Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book Review: "The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church" by Michael Frost

The need for this work is summed up well in the introduction by Alan Hisrsh: He sees a disturbing trend where "the term missional is now being appropriated at a massive rate. But so very often this is being done without the foggiest idea of what it actually means and the impact that it should have on our thinking and practices" (p.11). "When everything becomes missional, then nothing becomes missional. This book speaks directly into that situation" (p.12).

Michael Frost sees his task as "an attempt to reclaim the word 'missional' from the grips of conventional churches bent on finding a new buzzword to meet the annual fixation for something new and 'relevant'".

He spends a great deal of time describing what a missional Church is and his not. A missional church then, is a church that realises this Missio Dei and has a "wholesale and thorough reorientation of the church around mission" (p16). “Mission is both the announcement and the demonstration of the reign of God through Christ. "It is our automatic response to God's reign and rule, proven through Christ, revealed through the Spirit. Therefore, any collective of believers set free from the disorder of this present age, who offer themselves in service of the mission of their God to alert people to the new unfolding order of things, can rightly be called a missional church." (38)

To contrast, he makes it clear that mission is not primarily concerned with church growth. It is primarily concerned with the reign and rule of the Triune God. If the church grows as a result, so be it.” (p24). It "is not about evangelism, It is not about sending, but being sent. Missional is like slow cooking, where disciples incarnate deeply within the communities they are in or called to be in. No quick fix. No rush to pile up numbers of conversions. No snappy 'four spiritual laws.' " (46). 

Since he recognizes that God reigns and rules through Christ, whatever you do that alerts people to the fact of the rule of God, is missional. The strength and problem with many of these contrasts is that there is a lot of room for action. While he affirms this action by both ‘announcement and demonstration’ (p35) almost all the focus and the examples are on ‘demonstration’. It would be best to look elsewhere for much of the "announcement" or content of the message.  Although Frost quotes quite extensively from various missional authors, his treatment of the Scriptural message of the "announcement" is infrequent. You need to go though twenty-five pages before the first text is cited. Interesting  Biblical treatment such as "The Cross as Metaphor/Paradigm" (p. 90ff) are few and far between. Taking concepts like the incarnation by quoting The Message that "The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood" (Jn. 1:14) is so offensive, that his argument for moving into the neighbourhood (proximity) (p. 123) is undermined.

The missional approach often seems to be living out a "lordship" of Christ's self-sacrificial life, but it is often not careful in what it advocates. One, for example sees a renewal of "monastic practices-confession, repentance, Bible reading, prayer..." (p.79). Calling these spiritual disciplines "monastic" contradicts a missional connection with the community. Likewise, the trend to define one's self on what you don't do (don't drink/smoke/gamble/hang out with people who do) sounds more like old school "fundamentalism" than "pietism". Yet, I would agree with Frost that this kind of spirituality "outsources the need to do the daily work of keeping in step with the Spirit of the God" (p.85). Again a good point is made with a poor choice of terms: "Church people worry that the world might change the church, Kingdom people work to see the church change the world" (p.103). Perhaps using a term like "religious" would have been preferable for Christ came to establish a "church", or called out people for Himself to be agents of His Kingdom.

There seems to be a very "grass roots" feeling to the work of mission. Things like structure, leadership, doctrinal standards and accountably are woefully lacking. Seeing congregations "led by humble men and women" (p.79) perhaps even hints at the author's desire for "egalitarian" leadership.

I found myself laughing in chapter four on "triumphant Humiliation" in the description of false persecution that some feel: "Maybe when your neighbor ignores you, it's not because he hates the light of the Lord that shins from you. Maybe he just thinks you're a jerk. Maybe we get most of the rejection we do because, well, we deserve it" (p.83). This is a much needed wake up call for contemporary Christianity.

Frost missed a great opportunity to take his Christocentric Kingdom model in dealing with the topic of peace in chapter five. His treatment of reconciliation, justice and beauty only finds meaning through the cross. Understanding how the work of Christ enables reconciliation, justice and beauty truly informs these concepts. His treatment on "beauty" is so weak, that it is essentially without meaning. Yet, he did give biblical elements of reconciliation and justice. The contemporary facts for these things provides a useful link of doctrine and need.

Frost' conclusion wisely sums up his point. The main point in "The Road to Missional" is simply this: "becoming missional is not about making congregations more appealing for a new generation; rather, becoming missional is about equipping and releasing people to be the church in their neighborhoods, regardless of what style of worship they prefer of the size of the congregation. Becoming missional is all about tapping into the missio Dei in order to be a foretaste of the reign of God in Christ. This is rooted in the cross and God's shalom. And do, becoming missional is not simply a matter of language or programming ' it is a never ending process and a 'calls it followers to the disciplines of sacrifice, service, love, and grace; and a mission that delights in beauty, flavor, joy, and friendship" (146).

Yet, it does no good to try to do the "mission" of Christ and not proclaim His words while doing do. Our message may counteract our methods. This work is helpful in suggesting ways to live out the message of Christ. Yet, I fear we may quickly forget and get side-tracked if we do not continue to learn about the person and words of Christ in order to check our actions to His mission.

Rating: 2.5 stars of 5.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Books (Oct 1 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801014077
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801014079
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.2 x 1.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 227 g
"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

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