Has “church” outlived its usefulness? It certainly has in pockets of society, according to Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, authors of The Tangible Kingdom. This book is an attempt to answer the question: How does the church operate in a “post-everything” world? Halter and Smay have acted as church planters and leaders of the missional church movement for the last few years. The book is an invitation to leave behind the model of attractional-church, where church is seen as a destination point for believers, and instead embrace an incarnational-model, where believers are actively seeking to live alongside and with unbelievers.
If 1/3 of the adult population hasn’t attended church in the last 6 months, 1/3 of the adults in America are unchurched, and half of all churches hadn’t added a single new member by conversion in the last year, then there needs to be a change in the way Christianity is enacted and lived out in America. This is the thrust behind their desire for communion, connection and mission lived out in today’s world. From their own community, Adullum, located in Denver, Colorado, these two men have lived out their mission to be Jesus to people outside the reach of normal church. If you are an advocate of the located church, be prepared at times to be offended at the way these guys do things.
The way of the incarnational church is at its simplest, living amongst and targeting the unchurched. They desire first and foremost, a posture of living that lends itself to a hearing. For 2 years Smay and Halter lived in Denver without every starting a worship service, simply to learn the ways of the people. They are un-evangelistic in their relationships, their attitude is “if people want to know what you’re all about, they will ask.” (42) They have left behind the theological discussions, and the apologetic defenses, for a life lived alongside people. To throw out these foundational things scares me about the integrity and the commitment to doctrine.
The part of this book that I found most helpful was chapter 8 on the different worldviews that are encountered today and how the gospel responds. When comparing Modernity, Postmodernism, and Eastern thinking along the 5 criteria (why we believe; how we view relationships; what we value; how we influence; and how we measure success.), Smay and Halter show bow the Gospel has a response to each of these criteria in order to change people’s lives.
This method of living out the gospel in community, mission, and communion, does require more organization than I was under the impression of. It was born out of challenging followers of Christ to live out their faith as opposed to being in a consumer mentality. Without a doubt this methodology has been shown to be effective. They have spent much time serving and listening to the people around them in order to figure the best way to order to infiltrate their lives. This is a much needed capability in today’s church. In a culture where the church is loosing more and more influence by the day, the ability to earn the right to speak into people’s lives is a skill and quality that needs to be learned by Christians.
This was a very thought provoking book. I question the premise, not based upon theology, I think the doctrine is sound, but I struggle with the implementation and the practicality of some of the structures that the incarnational model is based upon. With sojourners in mind (people who are on the fringes of the community, but not quite committed yet) the community is on a quest to see how Jesus can change their lives. By conversations and questioning, they search together for answers, a method I am unfamiliar with. I am challenged by this book to understand the model and implement some of it in the ministry I serve. I challenge you to check out this book if you are looking to start a community, because I could not see a local, established church latch on to it.