Monday, February 20, 2006

'Organic Church' Review, Part 1

I've been reading Organic Church by Neil Cole. It professes to be the 'red pill' that will cause the reader to see church differently, although I find it much more tame than other suggestions made around the blogosphere and various internet fora. He mentions church practices that he finds inadequate and presents an alternative ecclesiology. It's a book not just about method, but about the very definition of Church and church. It's also a book with a heavy emphasis on evangelism and church planting. It's heavy on theory and not much on practicality, which is actually because of certain pieces of his theory. You'll see.

A few notes so far...

~He critiques what he calls the 'Sunday morning show.' This is what he calls the notion that we put so much time and energy into that 1-2 1/2-hour slot on Sunday mornings to make music lively and the preaching engaging, creating a 'y'all come' model of church. Actually, when talking of preaching, he doesn't use the word 'engaging,' he says something like 'entertaining.' The point that he wants to make is that we want the worship time to be so attractive that people will want to come at the expense of our venturing outside our safe walls into the community. He mentions that non-Christians and unchurched people aren't clamoring to come to our worship services no matter how flashy or modern they are. There's something else that we need to reach people with, that being the gospel (and our definitions of the gospel differ...he's much more of a blood atonement person...however, he does use a lot of Kingdom of God language, so I was able to relate to this piece of his theology).

~Related to the first point, he states that we spend so much time on making our buildings bigger and better-looking and more comfortable that we insulate ourselves from the world and hope that it will either go away or come in on its own.

~He states that there's no basis in the New Testament for weekly worship time. There isn't? And if there isn't, so what? Jesus is show teaching during a synagogue time more than once. By the time the New Testament was written, people were gathering for prayer and teaching and agape meals. He acknowledges the meals, but apparently misses the moments in the Gospels and Acts when people gather in worship spaces. Never mind all the corporate gathering times in the wilderness around the tabernacle and later in the Temple in the Old Testament. Finally, the argument that since there's no Biblical basis it must be wrong or ill-advised doesn't hold up. We do all sorts of extra-Biblical things that can be and are beneficial. Computers, refrigerators, baseball, the moveable type printing press, and keeping cats as pets all aren't mentioned either. It's time to give up this notion that only Biblical things are worthwhile things.

~Cole spends a good amount of time talking about letting God take control, letting Jesus run the committee meeting, letting God grow the church and accepting our roles as the planter rather than the grower. He bases this on Mark 4:26-29 where the sower sows seeds but can't control the growth. I like the metaphor as it recognizes that both we and God have active parts to play. However, it's also a little frustrating. Saying 'let Jesus run the board meeting' sounds nice and not many would disagree with such a notion. However, he doesn't really dare to define what a Jesus-run board meeting might look like. Through all his suggestions that we let God take control, he assumes two things: 1) churches that operate outside of his model aren't striving to do that already, and 2) a God-controlled church function will look tremendously different. He paints himself into a corner a little here, because by suggesting that God take over and being prepared to be surprised by what ends up happening, he can't define how one might discern that what ends up happening is really God-inspired. It's the latest in a long line of anti-institutional ecclesiology that limits itself in defining an alternative by saying to 'let God handle it' and not much else. He does present an alternative, though, as best he can. I'll write more about that in Part 2.

~Cole and I share some of the same theological keywords: the kingdom of God and transformation. He recognizes that it truly is God doing the transforming and recognizes our role as instruments through which that can happen and spends a good amount of time reminding the reader that church isn't about's about God and neighbor. For him, love of neighbor is mainly shown through correcting his or her 'lost'-ness and getting them 'eternal fire insurance.' He botches a Schindler's List analogy, which I'll also mention in Part 2.

I thought I was enjoying this book more before I started writing this entry. I guess I have a lot more issues with it than I thought. By Part 2 I'll probably be finished with it and I'll present the rest of my critique.