Yesterday I posted the first part of a review on Ed Stetzer and David Putman's Breaking the Missional Code. I will briefly wrap up that review today. In yesterday's post, I celebrated the large amount of missiology that found its way into a book on church renewal and church planting. I had a couple of critiques yesterday as well -- the conflation of church marketing with cultural exegesis, and two, the whole church/unchurched typology.
Today I wanted to comment on a couple more concerns. The authors discuss the emerging church within a three-part scheme: relevants, reconstructionists, and revisionists. They permit the first two and refuse the third. Besides disliking the term 'revisionist' (aren't they always the bad guys?), I think this rubric is problematic for the following reasons.
In the nineteenth century, Rufus Anderson and Henry Venn contributed a new idea to missiology -- that of the three-self formula. They advocated that a new church work or mission, if it is to become indigenous, must be self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing. My colleague, Charles Van Engen, mission theologian (and former President of the Reformed Church of America), advocates a fourth 'self' -- self-theologizing. Why his addition to the formula?
A new community must be self-theologizing or it will become nominal. Self-theologizing, how? To become an indigenous expression of faith, a community must form its life around scripture, engaging their culture within a praxis-reflection orientation. In other words, the community goes deep into the word in order to answer the questions of their culture. They 'practice' those answers in the world, and then reflect biblically again. Instead of self-theologizing, however, what frequently happens is that new faith communities are given a theology that answers nineteenth-century questions, or sixteenth-century questions, or fifth-century questions. These historical works will undoubtedly be helpful, but they will inevitably leave some questions unanswered. Each context presents its own issues. If the deep questions of a culture go unanswered, then Christians will seek answers elsewhere, without reference to scripture, thus inviting in nominality.
What Stetzman and Putman call revisionist I see as self-theologizing: reading scripture in light of a culture's questions. These emerging "self-theologians" copy the example of historical theologians engaging their particular culture) but they do not necessarily copy their responses.
A few more comments on the book. A strength and a weakness of the book are the standalone chapters. While it is great to read a chapter on leadership or networks, it would be helpful if the chapters were more integrated as a whole. In one chapter the missio Dei is touted as the missional response to the culture, rather than the Great Commission. However, the missio Dei is not mentioned again while a chapter is devoted to the Great Commission. In another part of the book, they write about various church models and contextualization theory, but the bulk of their examples are megachurches from highly Christianized parts of the country. I wanted to see a bit more exploration of the non-traditional and contextual churches they advocate in their model.
These critiques should not take away from a very solid, hugely informative book by Stetzer and Putman. They have served the church well with such a comprehensive endeavor.