Long places witness alongside other images of preaching, outlines how the preacher bears witness, and places preaching within ‘the context of Christian community’ (4!), Florence repositions homiletic authority on ‘the structure of testimony’ (as opposed to education, ordination and training. (50). Lose offers an analysis of the epistemological challenges to preaching from post-modernity, adds to the idea witness the concept of confession (communal understanding o the gospel) and places preaching within the context of the church’s multifaceted witness (61-62). Johnson closes the chapter with six questions raised by his examination of these three authors and highlights their various answers: (1) What or who is the object of the preachers witness?; (2) By what criteria should one assess the faithfulness of the preacher’s witness?; What kind of witness is scripture?; What of ordination?; In what ways does the congregation bear witness?; and How does the witness of the preacher relate to the witness of the congregation?

Chapter two examines the witness of the congregation through the lens of Barth’s Church Dogmatics (IV,3.2). Barth saw bearing witness as the function of all that the church does. He therefore placed preaching under the larger category of Witness. The church witnesses through praise, preaching, instruction, evangelism, mission, theology, prayer, the cure of the souls, producing exemplary lives, service, prophetic action and fellowship (96-103).  Johnson observes that for Barth, “witness is not a way of preaching, but preaching is a way of witness” (103). Barth helps missional preachers move beyond their individual role in preaching to seeing how the act of preaching connects to the mission of the church and calls the church to orient itself toward the world it is called to reach.

Chapter three focuses on the witness of missional congregations, using the patterns of missional faithfulness described in Treasure in Clay Jars edited by Lois Barret for the GOCN (Eerdmans, 2004). The eight patterns are: discerning missional vocation, biblical formation and discipleship, taking risks as the contrast community, demonstrating God’s intent for the world, dependence on the Holy Spirit, pointing toward the reign of God, exercising missional authority. Johnson walks through each of these patterns drawing out the implications of how missional preaching helps contribute to and give shape to each of these elements in the life of the church.

Finally chapter four draws all of these various conversations together. This is longest chapter of the book and in it, Johnson gives his definition of a ‘missional homiletic of witness.’ He begins under the sub-heading ‘preaching’ and gradually adds more detail until his heading offers a full definition of what he is calling for:

Preaching Confesses Jesus Christ Through a Missional Interpretation of Scripture . . . to Equip the  Community for Witness in the World. 

Johnson builds on the thoughts of all the thinkers he previous profiled, as well as interacting with other recent proposals for missional preaching (such as Al Tizon’s Missional Preaching).

Johnson believes that the preacher has a crucial role in aiding and equipping the church for mission; however, his conclusion draws out several practical ideas from his study. First, he urges congregations to take seriously the idea of communal preaching (a shared ministry of preaching in the church). Because preaching is about bearing witness to Christ’s ongoing (and finished) work, the ordained ministry is not the authoritative voice for the community but one who points to Jesus and his mission. This would mean that one of the tasks of the preacher would be to nurture other preachers in the community, believing that no, one person has all the necessary gifts and insights to prepare the whole church for holistic mission (219). Secondly Johnson focuses on the necessary focus on Jesus Christ as the content of preaching, and a missional hermeneutic of scripture which explores God’s mission for the world (220,221). Johnson also reiterates again how preaching is just one component of the church’s multiform witness.

As a solo pastor and primary preacher at a small church, I found much of what Johnson says insightful and suggestive. I believe in the necessity of biblical preaching and think it is formative and missional but I have been uneasy with the way the preacher’s voice (on any given Sunday, my voice) is privileged over and against others in the congregation. Seeing with Johnson (and Barth) that preaching is just one aspect of the church’s witness is helpful . I also appreciate the hermeneutic lens of mission–reading the Bible with an eye for God’s mission and seeking ways to exhort the congregation to participate in it. Probably the most challenging aspect of Johnson’s proposal for my context, is the communal preaching component. I think I agree with Johnson that this is a good goal to move to, but the culture of my church has been that the called pastor delivers the message. Sermons from occasional members of the congregation or visitors are the exception rather than the rule. A good amount of groundwork would need to precede a move in that direction.

This is a demanding read, examining a large swath of practical theology and systematics. It obviously will be useful reading for a preaching class or seminar at a seminary level; yet this book will also be read fruitfully by pastors, preachers and lay ministers. I give this book four and a half stars and recommend it for anyone who cares about the mission and proclamation of the church.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.