Wineskins Archive

January 28, 2014

Book Review: Missio Dei – The Crisis of Christianity (Jul-Aug 2007)

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by Greg Newton
July – August, 2007

Peatross, Fred. Missio Dei: In the Crisis of Christianity, Nashville: Cold Tree Press, 2007, 92 pages.

Charles Dickens begins A Tale of Two Cities with the familiar line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This paradoxical opening serves as an appropriate epithet for the western church today, because its Constantinian positioning – which many assumed was a birthright – is eroding rapidly if not already completely gone. However, being forced to rediscover the Missio Dei in such unsettled times may actually revitalize the church and save it from becoming a museum of religious artifacts.

In Missio Dei: In the Crisis of Christianity Fred Peatross describes both the best and worst of our times. He is frank regarding the challenges, but hopeful about the new opportunities before us. Paradoxically, the hopeful is contained within the troubling.

The church is no longer the center of western culture and has lost the privileged status it held from the time of Constantine. Society listens less and less to the church and no longer accords it significance. Some suggest that the church has become a mere chaplain, offering invocations and benedictions but little else as far as society is concerned.

This reversal of fortune puts Christians back in the marginalized circumstances of the early church, which may actually be a blessing. Christians now have the opportunity to discover the early church’s passion, message, and power. Perhaps losing its privileged position is exactly what the church needs.

With the prospect of renewal before us, Peatross offers an enthusiastic and passionate call for Christians to reorient themselves to an intentional missional lifestyle. Rather than relying so heavily on an “attractional” stance that centers on bringing people to our church buildings and events, he describes how missional churches will go out into the world to join in God’s Mission.

Of relief to those who are tired of new programs that never seem to live up to their billing, Peatross does not offer formulas. Instead, using stories and examples, he suggests ways we may engage our world with a witness of Christ even when the church no longer holds sway over the culture. Through practical suggestions he sparks our imagination so we dream about being a missional people.

The core of what Peatross presents is to get outside of our church buildings and programs to live with, relate to, and bless others in very intentional ways. Embrace the chaos and messy nature of having relationships with others. Love without an agenda. Discover how to be missional in our living wherever we go. Be willing to rethink our use of time and space and to find new times and create new spaces for being Jesus to others.

Peatross describes the forging of new gospel communities though he also is consciously calling those in attractional churches, ones formed in modernity’s mold, to understand what is happening and to find ways to avoid irrelevance and decline. He has confidence that even building-centered congregations can learn to be sent out and become missional.

The gracious and loving attitude that Peatross displays, referring to ‘the lost,’ for instance, as ‘the ones Jesus misses most,’ testifies to his passion to love those God loves. His unmistakable tone is infectious.

Missio Dei is a good introduction for those not yet familiar what has been written concerning the decay of the Constantinian world, the emerging church movement, and the contrast between attractional versus missional church paradigms. At less than 100 pages, the book offers both a quick and cursory overview of the forces shaping the dramatic cultural change happening around us, and then encourages the reader to discover the corresponding shift that churches must embrace to fulfill the Mission of God in this new context.

Much more has been written on these matters than is offered in Missio Dei, but Peatross gives us a very accessible book and a place to begin. Those wanting to further explore these ideas will want to look at sources that Peatross draws upon.

When we recognize that ours are in some respects the worst of times, we need to hear those who point to the possibilities that God is creating. If the Missio Dei is embraced and entered into with a freshness appropriate to a post-Constantinian world, we may discover how these are the best of times.

Greg Newton, his wife Marsha, and their two children live in Birmingham, Alabama where they settled after eight years of planting churches in Tanzania, East Africa. A graduate of Freed-Hardeman and Abilene Christian universities, Greg now serves within a spiritual village of believers who call themselves Disciples’ Fellowship. Greg considers himself unusually blessed to share life and ministry with these friends and mentors. In addition to his relationships with these fellow-travelers, he enjoys the creativity of writing and art, video games, classic rock, and history.

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