Our church staff has been slowing, and I mean slowly, working its way through Vintage Church by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Time elapsed so far is probably nearing a year. Initially we were reading at a reasonable pace, but then everything got busier in “the ol’ church world” as they say, and we’ve all but postponed finishing the book for the time being. But, we will finish. In the mean time, and since I was nearly finished with the book anyway, I thought I’d read the last few chapters.
It’s good. I mean really good. It’s been good all the way through, but it got really good at the end. Driscoll and Breshears start out simple, and move to more complex subject matter. Perhaps complex is actually a bad way to say it, let’s say they move on to more timely subject matter towards the end of the book. All of it’s good reading though. Even the opening chapters, the ones I’ve now labeled as “simple,” are relevant and essential reading. One of the most under-taught areas of theology is probably ecclesiology (i.e. the theology of the church). And because church should not just be this service that we attend in a building once a week, we need to understand what a church is, and why it does the things it does, and even if it should be doing them at all. Vintage Church forces readers to interact with these questions.
My favorite chapters are definitely the last several. They include chapters such as:
Chapter 9) What is a missional church?
Chapter 10) What is a multi-campus church?
Chapter 11) How can a church utilize technology?
Chapter 12) How could the church help transform the world?
The chapters on preaching (chapter 4) and church discipline (chapter 7) also stand out in my mind as highly helpful and extremely insightful.
The most important chapter may be chapter twelve, which as stated above, deals with the question, “How could the church help transform the world?” In this chapter Driscoll and Breshears interact with the collision of church and culture. How should the church influence, transform, and help create and cultivate the larger culture that is around it? I’ve heard Driscoll teach about this subject matter before, but I feel the treatment in Vintage Jesus is the most fully-orbed that I’ve heard so far. So, I want to touch on this specific subject matter for the rest of this review.
Driscoll starts out by defining four commonly held visions for how to transform culture, and then decries each of them as short sided. These visions are:
1) The Evangelistic Vision – if everyone gets saved, the world will change
2) The Political Vision – if we elect the right leaders, the world will change
3) The Fundamentalist Vision – we should flee the sinful, secular culture, which will be destroyed by God soon anyway
4) The Liberal Vision – if we just love people, even if we don’t share the gospel, everything will be ok
Driscoll then proposes a new, 5th vision for how to transform culture, one that has been largely developed by James Davison Hunter, a Christian and professor of sociology at the university of Virginia. Hunter concludes that Christians must abandon the short-sidedness of the previous visions for how to transform culture. They are all based on the false premises that culture will change because of great ideas, or a great man, or the purity of the hearts of individuals. Conversely, Hunter asserts that culture changes because of connectedness to a powerful network of cultural shaping individuals and institutions. He offers the following five ideas:
1) Culture is a resource and, as such, a form of power.
2) Culture is produced.
3) Culture production is stratified (i.e. arranged and sent out) from center to periphery.
4) Culture changes from the top down and rarely from the bottom up.
5) The impetus, energy, and direction for changing the world are most intense where cultural, economic, and even political resources overlap.
Driscoll seems to agree with these ideas and offers the following plan. Churches should be planted primarily in urban areas where they can interact with the culture-makers and become the culture-makers in society. In these large urban areas, the church should exist as a city within a city. It should demonstrate how life should be lived within its own small city (the church), and send its people out to interact with larger city where it is planted. The people of the church are transformed and trained to interact with the culture at large in loving and truth-filled ways. This God-centered culture will then flow downstream to smaller cities and more rural areas and effect them as well. This is a strategic method to reach the largest amount of people and effect the largest swath of culture.
I think the most eye-opening part of this chapter for me was that “the evangelistic vision,” and the “city within a city vision,” are not the same vision. Personally, I had been propagating both and assuming they were the same. But they are not. As Christians we must preach the gospel, and people must be saved. But, we also must create and effect the cultural systems at large by constantly interacting with the culture-shapers in our city. It’s not enough to simply teach our people to witness, they must witness yes, but they must also create and effect the culture in every area of their lives. This is being true to the entire message of the gospel, which is more than “pray this prayer and ask Jesus into your heart, and then be moral.”
This Keeps Making More and More Sense
I still have a lot to learn about what all this entails, and the following synopsis is incomplete, but I think I agree. Personally, I have no intentions of diminishing the priority of evangelism. But I think evangelism is just part of the solution, and actually becomes a more effective tool in the hands of a Christian who is constantly cultivating the culture around him as he shares the good news.