college travels

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reviewing 'The Radical Reformission'

A student in my evangelism class (who likes to be cutting-edge and open to new ideas) lent me the “The Radical Reformission” by Mark Driscoll. So I thought it might be interesting and timely to review this book with the “Engage” conference coming up in August.

Driscoll critiques both those Christians that are disengaged and hostile to culture around them (the fundamentalists) and those on the other side that accommodate their culture so much that the truths of the gospel are watered down (liberals). He wants to straddle this divide, claiming we need a conservative theology but also a deep cultural involvement. The title of the book reflects the balance of “Reformed” theology but “mission” (missional) focus. For this reason he can be hard to categorise, on one website I read that he invited John Piper to speak at his church so the author concluded he must be OK! Another blogger described him as on the “conservative fringe of the emerging church”. From this unique perspective there were two things that stood out to me:

1. The challenge to understand and engage with the culture around us

Driscoll challenges us to understand the culture around us in order to communicate the gospel to our neighbours in an effective way. Like most emerging church writers he wants Christians to think of themselves as missionaries in their own countries, to the cultures around them. As a missionary, in order to understand the thoughts, values and experiences of the people who live around us:

… you will need to watch TV shows and movies, listen to music, read books, peruse magazines, attend events, join organisations, surf web-sites and befriend people that you might not like to better understand people that Jesus loves (Driscoll, 2004, p. 103).

He states that our non-Christian friends will “disciple us in culture as we evangelise them in Christ” (2004, p. 97). We need to involve ourselves in the lives of those around us who are different to us, trapped in destructive and sin-filled lives.

Driscoll challenges those Christians who may be tempted to become legalists - to establish rules and cultural norms that are not biblical – to instead evaluate and critique cultures, both Christian and non-Christian, through a biblical and theological grid. This is in order to enjoy and participate in the good and reject the evil.

I have found myself wondering about my own easy engagement with Australian culture. I loved watching the top rating show Underbelly but because it is full of sexual immorality and violence, I generally kept this to myself when I was around other Christians. I know that many other Christians would find the show deeply offensive and distasteful. Why was I OK with it? My fascination with the show I hope was not merely voyeurism but here was a fantastic story that was real life! I could see a window into the lives of these people and there seemed to be great insight into their lives and motivations. Am I able to watch and enjoy the show, critically evaluating the show, without myself being polluted? I think so.

Driscoll critiques the view “garbage in, garbage out”. Can we really get involved in the culture around us without sin infecting and polluting us? His answer is yes, just as Jesus did. The way to maintain godliness and purity is not distancing yourself from the non-Christian culture but critically evaluating as well as staying close to Jesus as his disciple. Our goal must be:

…………not to perpetuate a tradition or embrace an innovation. The goal of reformission is Jesus, to faithfully walk with him each step of our journey as we head toward the home he has prepared for us. Anything and everything less than life in him, ministry through him, glory to him, by grace from him as we
journey to him must be continually repented of as sin, regardless of our history
or degree of hip-ness” (2004, p. 53).

2. The challenge to be faithful to the biblical message

Driscoll helpfully lists areas where we may be tempted to accommodate to our culture in a way that undermines the bible message. He explains the basics of post-modernism in a simple way that is helpful. It is here that he also engages with the extremes of the emerging church movement to critique them. I found these helpful warning signs to evaluate our own theology and practice. Sometimes we try so hard to be culturally engaged and “with it” that we can water down important truths.

They include:
a) Taking out of the Christian message elements that are offensive such as the judgement of Jesus, sin and repentance.
b) Reducing the authority of the bible to that of a story that shapes us rather than a word outside of us that we must submit to.
c) Being influenced by the focus of post-modernism which is to deconstruct (ie. to tear down rather than to build.) Many in the emerging church for instance are defined more by what they are against rather than what they are for.
d) Egalitarianism: Reacting against hierarchy of any description, which includes the person of God, in families and in church leadership.

This is a warning to us isn’t it. In our own ministries are we anti-authority? Do we avoid talking about Jesus’ return and judgement? Are we much better at critically assessing the ministries around us rather than building our own and encouraging others? We can’t assume that just because we are Sydney Evangelicals that we are not influenced by the culture around us, the post-modern mindset. We need to be on our guard and always assessing our teaching and behaviour that we might be faithful to the message of the bible.

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