Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Contrasts Review: Context, Megachurchism, and Grace


A Contrasts Review is where we contrast very different kinds of material
to better understand them all.

Moreau, A. Scott. Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012. 429 Pages. Paper. $28.99. http://store.kregel.com/productdetails.cfm?PC=2513 (LHPN)

Bauer, Andrew P. A Lutheran Looks at...Mega Churches. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2012. 98 Pages. Paper. $14.50. http://online.nph.net/p-12433-a-lutheran-looks-at-mega-churches.aspx (LHP)

Cosper, Mike. Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 223 Pages. Paper. $15.99. www.crossway.org (LHP)

These three titles arrived at roughly the same time. I read them together. I thought about them together. So, here goes...


Contextualization is the art of translating ideas into a particular situation, place or culture. It is fundamental to communication, which makes contextualization essential in missions. This textbook pulls together and maps the variety of evangelical approaches to contextualization. Introductory classes on contextualization and missionary preparation institutes will appreciate this valuable textbook. In section one, Moreau explores foundations that make it possible to see the variety of evangelical models more clearly. He looks at the ways evangelical models have been characterized in the literature, and he highlights the main concerns of evangelicals in their contextualizing efforts. Moreau explains several guiding ideas and analytic tools that show how evangelicals "lean into" contextualization.
In section two, Moreau describes how evangelical models of contextualization can be split into six primary categories based on the role the initiator: facilitator, guide, herald, pathfinder, prophet and restorer. For each initiator role, Moreau explains the role, portrays one or more models from the category, and presents selected contextual practices that evangelicals use which fit the category. This arrangement makes categorization easier than other options and does not frame the models in ways that bias their evaluation.
Contextualization in Missions will guide mission-minded to an informed plan for spreading the gospel effectively. While written with a theoretical perspective, Contextualization in Missions also provides real-world examples to provoke both thought and action.

(Publisher's Website)

I commend the author, A. Scott Moreau, for summarizing the massive about of literature out there ABOUT mission. He sees six categories of "initiators." Each has strengths and weaknesses. I commend the author for noting approaches that are particularly dangerous because they either skimp on the Gospel or insist on non-Biblical "cultural" elements on the same level as Christ.

I fondly (NOT!) remember the contexualization discussions of our World Mission Class. This is a much more academic discussion of our in-class arguments. Presentation slides of this material are available from the publisher in PowerPoint format. Beyond the classroom and discussions about or preparations for the mission field, this book isn't for everyone.

NPH is back with its latest title in the A Lutheran Looks at... series:

The sixth volume in the series A Lutheran Looks At...provides a confessional Lutheran perspective on the phenomenon of congregations ("mega churches") that average more than two thousand in attendance each Sunday at a single location. As Bauer focuses on these typically nondenominational, fast-growing churches with roots in American evangelicalism, he describes the teachings they have in common and how they use their "style" as a drawing card. Throughout he challenges you to explore what being Lutheran really means: a focus on Word and sacraments and not merely on numbers. A Lutheran Looks at Mega Churches will help you understand the beliefs of your neighbor, coworker, or friend and help you to share your faith with them. Published 2013. This product is eligible for quantity discounts. For more information about the series, visit www.nph.net/LLA
(Publisher's Website)

If I haven't written these words yet, I've thought them: This is my favorite book in the series to date! That holds through for Andrew P. Bauer's book on Mega Churches. 

He points out that "megachurchism" isn't about theology. It's about style, the "how" of how church is done. Many congregations and pastors try to "do Church" in a way that focuses on excitement, the personality of the pastor, entertainment, numbers, secular marks of success, theologies of glory, and other modern adaptations of Arminian tent revivals. Readers will be encouraged to focus on Christ, a true theology of the cross, and true spiritual health.

HIGHLY recommended!

We at QBR have reviewed albums by Sojourn and follow the congregation's liturgy blog. Our expectations of this title were high!

Mike Cosper is one of the founding pastors of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, where he serves as the pastor of worship and arts. He is also founder of Sojourn Music and contributes regularly to the Gospel Coalition blog.

Is it singing? A church service? All of life? Helping Christians think more theologically about the nature of true worship, Rhythms of Grace shows how the gospel is all about worship and worship is all about the gospel. Mike Cosper ultimately answers the question: What is worship?
(Publisher's Website)

The author rightly points readers (and worshippers of Christ at Sojourn Community Church) to the Gospel of Christ. Pastor Mike Cosper is to be commended for a book that will lead Christians, pastors, and congregations to a more Christ-centered, Gospel-rich, and cross-focused Sunday morning at worship.

I always object to misunderstandings of leitourgia or ekklesia as primarily "work of the people" (81). This mindset and worship worldview is disappointing and my fundamental critique of an otherwise uplifting book. Our worship is but a response to the work of God at worship. Our sacrifice of thanksgiving, praise, tithes, and offerings are mere thank you notes for what God has already done for us in Christ Jesus AND the Gifts He delivers in Word and Sacrament. 

Readers seeking something more than the mega church model can begin to recover the richness of liturgy and the substance of Christocentric hymns. Cosper has much of worth to say near the end of the volume on contextualization (176). Sample service orders are worth examining for suggestions, like the hymns of Getty and Townend (passim). 

I look for more from Cosper (and Kauflin) from Crossway and look forward to personal conversations with both authors someday if the Lord so wills.

Sunday morning is the Church at work doing mission. God gathers His sinner-saints together around the gifts of Baptism, Absolution, Communion, and His Word. Law and Gospel are proclaimed. Forgiveness is delivered. And grammar-checking software HATES passive verbs. Look for the Divine Passive Verbs in Holy Scripture. They put our focus on God in Christ, He who serves the Church at Divine Service. The Gospel is primary. Context is secondary at best.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Yellowstone Circuit Visitor (LCMS Wyoming District), a permanent member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

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