At first glance, I thought Creature of the Word (here forward Creature) was going to be another book for individuals to study and apply a facet of gospel-centeredness, perhaps about how we approach the Word of God. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Creature is a book about the gospel and the Church. Why is this an important discussion? The authors write, "_a big gap exists between understanding the gospel and understanding what the gospel means for the Church. (Creature, 8)." They go on to say, "The gospel isn't just individual and cosmic; it is also deeply corporate (Creature, 14)."
The authors of Creature form a veritable triumvirate of prophet, priest and king. Matt Chandler - prophet, Josh Patterson - priest, and Eric Geiger - king present a valuable asset to the Church in this book through their individual gifting. Appealing about Creature is the fact that these authors point the church back to the only One who perfectly fulfills the office of Prophet, Priest, and King. This gives the Church a fresh perspective on what our focus ought to be. The authors humbly bring gospel clarity to the gospel cloudy state of the Church. For the last two decades at least we have seen a rise in the preoccupation of developing attractionl strategies for doing Church. Look at your bookshelf and assess. How many of your books about church are closer to being about how to have the next mega church, rather than how to have a church built around the gospel? This is the distinctive that Creature offers.
The title "Creature of the Word" is adopted from the reformers depiction of the Church. The reformers believed that the Word makes the Church alive. The Church is a creature that feeds on the Word and it must only return to this one source of sustenance. The authors write, "_for churches who believe the gospel, the Spirit of God repeatedly want to bring them back to the gospel (Creature, 17)." Our churches never graduate from gospel-centeredness to something more. The gospel is the only well for us to drink.
Partitioned in two halves, Creature discusses first the substance of the church, which is foundationally built on the Gospel, while the second half of Creature concerns the culture of the Church. In the first half of Creature the authors discuss the four core functions of the Church (worship, community, service, and the multiplication process). Halve two explores the culture of a Jesus-centered Church. Vital to a Jesus-centered church is a culture built on theology, philosophy and practice enveloped by the gospel. Ask yourself now, is there a disconnect between how I think (theology/philosophy) about the gospel and what I see taking place at church (practice)? Chandler, Patterson, and Geiger discuss how to construct a gospel centered foundation and address the gospel-gaps in regards to preaching, Christian education, leadership, details of the Church, contextualization, and ministry.
Al Mohler's soundbite recommending Creature expresses his interest in the ensuing conversations that result from this book. These authors provide excellent primers for discussion throughout this book. Here are four lines of questions that Creature stirred up within me concerning potential gospel gaps between theology and practice in today's church culture. Each of these insights is drawn from one of the critical areas of a Jesus-Centered Church Culture. These insights just scratch the surface on the wealth of conversations that will stem from Creature:
1) Ministry - Is the lack of churches partnering together for ministry in a community a sign of a gospel-gap? Even like-minded churches often see each other as competition rather than part of a much larger picture of catholicity. True, recent years exhibit how we are partnering with other churches globally, but how are we working locally with other churches? How can we learn from the partnerships seen in Acts and illustrated in the Pauline letters so as to further gospel ministry?
2) Community - Are the socio-economic, racial, and age tensions a sign of a gospel-gap? Too many churches are built on homogeneity in the three former areas listed. You see churches built on primarily one ethnicity. You see churches built primarily on one social or economic class. Now, we are even seeing a gap between twenty and thirty something churches and forty and fifty something churches. How can we confront the preferences and comforts towards sameness within a church culture by celebrating and promoting the diversity introduced in the mystery of the gospel (neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free)?
3) Leadership - Is the practice of simulcast preaching a healthy practice or a gospel-gap? Do we lack confidence in Christ being on display through the calling and training of young pastors to exposit scripture by putting notable pastors on display at multi-campuses? Simulcast preaching is on the rise and its popularity will continue. We need to ask now whether this is a healthy practice before it becomes the normal practice of the Church. Perhaps this practice is gospel centered. It does consolidate Church leadership towards trustworthy expositors like Chandler and Piper. However, how does one balance the impersonal nature of this practice?
4) Family - I really like how Creature considers how gospel-centeredness needs to be applied from the cradle to the senior ministry and I think that further discussion should take place concerning family ministry. For instance, is exclusive practice of ministry silos (children's, student, adult worship) a healthy practice or a gospel-gap? How do we balance the silos of generational ministry with the need for family ministry to take place? Families need to worship together with father's leading their family in ministry and worship. Male headship in the home suffers in the church. Overworked fathers struggle to prioritize and lead their family in worship while modeling gospel-mindedness to their wife and children. How are we doing at equipping these men to press into Christ and preach the gospel to their family daily?
Don't miss the opportunity to engage in the conversations that Creature will elicit. There will be a free simulcast for you or your church's pastoral staff to watch on October 23. There is also a DVD curriculum available for Creature that allows you to hear more from Chandler, Patterson, and Geiger. Pick up Creature of the Word: The Jesus Centered Church today and embrace the Jesus-centeredness, which emboldens His bride to embody the gospel.
Read more book reviews from Joey Cochran at jtcochran.com. You read this review because B&H said yes to my request for this book!