“Book Review.” Fitch, David E. 2005. “The Great Giveaway.” Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

February 12, 2007

David Fitch has his Ph.D. from Northwestern University. He is a pastor at a church in Long Grove, Illinois, called Life on the Vine Community of the Christian and Mission Alliance. He is also an adjunct professor at Northern Seminary where he teaches ministry, ethics and theology.

Evangelicalism has “given away” being the church in North America by giving church duties to exterior groups outside the church or compromising so that functions of the church are no longer recognizable (:13).

Whether it be big business, parachurch organizations, psychotherapy, consumer capitalism or other modern maladies (as stated in the title), the modern church has lost ownership over its church-ly duties, as well as having the ability to really influence people and make disciples.

Fitch takes a close look at the modern church and its maladies through 8 main segments. He defines success; Evangelism; Leadership; The Production of Experience by looking at practicing worship; The Preaching of the Word; Justice and how we understand it; Spiritual Formation; and Moral Education.

Through each of these segments, Fitch is able to make clear the problems of modern-day churches in North America and how we can become more Christ-like through some changes.

The most radical thing that Fitch does here is to show that what we, as modern North American Evangelicals, have deemed as evidence of success, may just be complete failures. He illustrates this well when talking about the large church that has so many members, but no one is keeping these people accountable. The pastor marries couples who were living together prior to marriage and have no plans of attempting to live a Godly life. Those that need counseling are sent to psychologists outside of the church. Thousands of cards that claim people have made decisions for Christ are coming in, yet no lives are changed and no disciples are formed. What is wrong with today’s churches?

I liked how he addressed that perhaps larger churches should split off and church plant instead of creating larger buildings. This is the same problem at Union Rescue Mission where I am doing my case study. The main issue I am encountering revolves around too much infrastructure and bureaucracy. While these things are needed, it is only because it is the largest homeless shelter in the country. With much power comes great responsibility, so there lies a lot of issues and time and management concerns.

Through my reading and research, I have begun to conclude that holistic ministry based on relationships is really the only agent for true change. Small teen centers, emerging house churches, and intentional communities appear to have the most influence over a person’s life. I ask the same question that Fitch asks of the church? Why are we so afraid to break apart? I believe pride, power and control issues are the factors here. We all need to take a step back and look at what we are doing on our Christian communities and really evaluate if this is what Christ had intended.

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Reflection for Wednesday Week 6

February 12, 2007

It was really helpful to go over the 9 characteristics of the emerging church, as well as define the differences between emerging and emergent. Media attention and criticism by many mainstream evangelical camps has given me a skeptical view of this new wave of Christianity, so it has been good to study and see what a positive influence it can have.

Reflection for Monday Week 6

February 7, 2007

I find it amazing and crazy that people need to write books and do research saying the best way to minister to people is live among them: have parties of Christians and non-Christians, join the soccer team, go to their clubs. The whole time I kept thinking, isn’t it obvious?  It’s called living life! Yet, modern Christianity has warped into such a weird subculture, that Christians don’t know how to get out anymore. We’re scared of non-Christians and their activities. We hide away in church buildings, separate schools, and organizations made just for us. There is something terrible wrong here. I remember going to my Christian college. For the first semester, my faith struggled. I remember asking “So if we are all supposed to be Christians here, then who are we supposed to be a light to?”  The scary part was most people seemed comfortable there. I’m not saying there is not a time for great fellowship and relationships among us, but if that’s all we have then we have missed the point entirely.

Reflection for Wednesday Week 5

February 5, 2007

I really enjoyed hearing the discussion and lecture on the emerging church. For some time I have been hearing mostly negative opinions coming from the conservative evangelical camps about the emerging church, Yet, I think if it is touching lives, then who are we to judge. I was interested to hear about England’s pub and club culture, and how the church has become culturally relevant to reach people. I don’t see the harm in that, unless someone who is in that culture has a problem with alcoholism or sexual addictions, in that case, I can’t see the environment being conducive to much change in the person’s life.

“Book Review.” Boff, Leonardo. Ecclesiogenesis: The Base Communities Reinvent the Church. 1997. New York: Orbis Books.

February 5, 2007

Leonard Boff went to school in Brazil and Munich, Germany. He is an author who is known for books such as Jesus Christ Liberator, Ecology & Liberation, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, and Holy Trinity, Perfect Kingdom.

The thesis of this book is basic church communities have sprung up in reaction to massive structures of uniformity, an in doing so they represent a a new experience of church, community and of communion of people within the ancient tradition (:1).

The book is laid out in seven segments. The first explores the definition and reaction of the new communities forming. The chapter “a new experience” looks at elements of the church such as institutional and communitarian that coexist with each other.

The next segment defines whether church is just ecclesial elements by exploring different opinions and by going deeper into the basic communities.

The next paragraph will look at the reinvention of the church and its new ways of function and growing while exploring new territory.

Chapter 4 focuses on themes of liberation for oppressed people through looking at beginning steps to change, organization, as well as obstacles faced.

Chapter 5 looks at the question of whether the historical Jesus will only institute one form of church? What was Jesus’ will? This chapter will explore Jesus life and will for the church in depth. The last two chapters focus on some qualms that more traditional or conservative groups might have with the church, such as the role of the lay coordinator in communion and finally the role of women in the priesthood.

The part that I found very compelling and appropriate to my case study was chapter four on oppressed people and liberation. He talks about the Third Inter-Church meeting and how for the first time ever, it was not just the priests or bishops who had a voice. The people, the congregation were speaking, were able to speak about their oppression, the injustice, the treatment and systemic powers that have kept them victims for so long. He discusses that the people can the create a movement of change.

What a great concept of people taking ownership over their situation, having a sense of purpose and dignity, and working together to change through grassroots groups and forming communities. That seems very kingdom-like to me.

I think that when comparing this to Churches that Make a Difference, those authors would agree that by enabling the people so be a part of creating the change, you will have better results. In that text, much of the inner city examples in Philadelphia churches were about enabling people, not just ministering to them, but by making them a part of a community that cared and was being kingdom-like. I see great vision in this model.

That is the key for the change and relationships that I want to see at Union Rescue Mission. The first step is giving people a voice, and then allowing them to become a part of the revolution.

 

Reflection for Monday Week 5

January 31, 2007

I really enjoyed the presentations and looking at all the different movements. The Ecumenical Movement was really encouraging in looking at the unity and bridging Christians together. I found it surprising how fluidly it works. I thought it was interesting to see that in each denomination, generalizations were made and then someone in the class was say how their church is not like that.

Wednesday Review for Week 4

January 29, 2007

It was refreshing to have more of a lecture set up. The discussion led by Bolger on the 3 concepts of the kingdom of God should enrich our small group discussions. This understanding helped me to put kingdom principles into a cultural context. The book “Churches that Make a Difference” is the first text that I have really enjoyed so far in this class.

“Book Review.” Sider, Olson and Unruh. “Churches that Make a Difference.” 2002. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

January 29, 2007

The thesis of this books is best summed up by the paragraph at the end of the introduction: any churches have seized this great timing in history to begin the journey in holistic ministry that will draw millions to personal faith in Christ, restore broken people to wholeness, and renew entire neighborhoods and societies.

Ronald Sider, most well-known for his books Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and Just Generosity, is president of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) and a professor of theology at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary .

Philip Olson is vice president of church relations at ESA and the director of Network 9:35.

Heidi Unruh is associate director of the Congregations, Communities, and Leadership Development Project at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

This book’s key themes revolved around reconciling evangelism and discipleship with social action. By looking at key churches that have developed this holistic approach in the Philadelphia area, the authors have portrayed a great hope and success through incarnational ministry.

By combining individual discipleship, with community development, and a passion for structural change, great transformation is given the perfect environment Great specific examples are given of how the church can be an effective agent for change in its neighborhood. I enjoyed the examples of how the church needs to get outside its own walls. Chapter 6 discusses doing VBS in homes in the neighborhood, inviting kids from a homeless shelter to go along on a church retreat or ski trip, or holding parenting classes and inviting people from the local YMCA.

So much of what churches do today is inner-focused. The whole concept of these holistic approaches to ministry are so refreshing, and seem so much like what Jesus had in mind.

I have been having a lot of qualms with my case study. I am addressing the issues of relationship issues between the employees and homeless guests at a local Skid Row homeless shelter. The more I delve into this issue, the more I begin to think this was not Jesus’ idea. All these programs and institutions (even if labeled “Christian”) seem to lose something in the translation from ministry or mission to program. They get bogged down in paperwork, red tape, and burn out. While great things are being accomplished, I feel there must be a better way.

For the past few years I have found it hard to reconcile evangelism with social justice. Churches, non profits and missions seem to pick and choose and one is lost in the shuffle. Yet, this book is able to reconcile the two and prove that this reconciliation may perhaps be the only way for real transformation to occur. I am given a new way to think and a new way to approach the idea of urban mission. This model makes sense, and it seems to bridge the gap between “the helper” and “the helped.”I can really see the idea of Lohfink’s contrast-society present here.

My passion for urban issues such as poverty and homelessness began during my semesters in Philadelphia studying at Messiah College Philly Campus (MCPC) and Temple University. The city holds a special love in my heart. I was excited and personally inspired to see the great work that God is doing to expand his Kingdom in this great city of brotherly love.

Reflection for Monday Week 4

January 24, 2007

I really enjoyed writing and discussing the narratives. I think it brought to life a new dimension of Jesus’ ministry and how it fits into our modern day context. My case study is on reconciling the employees at the homeless shelter with the homeless, making it more of a body of Christ instead of an “us” and “them” situation. I found it hard to find where Jesus would be. While it was easy to visualize him in relational roles, where would he be in the office setting? What does his ministry look like as he sits in a cubicle doing development work or writing grants to keep the shelter running?

“Book Review.” Karkkainen, Veli-Matti. “An Introduction to Ecclesiology.” 2002. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

January 23, 2007

Veli-Matti Karkkainen is from Finland and is currently a Fuller professor who teachers systematic theology. He has also published several articles in international theology journals as well as several books. His more well-known works include An Introduction to the Theology of Religions and Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective.

The thesis of this book is to present an analysis on comparative and contextual theologies, which have become more prevalent due to the ecumenical movements.

Karkkainen breaks it up into three sections. The first section is a discussion of ecclesiology traditions. It takes a look at the Eastern Orthodox Religion, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Free Church, Pentecostal and Charismatic, and finally, the Ecumenical Movement.

Part Two explores some of the leading contemporary ecclesiologists including: J. Zizioulas, H. Kung, W. Pannenberg, J. Moltmann, M. Volf, J. McClendon Jr. and Leslie Newbigin.

Finally, the third portion delves into the global realms of ecclesiology through contextual ecclesiologies: The Non-Church Movement in Asia, Base Ecclesial Communities in Latin America, The Feminist Church, African Independent Churches (AICs), The Shepherding Movement’s Renewal Ecclesiology, “A World Church” and Post-Christian Church as “Another City.”

While this book was an in-depth experience in looking at different churches and traditions, I found it difficult to apply to my own mission in the inner city. Certain aspects jumped out at me (mostly in the third section) such as the church’s role to call for justice, or the church as a gathered people, or community, all seemed fitting for inner city ministry.

As a whole, while informative, I did not find this reading particularly applicable. I am sure that this knowledge is helpful to get a larger grasp around the whole issue of the church and its role, especially in the world, so in that way it was beneficial.

I found our first two books which explored contrast society and the Kingdom concepts much more specific to my particular context of mission.