by Eddie Gibbs
(InterVarsity Press, 2000) 239 pages
Reviewed by Brad Boydston, 13 June 2000
We live in changing times. No one needs to tell you that. But it sure is helpful to have a few bright people who can explain the change.
Eddie Gibbs, an Anglican priest and professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, is one such person. True, there seems to be a plethora of books on Postmodernism flowing from the Christian publishers but some of what is being written is so Postmodern in style that modern readers just "won't get it." This is where Gibbs is helpful. He provides an orderly and challenging treatise intent on helping churches transition to the present reality. This is the kind of book that a church council, session, or vestry can read together and discuss.
Postmodernism is an elephant-sized topic. Gibbs limits himself to discussing areas which have immediate implications for the church. In other words this is not a book on the coming impact of computers or biotechnology--let alone the philosophical underpinnings of deconstructionistic thinking. It is about helping the church deal with the change.
Gibbs talks about the importance of engaging the present if the church is going to fulfill its mission. What this means, though, is quite different than what it meant to people in traditional American culture or even the modern culture of the Baby Boomer generation. According to Gibbs it means moving away from the market-driven approach of the previous three decades toward something more missional.
"Unfortunately most pastors and church leaders have no missiological training. Consequently they resort to marketing strategies in place of missionary insights in their attempts to reach out to a population that is becoming increasingly distanced from the church." (p. 36)
This transition, he suggests, involves a move away from bureaucratic hierarchies to "apostolic networks". Pastoral training must also transition from the academic graduate school model toward mentoring. This doesn't mean we should lower academic standards but that academics needs to be seen in new light.
"There is a danger of a chasm being created between academic theology and training in ministry competencies. This would simply reposition the already existing chasm from its present location between church and the seminary, to create a fault line within the institutions themselves--with fatal consequences. The challenges presented by both modernity and postmodernity require greater theologically informed discernment, not less. The issue is not whether theology per se is important but what kind of theology. It must be theological training that provides the skills to apply the biblical texts to contemporary situations. It must be rewritten in the course of cultural engagement rather than limited to formulas determined by yesterday's battles. At the same time, some ancient battlegrounds have to be repeatedly fought over." (pp. 98-99)
Furthermore, according to Gibbs, the church must shift toward a new focus on community, spirituality, and holiness. The new paradigm churches will make less of celebrities and will move beyond the seeker driven model that worked so well for a few affluent and prominent churches in the 80's. Worship will be more focal and evangelism will transition from "welcoming the seeker to seeking the lost."
"Harvesting is done in the fields, not in barns. But the problem facing the contemporary churches is that in preparing the people of God for ministry, the main focus has been barn-based activities, rather than equipping and sending out teams of field workers. Seeker-sensitive worship is an inadequate evangelistic strategy in a nonchurched culture in which 80 percent of evangelism must be conducted outside the sanctuary. In other words, the church needs to move from the Constantinian model--which presumed a churched culture--to an apostolic model designed to penetrate the vast unchurched segments of society." (p. 187)
However, if you're looking for a definitive evangelistic model to reach Postmodern culture you will be disappointed. Postmodernism is characterized by eclecticism and thus our evangelistic approaches will need to be customized. We don't need to find an alternative approach for impacting postchristian culture we need alternatives.
As mentioned above this is a book that might work well as a discussion starter for groups of lay leaders. Gibbs seems to have this group in mind as he includes "implementation" assignments at the end of each chapter. I intend to use it in this way.
"Although traditional settings are becoming increasingly rare, traditional mindsets still prevail in many churches of all denominations, whether liberal or evangelical, mainline or independent. This is because the church is an inherently conservative institution, and the average age of people who attend mainline churches is twenty years older than the general population." (p. 21)
(In describing the plight of the postmodern person) "Each individual has to create his or her own meaning and associate with others to increase his or her power base in a fragmented society of competing interests. Everyone is entitled to his or her point of view, because for the perspectivilist, what you see depends on where you stand. The world of postmodernists is a world of image rather than substance. They are concerned with the immediate rather than the long term because history is meaningless and the future is too scary and unpredictable to contemplate. Meanwhile the present is lived out as a tumble and tangle of fleeting experiences." (p. 24)
"In contrast, the gospel is not a product to be marketed but a life-long relationship to be established and developed. If converts are attracted on the basis of satisfying self-interest, it will be difficult to change this into the daily cross-carrying that is a characteristic of authentic discipleship. People are likely to continue on the basis on which they first came." (p. 50)
"The answers to pastoral effectiveness depend not on one's ability to develop the charisma, communication skills and management acumen of pastors leading superchurches but on one's authenticity as a follower of Christ. Most of us do not have an extraordinary combination of gifts and are not in locations where we can expand our facilities to attract large crowds. Yet we can still play a significant role as part of a network of Christian communities, developing reproducible units that will facilitate the church's continuing expansion." (p. 122)
"The diversity represented by Generation X and even more by the next generation, who are variously called the 'Mosaics' and the 'Millennials,' means that no single approach is going to be appropriate for all. The one-size-fits-all approach that characterized evangelical outreach to the returning boomers was successful in reaching only a segment of that generation, as Wade Clark Roof's research reveals. In responding to the challenges presented by the generations that follow them, church leaders must resist the strong temptation to simply reproduce a single model that seems to be making an impact..." (p. 131)
"Worship takes place in a sanctuary, not in an auditorium or a lecture hall. In our secularized society there is a need for holy places that are not places of divine containment but places where spiritual power is concentrated..." (p. 156)
"The term 'post-evangelical' is one that is being used more frequently in Britian. It does not signify a rejection of foundational evangelical beliefs; rather it denotes a reinterpretation of them in light of the changing cultural context of postmodernity..." (p. 166)
"Although Europe registered a baby boom after World War II, this generation is unlike the boomers of North America. Culturally they are much closer to the Gen Xers in the United States. They did not have the economic advantages enjoyed by their American contemporaries..." (p. 179)
AND FINALLY (APPROPRIATELY)...
"One of the secrets of effective communication is to tell people less than they want to know, rather than overload them with information they are not ready to receive." (p. 211)