Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Utopian Dreams

Jones' Utopian Dreams is fascinating. I was expecting it to be a boring, 'I should read this to connect with contemporary thought' sort of book, but he has exceptional insight into our culture and its interaction or engagement with "spirituality" and "religion".

As a non-Christian, Tobias seeks out communities, tired with our individualised world. He finds himself asking the question, "Can a community exist without being religious?" and rather concludes in the negative. However, as he experiences these communities, he becomes more attracted and persuaded by Christian values. Having started admitting that he looked to see not whether the doctrines of the faiths represented were true, wacky or insane, he in fact concludes that Christianity not so much is true because it works, but works because it is true.

With fascinating insight I'd recommend this book - but I'd pray two things for the author. That he'd recognise the true community God is creating not in communes but in a people set aside by his word - not just in submitting to God and thereby experiencing true freedom, as Jones affirms, but in being called out by his Word savingly, and living in his grace. In brief, that he'd discover God's true community in the church being lived out around him.

And secondly, that he would see that it is not only the truth of the teachings and values incarnated by Jesus which make Christianity work. That in fact, he would see that Jesus is the Truth, the Way, and the Life: that He is God's community and we in him. And so that he would experience the grace of resurrection life, and the joy of knowing God the Father, through his Son, by the Spirit at work in us: in true communion with God and each other.

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I was directed to this book by a review much more helpful than that above by Damaris' Culturewatch here.

16 comments:

étrangère said...

Thanks for the link reminder, PM.

Caleb Woodbridge said...

I think one of the challenges that faces is to make sure that our churches actually are God's true community being lived out.

andrew c said...

Appositely, Tim Chester & Steve Timmis' Total Church: A radical reshaping around gospel and community is now out. Available from IVP.

étrangère said...

Indeed. There have been a number of popular level books out about church recently (several of them IVP!), which have been good. The Crowded House guys will be interesting - I tend to find members of their church plug the model to distraction against more 'traditional' set ups of church, whereas it doesn't seem so different to me at all, so it'll be good to hear it from the authors.
Beynon's God's new community,
Milne's Dynamic Diversity,
the collection of papers The Community of the Word,
Stott's Living church, though I'm told he's not at his best,
Beasley-Murray's Transform your church,
Jones' Why bother with church?
Gibbs & Coffeys' Church Next
and of course Clowney's classic volume in the Contours series.
- and that's just IVP, before touching on 9 Marks (Dever & Alexander 'The Deliberate church'), Tinker's Body Beautiful,...

I wonder if it's one of those things that we probably won't solve with reading more on it (each book with a slightly different nuance)... I know that my challenge in facing up to Caleb's right challenge isn't need of a new book to tell me how; it's joining in with how my church is living community on the ground - which it's doing rather well I do think! - namely, tackling my selfcentredness with the truth of the gospel by the power of the Spirit at work in us.

adrian reynolds said...

Interesting at EMA today that Tim Keller's definition of evangelical included the gospel which is Christological and personal but then Eschatalogical and Community. Sadly he ran out of time so didn't get to say what he meant by these - but I am sure he is right to stress both personal (over and above the emerging emphasis on community to the exclusion of all else) AND community (over and above the personalisation of faith). They should have let him finish....

Picked up Total Church there with a view to reading soon. I am interested to see how much it propogates the Crowded House model as per your comments. Interestingly, in original intro Ian Coffey wrote "they should get out more" but in the printed edition this has been toned down to "at times they need to engage with a wider constituency" :-)

étrangère said...

Haha, your right it should be interesting.

I'm trying not to be jealous of EMA. Twas my own stupid fault - I put it in my diary at the start of the year and then forgot about it. Methinks a good number of my colleagues may be there. It really sounds like they should've let Keller finish - do you know if mp3s will be available after the event?

étrangère said...

Oh dear. I can't believe I just mistyped your for you're. Stone me.

adrian reynolds said...

Yep - but you'll have to pay. Shame these aren't available for free - which seems out of kilter with lots of Christian media world. Did think of doing some clandestine recording....

thebluefish said...

I suppose the EMA mp3 cost funds the work PT do. But free would be nice.

étrangère said...

Haha, charging for the recordings funds the nice patisserie you all get in the many coffee breaks. ;-)

mama said...

"I can't believe I just mistyped your for you're. Stone me."

I would, except it's your birthday. Christians aren't allowed to get stoned on their birthday ;)

andrew c said...

Back to Total Church for a mo, my impresion is that its authors aren't trying to force The Crowded House model on us all, it's more about the principles behind it. Anyway, see here for what Tim has to say about it (before the Sheffield skies really let loose).

And BTW, "Joyeux anniversaire étrangère!".

étrangère said...

Thanks mama.

And that's encouraging, Andrew, sounds good - maybe tis only their members who've come from other churches who have converts' zeal :) And thanks for the birthday wishes - they even rhyme, fancy.

adrian reynolds said...

I keep seeing that it's often the converts of people who take certain positions who tend to be the more zealous about them. Is this a trend others have seen too?

Ant said...

Mmmm I think you would find The Crowded House is more different than you think Rosemary. But yes, I agree, I've had some conversations with TCH people at times where I've perceived the emphasis to be 'this is the only way you can really do church'. They may not have meant quite that (they tell me they didn't) but it can seem like that. Clearly it isn't the only way and people are being reached in lots of traditional church settings.

BUT, I have to say, I think increasingly that there are some advantages to thinking differently about church structures for the purposes of mission. The lower level of organisation needed, for one, frees up lots of time for making friendships with unbelievers and discipling one another. I think many of us, once we leave the student world (if we were ever there), find that genuine strong friendships with people in our communities are very hard to find time for. The way students get among their friends and spend lots of time together seems to tail off once they move on and are into busy jobs and families and so on. That's been my experience anyway.

And there are large parts of the population of Britain that will never come in to our meetings, whether trad or household or whatever, especially in more urban areas. Therefore intentionally building meaningful friendships is vital, and so structuring church in such a way as to maximise that possibility seems like something worth thinking about, whether it uses a public building or a private house. That's part of what I'm doing in trying to think about mission and ecclesiology at the moment.

Thanks for the review of the novel though... I'd like to read that.

étrangère said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Ant, helpful. I guess I tend to a flexible approach to the traditional models anyway (probably through having been involved in churches in so many places, & seeing them develop & try to live out & reach out with the gospel!) This means I'm wary of a "This is THE way to do it" plan, but always interested in various ideas, how they're shaped by the gospel and how they 'work' in different cultures and situations.
I've been thinking with my church evangelism how we could develop it esp. given how few we are, and pondering what 'communities' exist now. As you say, too often good relationships with non-Christians tail off after university. It's one reason I'm utterly inflexible with my Monday evenings as regards church or work activities - orchestra rehearsal takes priority! In my church we seek to reach into 'Bournville' as a community, and if any locality is still a community in a city, Bournville is. So our evangelism around the locality is effective. But actually half our members aren't in this locality, so I've been thinking we should focus on investigating which friendships & communities members are investing in, and pray for / invest in those, evangelistically. I doubt we'd change the structure much though. Not like we have much structure... we're small and very much a community so can play about with things like that a lot more easily.