Continuing discussion of Chester and Timmis Total Church: a radical reshaping around gospel and community
Chapter 1 is WHY GOSPEL? The basic argument here is that ‘The gospel is a word so the church must be word centered’ and being word centred has two dimensions.
The first is that the good news is a message with content to be proclaimed and taught. This message can be simply summarised as ‘Jesus is Lord’ [N T Wright is not mentioned here but must be in view since this is his summary] but it is also a message that fills the whole biblical narrative from creation to new creation. It is a word that has become incarnate in Jesus Christ and which gives new life through the Spirit.
The second dimension is that the gospel is a missionary word so the church must be mission centred. The good news must be passed on, shared, proclaimed, taught, and communicated.
As Chester and Timmis say, this may appear very obvious. The real test however is how, if these two dimensions are vitally important, do churches act on them? I’m reminded of what Scot McKnight says in Embracing Grace – it is how churches ‘perform’ the gospel that really shows what they believe.
How much are our churches really word-centred? This is much more than an emphasis on preaching but how the word shapes lives, decisions, discussions in everyday life.
Chester and Timmis don’t talk about this – but there is a real problem here. Despite the explosion of Bible study aids and the internet, it seems to me that even evangelicals who are ‘people of the word’ seem to know less and less of the Bible and rarely read it. I agree with the authors – the word needs to be central. It is the source of authority and truth, through which the Spirit acts (Eph 6:17). If we think that ‘success’ in mission will come from tinkering with externals like buildings or services we will have fallen into the trap of thinking that it is our cleverness or innovative techniques that hold the key to spiritual growth.
Is this a fair assessment or am I being overly critical here?
The authors also ask how much are our churches missional? – in terms of shaping all that they do around the call to engage and join in with the mission of God to the world? If they were, they would see themselves as communities of missionaries to their local areas. Mission is not something done by the few to others in far away lands – it is the calling of every single Christian in and where God has placed them.
Chester and Timmis quote research from the UK which concluded that churches are not effective in mission because ‘we are not making disciples who can live well for Christ in today’s culture and engage compellingly with the people they meet’ because they struggle to connect their faith with everyday life. The challenge is to create church communities that have members who are passionate about mission in the workplace, in homes, neighbourhoods – in everyday relationships in everyday life.
Does their analysis sound right from your perspective?