Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time - Tom Sine

Challenged by an imaginative view of what the Church can be

The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time
Author: Tom Sine
Publisher: IVP Books
Pages: 304

When I asked to review The New Conspirators by Tom Sine I thought I was getting a critique of the emergent church and its related expressions. I had just finished a book that was extremely critical of reimagining the church, and I thought that I was getting another that might validate or modify the concerns raised in the first book.

I quickly discovered that Tom Sine is not only sympathetic to a new kind of church life but is a key player. This book is like a primer for the emerging, missional, mosaic and monastic movements. He introduces the dominant thoughts of each group and some of the most influential people. Those already immersed in this worldview may not find a lot that is new, but the material is so comprehensive that it is a valuable resource for those on either side of these issues.

This book is well-written, but it is not formulated as a defense of these movements. It does not delve deeply into doctrinal concerns and does not provide an in-depth Biblical basis for what is taking shape.

The focus is on encouraging people to adopt a lifestyle that is consistent with the manifestation of God’s reign here on earth. Sine sees his book as an invitation to a simple but radical lifestyle when he writes, “This book is an invitation to a part of something ‘really, really small,’ a quiet community that is destined to change our lives and God’s world. We will particularly focus on what God is doing through the emergent, missional, mosaic and monastic streams of the church. But we are all invited to the join the creative edge by more fully discovering how God might use our mustard seeds to be a part of this conspiracy of compassion and hope.”

In many ways this is a challenging read. Anyone reading this with an open mind will have to think hard about the repeated call to examine whether our way of doing church and living the Christian life has been shaped more by our consumer culture than we may have realized. It’s ironic that in some areas these new forms of Christian expression seem to be more aware than their critics of how the church and the lives of Christians have been shaped by the world.

There is much here that is praiseworthy. The book is particularly strong in advocating a discipleship that encompasses our entire life rather than just segments of it. The author shows how believers can develop statements of calling to help them live more intentionally. The idea is to live in the reality that God’s new order is here now and breaking into our world.

The author frequently touches on issues of global concern, and it’s amazing how relevant it all is to our current situation. It’s as if he was peeking into the present when he wrote this book. He accurately portrays some of the discouraging challenges that the church and the world face today. It’s probably the most sobering part of the book.

Whether you view these new expressions of the church with suspicion or are an enthusiastic participant, this book is worth reading for the ideas and realities that are presented. Christians must grapple with these concepts and decide which way to go.

Hopefully, those leading these movements will be willing to engage their critics rather than just dismiss them. It’s understandable that they have no desire to go about doing church as usual. But for the sake of truth, being accountable to other members of the body of Christ, and for the sake of those they lead, they should carefully weigh criticisms and be open to dialogue with their opponents.
On the other hand, it would be a mistake for critics to say these new expressions are all wrong. How many of us, and how many of our churches, are all right or all wrong? We might like to think we are right all or most of the time, but pride deceives us when that is our attitude.

Whether these movements are faithful in doctrine and practice to the standards of Scripture will remain a source of debate. How much better it would be if both sides could respectfully speak the truth in love. It shuts down communication when people resort to derogatory comments.

It might help if we look for what’s good and right in each other’s words. I wasn’t looking to find fault, and I discovered truth worth considering.
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