Is Your Gospel Too Small? Book Review of “Revangelical”

Is there nothing more to being an “evangelical Christian” other than simply voting conservative in politics, embracing a capitalistic view of economy, and preaching the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, meant for establishing the morality code of a society? Is the developed and free world, namely the United States of America, really a foretaste of Heaven’s coming reality on earth? Does Jesus’ command to “love your enemy” include Muslims and liberals? These questions, and the gross misconceptions they represent, address just some of the issues that Lance Ford tackles head on in his new book Revangelical: Becoming the Good News People We’re Meant to Be published by Tyndale Momentum.

Unfortunately, my preceding list of general inquires captures the heart’s concern and stereotype of many whom claim to be in the evangelical camp. As a self-identified, evangelical, I myself am thankful for this new book and the gentle correction it brings, not just to poor theology, but more importantly, for a repentance and renewal of the genuine Christian life.

Lance is a speaker, consultant and cofounder of the Sentralizled conferences. He is also on the national leadership team for the Forge America missional training network and is a board member for Missio. Like his previous books, Right Here, Right Now”, coauthored with Alan Hirsch, (2011) “Unleader” (2012), andThe Missional Quest” coauthored with Brad Brisco (2013), “Revangelical” (2014), is a prophetic call to action for the Western Church at large.

As the title of this book suggests, Lance believes there is a need in the North American Church to “recalibrate”, “reunite”, “restore”, and “reposition” (just some of the chapter titles), our current understanding of the Gospel and how it is shared with others.   

As a native Texan who came to faith during the Cold War era, Ford learned early on that the Pledge of Allegiance held equal, if not more weight, than the Lord’s Prayer. In the time period that saw the emergence of Ronald Reagan and the “Religious Right”, the Good News of the Kingdom of God was also sadly reduced to the articulation of “four spiritual laws” and a sales pitch for cosmic fire insurance. Indeed for some, the gospel has become too small.

So what is a “Revangelical”? Lance gives definition to his made-up word by stating that revangelicals are really just a new breed of evangelicals that are converted to the entire gospel in authentically living by the empowering work of the Holy Spirit, to be Good News people in the world. Lance writes that “Revangelicals are followers of Jesus who have moved beyond merely favoring Jesus with their belief in him and have committed themselves to actually following him with the substance of their day-to-day lives. They take Jesus’ words very personally, and often quite literally, and are convinced that his example is indeed a livable model and standard for us to emulate. Revangelicals are those who seek to live their lives as Good News people for the Kingdom of Heaven, even if it costs them the American Dream” (p. 19). 

He goes on to explain how the word “evangelical” comes from the same word as “gospel” and that as Christians or followers of Jesus; we are to be disciples who embody the Good News, right here, right now.  Continuing, Lance states that “Revangelicals have come to the conclusion that if what Jesus taught and commanded is too impractical for the real world, then the real world must be false” (p. 20).

Recently I had coffee with a young “twenty-something” who is currently attending a small Bible college. As we sat talking to each other from across the table, my spirit became troubled. He told me of how during the first two weeks of his evangelism class, the professor focused more on teaching flashy communication techniques, apologetic arguments, and models for conversion that seemed all too formulaic. Not a single mention of the Kingdom, no talk of mercy and compassion, and an apparent absence of anything that sounded like a pleasant and joyful announcement. However, as Lance Ford explains, that is the very kind of exclamation Jesus made as he embarked upon his public ministry. In Luke 4:18-19, we read that just after his baptism, Jesus walked into the synagogue of Nazareth on the Sabbath, and declared that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (NRSV).

Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Jesus makes a public announcement that preaches grace, justice, salvation, and abundance. The Good News Jesus made known, resembled the declaration of the year of Jubilee. During this time, family, freedom, and forgiveness were available to all. This is the kind of Good News evangelicals should be known for. Instead of messages of hate and damnation, revangelicals preach heaven come near and demonstrate it in both word and action. As the saying goes, revangelicals are more known by what they stand for, what Jesus stated as love, rather than what they stand against. Truly, love is the greatest gift; ripest of all spiritual fruit and the number one marker by which the world can tell we are Christ’s disciples.

Through stories from his own life and the lives of other revangelicals, Lance makes clear that this love, the love that compelled God to send His only Son into the world to die as an eternal sacrifice, is exhibited in the Church when we incarnate the Gospel into our neighborhoods, identify with the poor and marginalized, value stewardship over ownership, and confess salvation in Jesus more than condemning sinners and casting judgment.

Revangelicals share the earth shattering news of God’s Kingdom breaking forth into our reality by the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. They place their hope in a bloodied and wooden cross, stained red by the shedding of God’s life for the reconciling of creation, instead of a flagpole. It is not the stars and stripes of the good old red, white, and blue revangelicals commit their life to, but the scars of Christ and the stripes of His wounds in which we find our healing.

Ford clarifies the Kingdom of God as being neither communist nor socialist, but admittedly communal and social. Revangelicals put their trust in the Lamb not the elephant or donkey. They understand life as exiles sent on mission to live in but not of the world.

As a millennial Christian leader, pioneering missional communities on multiple university campuses, I have become all too familiar with the research on the “nones” –those that identify as “no religious affiliation” and the negative attitudes postmoderns have towards all things church. Ford makes clear that it is not relevance that will attract younger generations, but a fresh encounter with the Risen Lord. This type of ministry service brings the Kingdom of God right into the center of the local community. One of my favorite stories of how Lance fleshes this out with the church planters he coaches involves driving around Kansas City’s Troost Avenue, the line of socio-economic demarcation with U2’s song “Where the Streets Have No Name” on a constant replay loop in the car.

Through the practical experience of Lance’s frontline ministry adventures and his engagement with the current missional church movement, he shares how advancements in the Church’s future can be found in the remembering of great missionary heroes of years past. For this I am thankful Ford draws on the rich well of wisdom found in the missiological writings of E. Stanley Jones. First addition copies of “Christ at the Round Table” (1928), “The Christ of Every Road” (1930) and “Conversion” (1959) sit atop my office desk. In our current pluralistic age, there is much to be learned from this great peacemaker and missionary to India. Jones truly embodied the Good News of Jesus Christ to a country that had nearly as many Hindu gods as its population count.   In a brief statement to close a chapter section, Ford summarizes his argument by saying “Revangelicals are those Christians who seek to live their lives as Jesus would live if he were us” (p. 51).

Complete with an accompanying website (www.revangelicalbook.com), supplementary videos, small group resources, and discussion questions at the end of each chapter, “Revangelical” is a timely resource for the Church and presents an incredible opportunity for ambassadors of the Kingdom to embrace the Good News.

Revangelical

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An Essential Guidebook for Journeying With the Missional Church

The Missional QuestThere have only been a handful of books that I have really, really anticipated the release of in the last few years. While there are always new books on the publishing horizon, there are only a select few that I eagerly await for their arrival.The Missional Quest: Becoming a Church for the Long Run” (2013) by Lance Ford and Brad Brisco was one such book. I had it “saved for later” in my Amazon shopping cart since the day it became available for pre-order online. However, thanks to my friends at InterVarsity Press, I was provided a complimentary review copy in exchange for this honest critique.

While I know that at the time of this writing we are already more than halfway through 2014, I still contend that “The Missional Quest” is not only one of the best new books available for understanding the missional church, but is also one of the best books to date, as an introduction  to the theological implications of the subject. Scripturally sound and full of practical advice, I recommend “The Missional Quest” as essential reading on the topic. But don’t just read the book, live its’ message, as echoed from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: Here I am, SEND ME!

Divided into two parts –Section One: Fostering a Missional Mindset (How Should My Church Be Thinking?) and Section Two: Fostering a Missional Posture (What Steps are Necessary?), Lance and Brad spend nine chapters fleshing out what it means for a church to think with  missional orthodoxy and live with missional orthpraxy. With back and forth chapters written by each author, Lance and Brad cover relevant themes such as the theology of the missio Dei (chapter one) “Rhythms of Inner Formation” (chapter two), and the missional opportunities presented by post-Christendom (chapter three).  It is in these beginning chapters that the authors lay the foundation of a gathered and scattered church, explain the spectrum that exists between attractional-extractional and missional-incarnational, and promote a dependency on the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps my favorite segment of the book is chapters four through seven. Each of these chapters focuses on building authentic relationships and being intentional about incarnational mission. Starting with chapter four “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the authors look at Jesus’ greatest commandment of showing love by creating vibrant communities, ministering to those next door, seeking the welfare of the city, and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Chapter five presents a biblically radical case for hospitality and offers tangible insights to making it happen. Chapter six discusses the value of what are called “third places”, a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his seminal book “The Great Good Place” (1989). Building on Oldenburg’s definition, the authors describe third places as “a public setting that hosts regular, voluntary and informal gatherings of people. It is a place to relax. It is a place where people enjoy visiting. Third places provide the opportunity to know and be known. They are places where people like to ‘hang out’ (p.136). Lance and Brad then cover the eight key characteristics of the conventional third place as defined by Oldenburg and essentially synthesis his work with that of Robert Putnam’s bestselling title “Bowling Alone” (2000) and Peter Block’s “Abundant Community” (2010). While these books are more sociological than missiological in study, with their acumens combined, Lance and Brad do an incredible job at highlighting the church’s opportunity for mission, our culture’s desperation for community, and the pitfalls of individualism that has undergirded our increasing postmodern society.

However, it was chapter seven, subtitled “Small Groups Becoming Missional Communities” that really grabbed my attention during my initial scan of the table of contents. Missional Communities seem to be all the rave right now. And while there have been whole books written on the subject matter (see for example “Missional Communities by Reggie McNeal, and “Leading Missional Communities” by Mike Breen), there is still some confusion as to how a church can “launch” missional communities out of a preexisting small group structure. In a short and clear definition, Lance and Brad explain that “Misisonal Communities are groups of people who commit to living their lives with devotion of heart, mind, soul, and strength in the three spheres of relationship with the Lord” (p. 153). These three spheres, described by founder of the Vineyard movement, John Wimber as Father, family, field, or perhaps more commonly known as “up, in, and out”, courtesy of 3dm, are basically the Christian’s relationship to God, the Church, and the world. As Mike Breen has noted elsewhere, missional communities are not the end goal in and of themselves. But rather they operate as a vehicle to take people to the desired outcome of “oikos”, a Greek word meaning “household” or in this context, a spiritual family on mission. While Brad and Lance do not use the term oikos in their chapter, they do mention the Greek word “koinonia”, translated as fellowship or more accurately, partnership. They state that “It is a mistake to think of missional communities as groups that do mission together. We prefer to think of them as groups of missionaries” (p. 155). Therefore, they suggest building community around the mission, and providing opportunities for everyone to join in.

After outlining the principles of mutual commitment, accountability, and devotion, found in Acts 2:42-46, they then unpack several of the “one another” passages in Scripture and present the acronym “LIGHT” to help memorize and embody five missional habits. The letters in LIGHT stand for Listen to the Holy Spirit, Invite others to share a meal, Give a blessing, Hear from the Gospels, and Take inventory of the day. Similar to Mike Frost’s “BELLS” and Dave Ferguson’s “BLESS”, Lance and Brad describe how living by the acrostic LIGHT, taken from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16), “becomes the outline for the sharing portion of the group time” (p. 165).

Chapter eight tackles developing leaders, or servant followers, through the discipleship process, raising up and sending out the priesthood of believers, and equipping each and every church member in his or her fivefold ministry of Ephesians four. Finally, chapter nine addresses how to create a new scorecard for “success” in the local church by ultimately asking a series of self-diagnostic questions that measure the missional effectiveness of activity outside of the four walls of the church. Celebrating stories to create a “tipping point” for mission, embracing risk, and prayerfully discerning what God is already doing, are all also parts of “Having a Great Trip”, the heading of chapter nine. Finally, an appendix of the “Sending Passages” in the Gospel of John is included for personal or corporate reflection.

Lance and Brad are thinking practitioners and participant observers who provide an immense amount of wisdom. Through their ministry as authors, church planters, consultants, and co-founders of the Sentralized Conference in Kansas City, I am thankful for the voice and influence of these two in the continuing conversation of the missional church.

In closing I would like to take a moment to recommend all of the other books in the Forge InterVarsity series, especially, “Incarnate(2014) by Michael Frost and “Sentness” (2014) by Kim Hammond and Darren Crownshaw.