Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Review: Vintage Church

Not so long ago I also reviewed Mark Driscoll's Vintage Church for Christianity Magazine.

"What is the church? If you repeat the historic belief in 'one holy catholic Church' what is it exactly that you are affirming? Mark Driscoll believes that not enough people, leaders included, know how to answer that question well. 

Driscoll was baptised and brought up in the Roman Catholic church before coming to faith in Christ as a teenager. While in his mid-twenties he planted Mars Hill Church Seattle, now one of the largest and fastest growing in America, and he has become one of the leading voices in what has become known as the 'new Calvinism.' His earthy, blunt approach to preaching and leadership, frank talking about sex, calls for men to be men and his willingness to wade mouth first into controversy have gained him followers and critics in almost equal measure. 

In Vintage Church the authors argue that the substance of the church must remain orthodox faith while ensuring the style of church is relevant to the time and place the church is in. This position is clearly contrasted with liberal and emergent churches that have rewritten what the church believes or equally others that have failed to remain relevant to their culture.  

The opening chapter deals with 'what is a Christian?' and declares salvation to be 'by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone' and the centrality of penal substitution is defended while at the same time other views of the cross are warmly affirmed. The heart of the book lies with his views on eight characteristics of a biblical church: regenerated church membership, qualified leadership, preaching and worship, rightly administered sacraments, spirit unity, holiness, the great commandment to love and the great commandment to evangelise and make disciples. Each chapter is written by Driscoll and is followed by short answers to common questions on the topic penned by co-author Gerry Breshears. 

The 'timeless truths' that Driscoll defends include a men-only view of senior church leadership, believers baptism, the centrality of the sermon and preaching and a better understanding of church discipline. The 'timely methods' he advocates are a clearer view of what it means to be missional, a smarter use of technology, a strategic focus on cities, a generous approach to funding church plants, an investment in compassion ministries and a stronger understanding of how we can see our culture transformed by the gospel.

On the whole the book is much more open handed and generous to differing approaches to church than you might assume but every now and then this helpful approach is undermined by shots fired across the church barricades. For example in the chapter on church unity, the authors make a really helpful attempt to distinguish between issues to 'die for' (like the resurrection) and issues to 'divide for', debate for' or 'decide for.' Differences on gender roles may have been put in the 'divide for' category but in other places in the book it definitely feels as if it should have been in the 'die for' category.

My one other main complaint is that I thought the book should be called, 'Vintage Mars Hill: Time to follow our lead' because it is so clearly a manifesto that explains how and why they do church in the way they do. As a result the breadth and diversity of expressions of the global church narrows down to this one very particular expression of it. So if you want to do church and lead the way Mark Driscoll does it, then this is the book for you.

If you don't want your church to go down that route, there are still plenty of excellent reasons why you should read this book. There are helpful insights and into preaching, cultural transformation and multi-campus churches and mission. The chapters on church unity and church discipline effectively challenge a consumer approach to church that fails to take discipleship or personal holiness seriously while doing its best to safeguard against spiritual abuse which is not an easy line to get right. There is a pastoral heart to the book that desires people to be mature in Christ that is very much in evidence. Most helpfully every chapter has countless footnotes referencing sources and Scripture making it easy to check his working out as well as his answers.

The answers that Mark Driscoll articulates in Vintage Church clearly aren't going to be to everyone's liking, however he makes his case in a straight forward and forthright style aimed at equipping church leaders to think clearly, lead clearly and teach their people clearly about what a church is and what it means to be a part of one. That is a good goal and one that in many ways this book may well succeed in achieving."


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