Tuesday, February 21, 2006

'Organic Church' Review, Part 2

I've finished Organic Church. I skimmed the last chapter and a half because all it was was a series of 'success stories,' which I didn't care about enough to read. I'd grown weary of the book by then, so now it has its spot on my shelf, probably never to be revisited. A few more points...

~Cole's church model is basically one of small decentralized 'house churches.' I hesitate to use 'house church,' because according to him they also meet in coffeeshops, parking lots, bars, etc. He sets this model over and against a hierarchical model, stating that all are interdependent of one another, rather than having any chain of command. In presenting this model, he challenges the reader to set out from the safe haven of church as we know it and go where the people who, by implication, aren't welcome in our clean cushiony pews. This is the notion that I really liked about the book, as I find it in tune with what Jesus was about. What is sad is that the amount of people in modern American churches who have ever considered this notion is pathetically small.

~I've already stated that I find Cole's theology to be lacking. What is equally atrocious is his use of metaphor. There's one section where he tries to refer to Jesus as the Church's Bridegroom and Lord of the Harvest, and it falls flat: 'The Bridegroom must be woo'd by the Bride to produce more workers for the harvest.' So either she needs to have a bunch of babies so they can be put to work, or she needs to nag the Bridegroom to hire more servants. In addition, he talks about God the Father as conceiving the church. So what we end up with is God the Father encouraging the Son to marry the Church, who has also been produced from the Father, so that they'll have a whole bunch of children to keep the plantation going.

~As I mentioned before, Cole references Schindler's List at one point. He briefly describes Schindler's legacy of buying over 1,100 Jews to work in his factory in order to save them from the Holocaust. Later on in the movie is a scene when Schindler grieves his still owning a car, his Nazi pin, and other items, instead of selling them so that he could buy a few more people and save them. This story is related in the midst of a discussion of the 'rougher' crowds he's interacted with, so I'm hoping for something much different than where he ends up going, which is that Schindler is God and wants to purchase all our souls through Jesus' blood and blah blah blah. Never mind the more obvious command from Jesus to sell possessions and give to the poor. The entire book is from a 'Jesus died for sinners and we need to help save them from hell' perspective, even if he only mentions hell a handful of times. It's a typical view of Jesus and his mission that comes more from Paul and Revelation and less from the Gospels. The pieces from the Gospels that do get drawn out are all those bits that add to the Paul/Revelation view.

Organic Church ended up being quite a frustrating read. There are some good soundbites that have been quoted on another blog, which attracted me to the book to begin with. You know how when you watch a movie preview and then go see the movie, you discover that all the best parts were in the preview? That's exactly what this was for me. Even aside from that, this has reinforced my view that most books critiquing or proposing church methodology are generally to be left on their shelves. It's all theory and deconstruction with some anecdotes, poorly written metaphor, and a healthy dose of 'get 'em saved' thrown in.


Wadena said...

Throw out the bathwater, throw out the baby Christ-Child, throw out the bathtub, blow up the house, dig up the foundations, fill in the hole.....

And start anew with a foundation of Jesus and actually walking out "Love God and Neighbor."

There are too many lies, too much toxic tradition, liturgy, robes and mirrors and disingenuous dogma in Christianity for it to ever work.

THAT'S the answer.

Jim Jannotti said...

... and most importantly, watch out for people who think they know the answer.

Wadena said...

Yes, because knowing is bad.

Floundering is good.


Anonymous said...


You're a better man than me. I doubt that I would've made it that far through a book like that. There was a time when I would struggle through it, and be disappointed when I failed.

Unknown said...

The only real problem I saw with the book is that it needed an editor to condense it more.

But the content is extremely valuable. Once again I am shocked coffeepastor that you think this was a book of theory. How ridiculous. It proves to me that you read this with a closed mind. It was overwhelmingly a book about practice. The fact that you did not care about the success stories, saddens me. Do you not care that people are being saved from hell? Or perhaps you just don't believe in it anyway, which would explain your initial cynicism.

Jeff Nelson said...

Pasha, you missed all the stuff I agreed with or liked. I invite you to read those parts of my review as well.

For one, I acknowledge the good deal of method that he includes. The reason I tend to use the word "theory" and the reason I recall skipping the "success stories" is that any church form can look and sound good on paper (and it's obviously worked in places), but it won't fit every context. Pick the reason: unreceptive congregation, bad leadership, forced into a place where something else was needed, etc. Books like these, unsurprisingly, don't tend to publish "failure stories."

You obviously haven't been around this blog enough to know that I'm actually a big fan of the emerging church, particularly churches or programs that grow organically(!) out of local contexts. In fact, I probably use more of Cole's theory/method/practice than even I realize.

I simply didn't like the way Cole's book was written/organized. A year or so later, I read Organic Community by Joe Myers, which presents similar ideas and which I liked a lot better (or was more open to, or whatever).

It's fine if you want to keep having a discussion about organic church forms, because that subject interests me. But I have little interest in continuing to argue over a book that I happened to not like and that you happened to like (and that, again, I wrote about over two years ago).