Real world examples are what makes these books good reads. Especially if you're someone who thinks that churches need to think much more creatively in how to effectively do mission. Even with poor theology as the backdrop, Frost and Hirsch excel in digging up stories of faith communities acting creatively, pushing boundaries of what it means to be “church.” Even redefining evangelism.
Exiles by Frost alone, without his accomplice, Hirsch, is the better of the two. But again, he beats the “Christendom is dead” drum that he and Hirsch hammered in The Shaping of Things to Come. Those of us who would read these books are probably well aware that Christianity is no longer the dominant cultural religion, and applaud Christianity's cultural demise.
But I liked the stories of the “churches” themselves. I hesitate to put “churches” in quotes because these are biblically valid forms of church. They just don't look like anything you or I would think of when we hear the word “church.”
For example, he tells the story of a would-be church planter in San Francisco who attempted to start a typical, evangelical, purpose-driven, mega-style church, but couldn't get anywhere in such a “tough” mission field.
So, instead of planting a church, he indulged his love of shoes and opened a fancy shoe store and creates Christian community at the store. He says he connects with more non-Christians in a the store in one day, than he would in one month as a typical church planter.
Also, there's the fellow with ADD who couldn't sit still in church. So one Sunday he decided to go waterskiiing instead. Feeling guilty that he wasn't in church. He asked his waterskiiing buddies if he could read some scripture and say a prayer before they started. He did. And in the months after, a group gravitated to him and he started a make-shift “church” among the boaters and waterskiiers, even creating a mission to help tow broken down boats back to the boat ramp.
In Vancouver, two young women, Marian and Kellie created a community of unwed young mothers, helping them with prenatal care, providing employability skills, as well as listening to their hopes and fears. They also offer the women opportunities to minister to others. They tell them about Jesus. But most importantly, the model the Christian life for these women.
The books is filled with these types of examples. Churches meeting in booths at karaoke bars or in refugee camps. Churches incarnating God's kingdom of love, mercy, justice, and forgiveness in their own, local, communities.
While I had deep theological concerns, the stories and the examples redeemed the book for me. I'm a sucker for a good church story. Especially one where people are thinking creatively, listening to the Holy Spirit's voice and following the Spirit's lead. As Frost rightly points out, God is already in these places. Our job is to get on board with what God is already doing.
In part three, I'll reflect on what these books can say to mainline Christians.
Part One here.