Ryan Bolger’s The Gospel After Christendom Book Review–Part 2

paasLast week I wrote an initial overview review of a new book edited by Ryan Bolger, The Gospel After Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012). The book contains 28 chapters by scholars and practitioners, and I indicated I would be back to highlight the chapters I found most intriguing.

I’ve selected six of those chapters, and today I feature three of those:

Bolger’s Conclusion:

I would recommend that you read the Conclusion before delving into the rest of the book! Especially for those unfamiliar with the Emerging Church Movement (ECM), it provides a succinct overview of its main features and practices:

  • Emerging Christians’ frustration and dissatisfaction with their previous churches,
  • the lack of formal evangelism,
  • the radical inclusion of “outsiders” in their worship and rituals,
  • a “deep formation” approach that features hospitality and whole-life spirituality,
  • participatory worship,
  • volunteer work in deprived urban areas, and
  • the pursuit of community.

Chapter 4: New Expressions of Church in Scandinavia by Ruth Skree.

Skree provides a fascinating insight on what “new expressions” of church look like in contexts that are fairly thoroughly secularised (in stark contrast, of course, to the US). North American and even UK Christians have a lot to learn from such contexts, where Christians cannot assume that the people they meet have cultural memories of “church,” are familiar with Bible stories, or would not react very negatively to “evangelism” attempts. Skree details the formation of new monastic communities and experimental groups in Norway, Denmark and Sweden, focusing on the practices of worship, community formation, mission and leadership. It is striking how much their practices and ideals resonate with North American models, especially attempts to foster flat leadership and to link “mission” with working for justice in local communities.

Chapter 12: Mission among Individual Consumers by Stefan Paas.

Paas, who helped to plant the Via Nova (“new way”) church in Amsterdam, offers an intriguing analysis of what it looks like to be Christians in a culture of “consumers.” Drawing on the work of sociologist Grace Davie, Paas says there has been a culture shift “from obligation to consumption” among European churchgoers. This means that people increasingly are thinking of going to church as like going to a restaurant. For Paas, Church as Restaurant means “at least three things for worship” (p 156-157):

“First, people usually do not go to restaurants because they must. Late modern people who explore Christianity are intrinsically motivated.”

“Second, in an age of individual journeys it is important for the church to accept to some extent that it needs to facilitate this quest.” (for example, by finding a balance between collective and individual moments during worship)

“Third, all good restaurants have a sense of honor. They will not just serve anything.”

Paas also notes that individualism does not mean that people are selfish – many want to serve in their cities and local areas. He sees it as the church’s task to help them do this. In fact, this serving may be their main form of worship – and for him that’s okay.

In fact, throughout the book, I often found myself nodding in agreement with Paas’ remarks in the comment boxes. I had not heard of Paas or Via Nova before reading this book, so I am grateful for having been introduced to his perspectives.

In my third and final post on this book, I’ll feature three other chapters.

(Image: Stefan Paas from http://www.eurochurch.net/about-us/stefan-paas/)

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