In the summer of 2021, Evangelicals across America tuned in to Christianity Today’s podcast “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” (You can listen to a discussion about it here.) Now the host, Mike Cosper, has released a new book called Land of My Sojourn: The Landscape of a Faith Lost and Found.
Land of my Sojourn is made up of three parts loosely woven together. The first is a memoir of Cosper’s time founding a church (“Sojourn”) in Louisville, and how he was eventually institutionally (and unjustly) removed from the church he had helped to found. The second is a series of reflections on the state of modern Evangelicalism (including a short analysis of whether the title “Evangelical” is useful at all). And the third is a set of meditations on what Scripture has to say about Christians in the world, with the trope of mountains in the Bible as the framing device (i.e. “Mount Hermon and the Dreams we Dream).
Overall, this is an excellent little book, and a useful guide to thinking about how we should be interacting with the world and with each other–especially with each other–as Evangelicals.
I won’t spoil the book for you–it’s short and well-written, so you can and should read it for yourself. But I will note something that’s marked by its absence: order. Cosper (rightly) spends a lot of time reflecting on the fact that we are pilgrims journeying through a hostile world (“sojourn” is a common term for obvious reasons). One striking note in this book as well as in the podcast is the disillusionment that comes from the realization that sometimes the very people we’re travelling with are part of that hostility. Those we had thought were friends on the journey with us turn out to be part of the opposition thrown up by the world. (Cosper continually references “trauma,” which is a conversation for another post). Obviously this is a challenge for Christians at all times and in all places, and one that is clearly promised in Scripture.
But I do have to wonder whether this problem isn’t exacerbated by our modern anti-structural times. We are pilgrims travelling through a hostile world, be we are also to be pilgrims traveling in an orderly way. The nature of this order has some flexibility–our Presbyterian and Anglican friends use a denomination to maintain regular order, while my own Baptist world relies on churches to maintain their own order internally (with more or less success in each case depending on a lot of factors). This is not to say that there are never problems in churches with regular structure and order, but I suspect that the kind of order that has developed in these healthier churches offsets many of the problems Cosper encountered. You cannot, for example, simply fire a Presbyterian Elder. There is of course a process by which this might happen, but it is not through two or three people redrawing an org. chart.
Again, I don’t think a healthy denominational membership or healthy local church structure would solve all of the problems of Evangelicalism (or even have prevented all of the difficulties Cosper faced in his church plant), but I don’t see how having a structure that does not rely on individual personalities and instead draws on Scripture to provide guidance and focus is anything but a good idea, especially as the secular order around us is undergoing a slow decline.
Anyway, that’s my $.02, take it for what it’s worth. Also take Land of My Sojourn for what it’s worth, which is quite a lot.