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Monday, September 30, 2013

The Gospel-Centered Community, by Robert H. Thune and Will Walker (Giveaway!)

I don't even remember accepting The Gospel-Centered Community but my e-mails say I did. Right at this moment I am so glad that I said "yes" to reviewing this one as it came at a perfect moment in time.

As I mentioned the other day, I have very passionate opinions on the importance of attending church and being part of the Body of Christ. (No, it's never, ever just about "attending church" but about joining in with a group of believers and sharing life - all of life - with them.)

Now, I grew up in Texas and my family was always involved in church. The church family acted as our primary family (as we did not have relatives anywhere in the vicinity) and the church building our second home. We enjoyed a community that is beautiful and rare (only I did not realize that at the time). When I became an adult I moved out west and ended up in Oregon which is one of the most "unreligious" states in America. We do not have many solid churches to choose from and what churches that do exist are plagued to give in to every political whim (check the map). The general population prides themselves on being individuals, serving their own notions of truth.  The Christians do not seem to realize that by adopting this mindset of "every man for himself; what works for you is fine by me!" makes them (and the church) weak, sick and ineffectual. Instead they pride themselves on their organically grown produce, their sustainable lifestyles, their political arguments of choice, and church is left relegated to "something to do" on Sunday morning when you can't find anything you'd like to do better.  Coming from where I did (and believing what I do) leaves me feeling very lonely, very frequently.

That said, I know I am not alone here because I hear the same frustrations being voiced by other Christians in the immediate area who long to be a part of a fellowship of believers but are struggling to find one that they really connect with. We're very half-hearted about the faith out here. It's discouraging. (Pray for the church in the Northwest!) I've been tempted to give into the excuses as to why I can't connect with my local body (where I and my family are members) and, at times, I have been given leave to play in my excuses. (This is when I become frightened that the church is so weak. I shouldn't have felt so free at times.) But the bottom line is always this: when you go to church, intend to be the church. That means you have to set aside your personal preferences at the door to certain extents and learn to commune with the various members in your church, even if they aren't exactly like you. (It also means you have to stop yourself from making and giving into excuses as to why you cannot do this.) If you work to connect, if you give up your "right" to have things your way, if you show up consistently and stay after the preaching to talk with others, you will build community. But is that all there is to it? According to Thune and Walker the answer to that question is, "no." In order to have a thriving, joy-filled, humble, productive body of believers who make a difference in their lives and the lives of their community - you need to believe the Gospel. What do they mean by that?

Well, in the west we are very individualistic. We think in terms of ourselves, as described above. We tend to live very private lives and each have our own truths which we guard religiously, daring anyone to even think about hurting us by stealing our time or asking honest questions about what we're feeling or thinking.

"Did you ever notice how patient you are - as long as no one is getting on your nerves? Or how loving you are - as long as you're surrounded by people who are easy to love? Or how humble you are - as long as you're respected and admired by others? Every one of us is a saint in isolation! It's in community that our real weaknesses, flaws, and sins are exposed. That's why community is essential - not optional - for transformation. We can't become the people God wants us to become outside of community.

You see, redemption is not the end of the story. God is preparing us for "new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13). His goal is a renewed creation, where redeemed humans dwell in perfect harmony with each other and with their Creator. God is out to prepare His people for this glorious future by transforming them now, a process the Bible calls sanctification. The agent of sanctification is the Holy Spirit. The tool of sanctification is the truth of the gospel. And the context of sanctification is community." (Lesson 1, Created for Community, pp 17-18, emphasis mine)

We need each other! Plain and simple. If you think you don't need me and if you think I don't need you then you are lying to yourself. I need you to ask me questions about what I'm thinking, to come to my house for fellowship, to invite me out for coffee, to check in with my kids and care about what they care about, to address my faults and weaknesses and to encourage me to run the race diligently.

We need to get out of our beds, step out of our houses and be the church. We need to find good teaching and listen for the express purpose of making practical, life changing applications to our own lives. We need to worship, corporately. Not out under the trees, alone with our dog. We need to worship with our fellow human beings who were made in the same image of God and who are called to worship Him just as we are.

We need to tear down the barriers, "suck it up" and dare to be involved even when we don't necessarily feel like it.

"Most of us have justified these barriers to community for so long that we don't see anything wrong with them. What's the big deal? The big deal is that, as we saw in Lesson 1, we are God's image bearers. So the depth of our community says something about God and His gospel! If we are content with shallow communithy, we are content to reflect on a shallow and superficial image of who God is. Consider Jesus' words in Luke 6:32-33:

"If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same."

Jesus is saying that there is a "lowest common denominator" kind of community that's natural to humanity. Everyone loves people who are just like them. That's not surprising. That's not different. That's not God exalting. But when Jesus binds a diverse people together in deep community, that is provocative. It elicits questions from the watching world. It testifies to something powerful (God and His gospel) at the core of our communal life. Our longing, then, is to form communities that entice the world to believe in Jesus: "May they all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you . . . so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:21)." (Lesson 3, Community Barriers and Gospel Freedom, p 33, emphasis mine)

I should note that The Gospel-Centered Community Participant's Guide is not a book, necessarily. Rather it is a study guide. (I was sent the participants guide; I have not seen the leader's guide.) This is a short study book meant to be gone through with a group. To read it as an individual somewhat defeats the purpose according to the authors. However, I would argue that it might need to be read by individuals (for starters) who will then prayerfully be convicted of the need for change.

The church is hurting and it will go on doing so if we throw up our hands in discouragement, predicting in all of our glorious wisdom that 'things will never change.' Ahh, but in that attitude we fail to acknowledge that God is sovereign, supreme and has already won the victory. We can join in with the church victorious. He has invited us to. (He has commanded us to.) So?

Reading this book was very encouraging to me. It challenged me, convicted me and inspired me. And I feel very blessed to be in a church that is, at this moment, concerned about building community because it's so very necessary. Not just necessary but vitally important.

Many thanks to New Growth Press for offering a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. I have received no additional compensation for this post and all opinions are (as always!) 100% my very own!

GREAT NEWS! I have a copy of both the leader's guide AND the participants guide to give away to one of you! I'm excited about this as I hope that many people will find this a useful and valuable group study. To win? Simply leave a comment below, including a valid e-mail address. This contest open to US Residents only is open through Monday, October 7th.

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. THE WINNER, as selected by random.org, IS #9 - Amy at Hope is the Word. Congrats!

15 comments:

Annette {This Simple Home} said...

I'd be happy to share this with my church. It DOES sound like a book we need.

thissimplemom at gmail dot com

Annette {This Simple Home} said...

I'd be happy to share this with my church. It DOES sound like a book we need.

(And at some point I'd love to hear more about your church experience in Oregon.)

thissimplemom at gmail dot com

Sky said...

This sounds like the lines I have been thinking along lately too!

Jamie said...

Sounds interesting.

Jamienewton1973 at hotmail dot com

Joyful Reader said...

We just became part of a new church that is starting up in our area after a year from the close of our own. It has been a hard year trying to find a place that we fit and feels and believes as we do. I think that this would be a great study for our small group! Starting out on the right path! Thank you for the opportunity!

Janet said...

You could never guess how timely this is. Count me in for the giveaway:

janetATacrossthepageDOTnet

Jessica B. said...

I could use this book!
jesslburke@ hotmail. com

Shonya said...

Adding this to my wish list right now! It's so sad how we have lost this sense of community. Jerry Bridges' book on biblical fellowship is also really good.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

You'd think as a life-long resident of the Bible Belt (minus a two year exile to the Midwest ;) ), I wouldn't need to read this book, but I DO! I'll spare the details, but I think it would help me.

Heather VanTimmeren said...

Sounds like a good one!

histtheo1 at yahoo dot com

Lisa said...

This looks like a good book for reading and discussing.
lmw@friendlycity.net

Rob Mace said...

I would love to read, study, absorb and teach the principles in these books. The principles in this article are so needed in our lives and churches. Thanks for sharing. God Bless

Mrs. David Hankins said...

I'd love to read this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

mejerrymouse at yahoo dot com

jwchargers13 said...

Sounds like a good book!

Email: johnwileyATjunoDOTcom

hety0602 said...

tyler.helfers@gmail.com

Having gone through their Gospel-Centered Life and the Sonship studies, this is another resource I'm greatly looking forward to!

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