“Let us now praise famous men,” is itself about as famous as any self-respecting phrase could ever hope to be. Certainly, it is more bandied about than is any other of those we have lifted whole-cloth out of the Apocrypha. But every once in a while…in a great, great while, in fact…I still want to change the flow of the words a bit and say instead, “Let us now praise famous books.”
Once upon a long time ago, some very gratifying years at Publishers Weekly taught me a lot of things including, most particularly, the truly astonishing power of words to generate sales for other words and thereby, of course, to expand exponentially the range of the ideas that the books so recognized contain. Truth told, those PW dozen years also taught me to be a bit reticent. Too much praise too freely and/or too frequently offered can come in time to diminish both the books one would praise and the range of one’s credibility as an advocate for them. As a result [though I truly had not perceive this in myself until very recently] I have stood more or less clear, for almost a decade now, of the whole business of reviewing books in print, save for the rather sanguine business of maintaining an annotated bibliography on Emergence Christianity and the even more sanguine business of offering an endorsement or jacket blurb from time to time on the back of books that are of particular appeal to me.
But all good rules and almost all blessed silences should be broken from time to time, if they are to remain credible; and this autumn is most surely the season to change directions and speak out. This autumn, two of the most remarkable books to ever be written about Emergence Christianity have arrived among us. Officially, the first came out in late summer, and the second came out only three weeks ago, thereby completing, so to speak, the perfect duo. Neither, of course, is an easy read. Truth told, each of them is a bit of a doorstopper, in fact, but that in no way diminishes their right to the “perfect duo” sobriquet.
Seven plus years ago, Edmund [Eddie] Gibbs and Ryan K Bolger, both of Fuller Seminary, released Emerging Churches – Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. For the first time and at last, those of us watching Emergence Christianity had something close to an annotated rolodex combined with a scholarly show-and-tell. We had a descriptive guidebook without prejudice and without agenda. Andrew Jones, international leader in Emergence and almost as often referenced by his sobriquet of Tall, Skinny Kiwi, nailed the significance of Emerging in one short sentence. “Quite simply,” he said in 2005, “the best book yet on the emerging church.”
But three weeks ago, here came The Gospel After Christendom – New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions. This one is the work, in its editing and compilation, of Bolger, but it brings with it a respectful love both for its subject matter and for Gibbs, who has now retired. Even in retirement, however, Gibbs has contributed a summarizing essay, and Bolger has punctuated almost half the pages with sidebars of Gibbs commentary. The result is that what Emerging was to our earlier understanding of Emergence and its structures and practices, Gospel now is, and ten times more.
International in its scope, Gospel should be a basic text for anyone in any way interested in and/or functioning within Emergence Christian experience…or it should, more correctly put, be one of two basic texts. The other is Church for Every Context – An Introduction to Theology and Practice.
Church is the work of British scholar, Michael Moynagh, with Philip Harrold, professor of Church History atTrinitySchool for Ministry inAmbridge,Pennsylvania. It is also the first analytic and descriptive study in one place of the various entities that compose Emergence…emerging church, organic church, missional church, Fresh Expressions of church, neo-monasticism, missional communities, etc. They are all here. More to the point, so too is page after page of brilliant and careful commentary, accompanied by piercingly insightful, agenda-free analysis not only of what these new forms of Christianity are, but also of why and how they are. The result is not only gratifying in its depth and scope, but also unfailingly practical in its explication of how Emergence expressions are, and can be, fashioned.
Of all the commentators who have welcomed this book in its first four or five months of life, Stephen Bevans, SVD, Professor of Mission and Culture at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, perhaps assesses it most accurately and most succinctly when he says that, “If you want to be a member of the church today, this book should be required reading.”
So this November, I will indeed praise famous books, for it occurs to me that to not do so might be a greater crime than maintaining a more decorous silence would be.