Monday, July 29, 2013

Created and Led by the Spirit (Mary Sue Dehmlow Dreier) -- Review

CREATED AND LED BY THE SPIRITt: Planting Missional Congregations (Missional Church).  Edited by Mary Sue Dehmlow Dreier.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013.  Xiii + 209 pages.


                In this day and age, it is important to describe one’s church as being missional.  Confession – my church seeks to be missional also.  It’s too early to know if the word missional is so widely used that it’s descriptive usefulness is questionable, but whenever one reads a book on being missional, it’s probably a good idea to stop and take stock to discern whether this is really a missional book or not.  Created and Led by the Spirit is missional in orientation, but it places its focus on the task of planting missional congregations.  Thus, it’s not a book about becoming missional, it’s about being intentional in the course of planting churches that these congregations see themselves as being missional from the start.

                Created and Led by the Spirit is the most recent volume in a series of books published by the Missional Church Consultation.  The essays were part of a 2009 consultation on missional church planting, and seeks to build upon the previous consultations.  Most of the participants have a connection to Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.   Most are published for the first time here – the exception being an excerpt from Miroslav Volf’s book A Public Faith that focuses on human flourishing and fits into the opening section of the book.   Because of the Luther Seminary connection there is a strong Lutheran component, though not all the participants are Lutheran.

Section One focuses on theological frameworks, emphasizing the work of the Spirit in a Trinitarian context.  Section two moves into the practical, with two chapters that explore congregations that have entered into the church planting arena, with a missional focus.  Finally, the third section focuses on “new appearances.”    In this section we have chapters that look at the “emerging church” idea, multi-cultural church planting, and finally a chapter looking at “postbureaucratic churches.”  This final chapter looks at new forms of organization and leadership that are emerging within congregations, especially those that are new.  Throughout the book there is interaction between theology and practice.  Each informs the other. 

As is true with any collection of essays, readers will find some more compelling than others, depending on their interests and inclinations.  For me on the key elements was the emphasis on the work of the Spirit, but then I have long had an interest in pneumatology and the relationship of the Spirit to the church (see my book Unfettered Spirit).  The other theological component was the Trinitarian emphasis.  Being part of a faith community that doesn’t emphasize the Trinity, but being Trinitarian in orientation, it was useful to see how the idea of Trinity, especially the social Trinity of Jürgen Moltmann, fit into the picture.  The idea that the sending out of the church into the world is related to the sending out of Jesus and the Spirit is crucial.  God is outward looking, and so should the church.

In the sermon by Paul Chung, a professor at Luther Seminary, that forms the epilogue of the book, Chung declares that “we cannot live in intimate communion with Jesus without being sent to our brothers and sisters in the world” (p. 209).  The question is – what form should this take?

Like any collection of essays there is unevenness.  Readers may prefer one essay to another, depending on their interests.  At times, they could find themselves bogged down in the weeds of a particular context that doesn’t their own.  Whatever the drawbacks, there is a strong message here that the church that is missional will plant churches that are also missional.  They may be emergent or multicultural or both.  They can occur among Lutherans and Pentecostals (both of whom are represented here).  The point is – that newly planted churches should have a missional orientation, one that is empowered and led by the Holy Spirit.  If you’re interested in church planting – either as venture of your own or because believe the church should reproducing itself – then you should read the book.  

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