Book Review: “Decoding the Church” (Nov-Dec 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

Howard Snyder with Daniel Runyon. Decoding the Church: Mapping the DNA of Christ’s Body. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002. ISBN 0-8010-9142-X; 208 pages; $14.99; (616) 676-9185.

Howard Snyder is professor of history and theology of mission at Asbury Theological Seminary. Daniel Runyon is professor of English at Spring Arbor University.

Reviewed by Don A. Stowell

I was truly excited when I began to read this book. Not because of the analogy of the DNA and the church but because I realized that there is a need to study deeply into the make-up of the church. For years, the local congregation has just seemed to exist with nothing more than good programs and big memberships (small attendance in comparison). The church is much more than that. Our authors make sure that we know it.

The essence of the book promotes the church as a complex organism. To me, this sets the stage for what is described in the rest of this volume. The authors make a strong statement: “…if we look at the church as a complex system, perhaps we can avoid reducing it to simply a social service agency, a church growth machine, or a religious entertainment center.” It is from that point that we are treated to what the church was called to be and do.

At one point, we’re given four lessons from the complexity perspective that helps the church live out its DNA: (1) The church should focus on the genuine worship of God; (2) The church should focus on building vital, accountable community; (3) The church must visibly show the compassion of Christ in the world; (4) The church must provide people with a functional, livable worldview.

More emphasis is given regarding the church’s responsibility to reach others with the gospel message. With this in mind, Christians must realize that the effectiveness of the gospel has everything to do with how the church behaves. For example, if the church is simply into programs or mechanics of being an organization then the gospel of Christ may be presented only as set of instructions.

It is the purpose of the book to show that the church is a vital organism that seeks to do the will of God in Christ. The church is supposed to focus on the spiritual things and not get caught up in traditional structures. The metaphor Jesus spoke of concerning pouring new wine into old wineskins is used effectively in this work. The church cannot be effective in spreading the Good News by adhering to old hierarchical values.

There is so much more to say about this book. It is a worthwhile study for leaders in the local church who are searching to re-evaluate what is being done for the gospel of Christ. There is no compromise for the truth. I recommend this book as a reminder of what direction the church should be heading.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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