Saturday, August 30, 2008

Book Review: Bind Us Together

Bind Us be the church that Jesus really wants (The restoration movement and its message for the church) by John Fleming is a self published book and having read it I understand why.

I picked it up because I belong to a family of churches called Newfrontiers, a grouping has its history very much in the restoration movement. I'm always keen to read books that give insight into the movements I'm a part of. Sadly this book isn't one of them.

John Fleming is a Professor of Nuclear Medicine Physics at the University of Southampton and has been a part of restoration churches for more than 30 years and his aim was to provide an 'apologetic for the restoration movement' assessing it's contribution to the wider church in the UK.

The book is divided into 3 parts and starts off interestingly enough with a brief history of this movement in the UK since the 1950s and brief sketches of key groupings such as Harvesttime, Pioneer, Vineyard, Newfrontiers etc..It also includes chapters on the authors own story and aagin brief sketches of key influences such as Bible Weeks, Toronto Blessing, Cell church and one or two other issues. If you've never read any of this history then this is reasonable enough fare.

Part 2 is an attempt to sketch the biblical basis for the view of the church held by restoration movements including reasons for house groups, miracles, spiritual gifts and the role of apostles and prophets. It makes a lot of assumptions, if you agree with the author then no problem. If you don't then this is unsatisfying stuff - rarely thorough enough to convince or aware of the questions raised to serve as an 'apologetic'. It includes a description of the church that is offered by the Alpha course.

Part 3 is the author's assessment of how the contemporary church fares against the biblical criteria he sets out in part 2, and he makes some suggestions on how things should change. The biggest concern for the author is the issue of unity and he proposes a number of steps to create greater unity. They are quite, um, interesting.
  1. All churches in a 'locality' (possibly based on the parish system) should effectively merge together and become one church. This church would be great. It would be formed around house groups, overseen by a group of elders and helped by apostles.
  2. Denominations should be effectively be disbanded or reformed to support apostolic teams
  3. A moratorium should be enforced on church planting in areas where there are 'genuine Bible-believing' churches.
This the author believes is a 'practical way ahead', which just demonstrates that he's never read Christian blogs. Us bloggers would be a nightmare all in one church, opionated bunch that we generally are. But no real thought has been given to the challenges that lie in the way of that dream, the vision of common worship is towards the mediocre middle that fails to take into account generational or cultural diversity. It doesn't address theological and doctrinal differences and I'm pretty sure that the eventual result of such an attempt would end up looking much like what we already have.

The contribution that new churches have made, the author argues, are greater informality, home groups and fellowships, wider acceptance of charismatic gifts and the role of apostles and prophets. This case isn't well made but assumed by observation. For example, Spring Harvest and New Wine may well have been inspired by new churches Bible Weeks but the case isn't proved just assumed.

All in all, I think this book is unsure of it's target audience and unaware of or blind to the wider obstacles. Too much is assumed and too little is convincingly argued or demonstrated. I was disappointed because I think an assessment of the contribution of these church movements is probably needed.

The best out there still is 'Restoring the Kingdom' by Andrew Walker (here for a review by Mark Heath. Mark also reviews Bind Us Together here)


Unknown on 30 August 2008 at 20:42 said...

Hmmm. Yeh, sounds like one to pass on.

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