Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Notes: Imagine Church by Neil Hudson

Neil Hudson's book "Imagine Church" is the book which accompanies the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity's (LICC) various resources under that title. The LICC continues to work with the 'double-listening' approach to church life and theology as explicated by John Stott who was very involved in its' early years. His notion was that as Christians we need to be people who listen both to the Bible and to surrounding culture in order to be faithful to the former in the context of the latter. Imagine Church fits very nicely within that framework and is an obvious extension of its trajectory.

The premise of this book (one which I share), is that the church has too often imported the categories of the "sacred" and the "secular" into our thinking and practice. No doubt all church-attenders will have heard the vocabulary which flows from that profoundly unbiblical world-view. In the language of this distortion, we 'gather' for worship, but 'scatter' into the world; while vicars and ministers have a 'calling' which plumbers and shop-workers do not share. The ministry of the church takes place when we separate from the world, 'gather' together in meetings and hold church groups - but little attention is given to equipping believers to live as "whole life disciples" following God's calling in the home, the market-place and in leisure. 

Martin Luther wrote the doctrine of the 'priesthood of all believers' and so Protestant churches abolished the priesthood. What we should have done of course, is to have abolished the laity (!), and embrace the concepts in this book about the whole of life being complete under the Lordship of Christ.

This book is a stirring wake-up call to the church to reverse the centuries of misplaced emphasis and actively seek to empower believers to live lives of worship in the specific contexts in which they live, work and play. It is simply not good enough if the only people we pray for in public are 'professional Christians' at home or abroad if our own people have both opportunities and challenges in the everyday lives which they need to navigate faithfully. Hudson points out that the church has been great at managing the 'inner circle' the leadership and church rotas etc; and adept at nurturing the outer-circle of commissioning workers to go on mission in Christ's name all over the earth. Why then, is so little attention given to the middle circle - connecting the gospel to everyday life? One answer is of course, that the professionalisation of the clergy means that by default they are progressively disconnected from the realities of most peoples lives. The book contains some interesting ways in which churches have sought to reverse these trends.

I was particularly struck by the church order of service which ended with the song, "Come, Now is the Time to Worship", which is usually an opener. The message usually conveyed is that living and worshipping are separate; but concluding the service like that makes the meeting more about equipping the saints to worship which they will continue to do when they 'scatter'.

If there are any faults with this there are two which detract slightly from the force of the whole. The first is that the book would have benefited from a theological and biblical introduction mapping out the main ideas - rather than just pointing to the useful reading list. The second is that the book is woefully repetitive - and could have achieved the same end in a fraction of the length, even with a better introduction. Nevertheless, thought-provoking stuff.

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