Here's another quick review of a very good book. My sermon this week is on Jeremiah 29:7 - "Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper (NIV)." This is a key passage for understanding what it means to be missional by being "for" the city and thus seeking the prosperity of the city and I have heard enough about Conn's work that I thought it may offer some help not only for my sermon but also for our ministry in general.
So, here's another quick run review:
The Gist - Scratching Itches and Giving Bodies to Ghosts.
Conn begins by referencing I Corinthians 9:19-23 (all things to all men, etc.) and asks if the church can be all things to all men. He says it should be and develops "A Theology of Scratching Where People Itch." The itch scratching comes via the "doing justice in the title." He has a great little quip that pictures how doing justice and preaching grace are married in evangelism:
A spirit without a body is a spook.
A body without a spirit is a corpse.
He advocates two dimensional spirituality and ministry which is spiritual (preaching grace) and embodied (doing justice).
Why You Should Read this Book
You should read Conn if you are interested in the emerging/emergent church. You should read Conn if you are interested in being missional. You should read Conn if you are a Tim Keller groupie. This book was written in 1982 and it anticipates almost every discussion you've engaged in regarding all things emerging and. He was emerging before emerging was cool. He was missional before missional was cool. He was Tim Keller before Tim Keller became TIM KELLER!
When you read this you will probably wonder how Conn kept a job at Westminster-Philly. He is not afraid to challenge and question the way we do all things, including theological education. He seems radical for a stuck-in-its-ways community like the reformed community, but I find him quite refreshing and challenging, . . . and he remains within the stream of historic orthodoxy.
Why This Book Might Make You Nervous
It shouldn't except that sometimes he sounds like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and the emerging church in his unabashed advocacy for scratching where people itch and new models. But to my mind he validates all of their best concerns while keeping the discussion within all the proper parameters.
A Few Favorite Quotes
A couple of my favorite quotes come from chapter 1 on listening. He doesn't advocate just running out there and coming up with a social justice program. Rather, we need to listen to the communities we are in to see where to meet their needs. He draws on the work of J. Russell Hale and his work "Who are the Unchurched? An Exploratory Study."
How does one discern felt needs? Hale's study reveals the unsecret secret: we must learn to really listen. He says, "The overwhelming experience my conversations with the unchurched revealed to me was that those outside the churches want and need to be heard . . . The vast majority, when they sensed that I was honestly open to hear even the most insignificant (to me) or ridiculous (to them) or poignant (to anyone who listens) of autobiographical episodes, related what I can only judge to have been authentic stories."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way: "The first service that one owes to others . . . consists in listening to them. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking when they should be listening . . . Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God."
And more on the theme of listening.
Will the unchurched talk? Says Hale: "I am convinced, on the basis of my association with unchurched in six counties, that the outsider will welcome the insider who will listen with patience. Almost without exception, my informants' last words were 'Thank you,' or 'I wish I could talk more,' or 'Please stay for lunch, or coffee, or a glass of wine.' Many invited me back. Some gave me mementos of the visit . . . Not a few said goodbye with a warm handshake or a spontaneous embrace. Even the more hostile were anxious to convey appreciation for my accepting their anger."