Books reviewed, by Title

  • The Emerging Church—Vintage Christianity for New Generations, D. Kimball
  • Lost in America, Clegg/Bird
  • Out of the Question, Into the Mystery, L. Sweet
  • Present Future, The, R. McNeal
  • Shaped by God’s Heart--The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches, M. Minatrea
  • Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America, by R. Lupton
  • Unchurched Next Door, The, T. Rainer

The Emerging Church — Vintage Christianity for New Generations

Dan Kimball (2003, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI)
Reviewed by Mike Ruhl

The emerging church is the term applied to worship and ecclesial preferences of today's post-Christian generations. The seeker-sensitive design introduced (and reintroduced) many baby boomers to Jesus, often by the addition of contemporary glitz and the elimination of historic and transcendent forms. Yet post-Christian generations are more drawn to vintage Christianity ... a refreshing return to an unapologetically sacred, raw, historical, and Jesus-focused missional ministry.

The text of this book is augmented by marginal notes and comments by Rick Warren, Howard Hendricks, Brian McLaren, Sally Morgenthaler, Chip Ingram and Mark Oestreicher.

Lost in America

Tom Clegg and Warren Bird (2001, Group, Loveland, CO).
Reviewed by Mike Ruhl.

With compelling style and well-documented themes, this book offers a diagnosis of the evangelistic complacency of American Christianity. The USA has become the third largest mission field in the world, yet the percentage of adults who attend church has decreased to 23-26% of the population. The problem lies in the widening gap between church and culture. This trend is accelerated by front-loaded, programmatic evangelism systems that fail to connect with a culture that has changed.

The solution lays in redemptive relationships--learning to love rather than learning what to say. Evangelism is being Christ in context to others where you are. It will be different for each person. Therefore the book de-constructs traditional, programmatic approaches to evangelism and offers a helpful process for learning to tell your salvation story. Insights are applied to effective evangelism for the individual, small group and local congregation. In addition, the book contains some helpful appendices, such as: How to Rate Your Congregation's Priority in Spreading the Good News and Twenty Five Alternatives for Telling Your Story without Clichés.

An added value of this book is the wealth of moving metaphors, motivators and illustrations for encouragement and proclamation of missions and evangelism.

Out of the Question . . . Into the Mystery 

Leonard Sweet (2004, Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs)
Reviewed by Mike Ruhl

People living disconnected lives is the most pressing problem in the world. The life-giving source of the Christian faith is an honest relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But this life-giving source has been reduced to a declaration of adherence to a set of beliefs.

This engaging book addresses the challenges and opportunities of mission work among unchurched, postmodern Americans. Sweet will challenge your vision of mission by comparing the Reformational paradigm (keyword is Come; inward looking, concerned with being and preserving the 'pure church') and the Missional paradigm (keyword is Go; outward focused; concerned with Gospel communication and redemptive relationship with a post-Christendom, anti-Christian culture).

God's call to mission is a call to re-orientation, to be relationship-based and world focused. Orient means east. Western Christianity has become belief-based and church-focused. It will now learn from the East (Asia, India, Tibet and China) in moving beyond the rational to the mystical and transformational.

This is a call to move back to the basics of evangelism. John Baker Batsel said, “If you would speak to others with authority, you must first speak to God with intimacy.” Relationships recede when we miss the person and only get the point.

The Present Future 

Reggie McNeal (2003, John Wiley and Sons, San Francisco)
Reviewed by Mike Ruhl

While we think that we are headed toward the future, the truth is that the future is headed toward us. We now know that the universe is speeding up, not slowing down. God creates history ahead of time. He never forecasts. God always back casts. He began with the end in mind. Calvary was anticipated in God's kiss of life into Adam. The cross gains meaning when silhouetted against the empty tomb.

New realities of the present future raise serious and sobering questions for the mission of the church and its missional leaders: (1) The Collapse of the Church Culture [So how do we reconvert from Churchianity to Christianity?] (2) The Shift from Church Growth to Kingdom Growth [So how do we transform our community?] (3) The Release of God's People from Churchianity [So how do we turn members into missionaries?] (4) The Return to Spiritual Formation [So how do we develop followers of Jesus?] (5) The Shift from Planning to Preparation [So how do we prepare for the future?] (6) The Rise of Apostolic Leadership [So how do we develop leaders for the Christian Movement?]

McNeal's answers to those "tough questions" will challenge some of the missiological assumptions of church leaders and will encourage them to take authentic Christianity back into the real, present-future world.

Shaped by God’s Heart — The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches 

Milfred Minatrea, 2004, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco

This book reveals that it is NOT a church’s size or activity level that defines success, but whether its activities accomplish God’s mission for His church. Minatrea explains that the local congregation is not a place where people gather, but a mission movement of fully engaged missionary people.

The book will disturb some readers by highlighting the difference between viewing the local congregation as a denominational franchise or a faith community.

But those same readers will find stimulation and blessing in absorbing the nine essential practices of the missional congregation. A special bonus of this book is found in the corresponding Missional Practice Assessments, behavioral-interview type questions for each of the nine essential missional practices, enabling the congregation to self-asses its devotion and deployment to the Missio Dei.

Theirs is the Kingdom — Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America

Robert D. Lupton

This story of a pastor who moved his family into the city is over 10 years old, yet the same situations still occur in inner cities everywhere, the same issues still exist, and the solution is still found in Jesus Christ. This book helps to challenge the mindset of American suburban Christians.

The Unchurched Next Door

Thom Rainer (2003, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI).
Reviewed by Mike Ruhl.

Springboarding from the Parable of the Sower (or the Parable of the Seed and the Variety of Soils) in Luke 8:4-15, Rainer explores stages of receptivity to the Gospel and the church among unchurched people in North America. Based on reasonable research, Rainer and his research team identify five levels of receptivity among unchurched people:

  • U5 ... Highly resistant to the Gospel, antagonistic attitude
  • U4 ... Resistant to the Gospel, but not an antagonistic attitude
  • U3 ... No apparent receptivity; neutral; perhaps open to discussion
  • U2 ... Receptive to the Gospel and the church
  • U1 ... Highly receptive to the Gospel; the Phillipian jailer

Rainer claims that it now takes 85 church members in USAmerica to bring one person to Christ. Therefore evangelistic effort through the local congregation is one of the keys to high impact evangelism, especially among the more receptive segments of the unchurched population. Some evangelistic suggestions are given for possible connection with each of those segments.