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The Continuing Conversion of the Church (Gospel & Our Culture)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
When he wrote this book, Darrell Guder was Peachtree Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Columbia Thoelogical Seminary, Decatur, GA. He is now Princeton Theological Seminary's Dean of Academic Affairs and the Henry Winters Luce Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology.

Originally planned as a revision of his "Be My Witnesses," this book is instead its sequel. His thesis is that "the only way that evangelization can truly be the heart of ministry will be through the continuing conversion of the church," which can only take place through authentic interaction with the very gospel it professes, communicates and embodies.

The book is divided into three parts. In Part I, "The Church's Calling to Evangelistic Ministry," Guder examines in Chapter One the twentieth century debate about the church's mission against the background of a survey of church history and the prevalence of "diffusionist mission." This is Lamin Sanneh's term for Christendom's wedding of mission with colonialism, spreading the "cultural advantages" and culture patterns of the West in the guise of spreading the gospel. World War I and World War II overturned Christian self-confidence, while exposing westerners to the sophistication of other cultures they had formerly imagined as being pagan, uncomplicated, and monolithically needy. This encounter resulted in the Church reconsidering the nature of mission in a post-colonial world, finding its center in the Missio Dei (Mission of God), a theme highlighted in Karl Barth's address at the 1932 Brandenburg Missionary Conference. The chapter provides a concise and comprehensive overview of key terms, including mission, mission theology, missiology, explores the distinction between evangelism and evangelization, and the relationship between evangelism/evangelization and mission.

In Chapter Two he defines the gospel as fundamentally "the good news of God" as revealed in his saving acts in Christ in pursuit of the Mission of God and in proleptic revelation of the coming reign of God. Here, as throughout the volume, Guder portrays Jesus as both messenger and message of the gospel.

Chapter Three highlights "witness" as Guder's preferred master metaphor for the mission of the church, exploring the roots, contours and implications of the term.

Part II, "Challenges: The Church's Need for Conversion," begins, in Chapter Four by exploring "translation" as the task of evangelization. This includes not only linguistic translation, but translating the gospel into the culture of the receptors, whereby both the missionary and the receptors gain new insight into the meaning and impact of the gospel Chapters Five and Six explore reductionism, a major theme of the book, and how in every age, the church has exercised and maintained, domesticating the gospel. This has inevitably resulted in a truncated and distorted gospel which ill serves both missionary and receptor.

Part III, "Implications: The Conversion of the Church," examines the continual conversion of the local congregation, what, why, its how it is possible and to what end (Chapter Seven), and explores means toward the ongoing conversion of the institutional structures of the Church. The Book concludes with a final exhortatory postlude.

This book is the work of a seasoned scholar. It is comprehensive, tightly organized, well-researched and boldly prophetic, calling today's church to missional faithfulness. It calls the conservative Church to broaden its definition of mission and mainstream churches to explore more deeply what it means to be witnesses of Him in the varied contexts of life. Guder writes clearly and passionately, providing not only the rationale but also a blueprint for first steps toward authenticity for those troubled by the church's missional ambivalence on the one hand, or dissatisfied with bumper-sticker caricatures of the gospel, on the other. The book serves both the liberal and conservative side of the Protestant religious spectrum and deserves to be read by church too inclined to say "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing," while not knowing that they are "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (Rev 3:17).

For Messianic Jews seeking to identify and implement a missiology suited to the times, to the Jewish people, and to a post-misisonary Messianic Judaism, this work is valuable for the scope of the information it provides, and also for the gaps one finds throughout. These gaps are due to the supersessonist assumptions which have characterized the church since the second century. With the birth of the modern State of Israel, the mood of reflection that has come upon post-Holocaust Christianity, and the current emergence of a self-aware Messianic Jewish remnant, what is called for, yet totally missing from Guder's treatment and from almost the entire missiological community, is a post-supersessionist missiology sensitive to the unique and enduring covenant status of the Jewish people. Such a missiology can only have revolutionary implications for the contours of the gospel preached to the Jews, and how Yeshua-believing Jews ought to live out their faithfulness to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the God of Sinai.

This revolution is no mere contextualization of the gospel message for the Jewish context. Rather, it requires the convulsive realization that the Church has for two millennia reserved for itself alone the category "people of God," not reckoning with the persistence and implications of God's consummating plans for the descendants of Jacob. The church's question should not be merely the evangelistic question, "What should we do with regard to Jewish people?", but rather, "How do the descendants of Jacob fit in with the Missio Dei and what does that mean for us and our mission in the world?"

The church and the Jewish mission world have yet to grapple with these challenges. This demonstrates the need for a Messianic Jewish missiological voice to serve as a point of reference for a church and missions world which which must recalibrate their understandings if they would serve the will of God in these transitional and momentous times.

Dr Guder cannot be blamed for the supersessionism underlying his work, as he is a product of his context. Happily, he is also a courageous prophet to a church that needs to hear what he has to say.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2007
Guder does an excellent job of explaining the historical development of the current status of much of the church in the United States today. He describes the problem as "reductionism," a reducing of the good news to something less than the full gospel and then claiming that this reduced gospel is the full package. Western Christianity has consistently been reduced to the salvation of the individual soul and has forgotten that our identity as Christians is to be Christ's witnesses in the world, the community formed by God's calling that is sent to bear witness in our words, actions, and in community life. Guder's critique is much needed today with so much focus on strategies for church growth, marketing, focus on the individual, and use of secular big business methods. What the church needs is to be continually converted itself, engaging in constant Bible study and repentance from our culturally based reductionisms. Unless the church is continuously being evangelized itself, it cannot truly engage in the evangelization of the world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2008
Dr. Guder has laid a great introduction to missional theology. Identifying key problems that have faced the church during the "Christendom" era into a post-Christendom world, he lays out how the church can adapt to a world that has been secularized. He notes how the gospel under the control of Western culture has been reduced in the past to simple formulas that don't capture the fullness of the New Testament and how this has effected the Church's mission. In response to this reductionism, Guder pushes for a theology that recaptures the importance of the missio Dei, the mission of God, and how the church becomes the community sent into the world for the world rather than the bastion or institution of salvation. For anyone looking for an introduction to what missional theology is all about, I highly recommend this book. It is readable and written compassionately.
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on March 31, 2010
Darrell Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000)

Reviewed by Darren Cronshaw

Guder continues the agenda of the Gospel and our Culture Network in exploring how the church can express its missionary vocation. A lecturer in evangelism and church growth, he says that evangelism needs to be rethought and redirected, beginning with the continuing conversion of the church itself. This is where the book is most radical - in suggesting that evangelism is not just for unbelievers but for the church in its cultural captivity. The church needs conversion, he says, from the cultural compromise and perverse and deeply engrained gospel reductionism that focuses on individual salvation for heaven, meeting needs and bringing benefits, rather than preparing God's people for witness. This is reflected, for example, in worship seen as an end in itself to 'get something out of' rather than as God's preparation for sending. Guder overviews the church's shift away from a biblical theology of evangelism and suggests the institutional and other changes necessary for its recovery. He offers a solid theological reflection on the church's witness as the calling of the church including the breadth of the gospel, centrality of the cross, church membership and nature of leadership in empowering God's people for witness.

Review originally appeared in Darren Cronshaw, `The Emerging Church: Introductory Reading Guide', Zadok Papers, S143 (Summer 2005).
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on January 13, 2014
This book is a great probing of the underlying causes of missional neglect in churches in America and Canada. His call for churches to repent and be converted to the Gospel is timely. Great book!
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12 of 30 people found the following review helpful
This is certainly a profound, well written work. One can tell that Guder has thought long and hard on this, and has reflected as well on many others' reflection.
Here he presents the case against the Western Christian church which he feels has succumbed to gosepl reductionism. By this, he means when Christians reduce the gospel in all its fulness and mission to a controllable, manageable level. Pertinent to this understanding is this quote: "We are constantly tempted to assert that our way of understanding the Christian faith is a final version of Christian truth."
He resonates to the freeflowing tension always seeking to move Christianity along unknown paths, ever broadening and deepening its hold on humanity. Reductionism as he defines it severly restricts it as it diminshes what for him is vital and called its "incarantional witness." Here he refers to God's grace reaching out in a Christian's call and vocation.
He appears to drift back and forth from orthodoxy to something far from it, especially evidenced by his continued reference to ecumenism as being important and vital element in the repentance and continual conversion needed by Christianity. Although he speaks at length passionately about Jesus and the cross, he severely reproves the church for focus on salvation of individuals.
By continual conversion he refers to a rather liquid, dynamic movement in Christianity without boundaries, yet constantly refining what institution is already there. When Chrisitans becomed concerned about maintenance, then mission is lost. Continual conversion refers to this movement back to mission.
In many cases on many ecclesial and theological issues, he advocates a moderate position, but this only appears to be one mitigated by his resolve to movement from within existing ecclessiastic structures, rather than disbandonment and new ventures.
There is much to be contemplated in this writing that is worthwhile to reflect on even if one is not of the author's theological posture or without accepting his proposed remedies. Although careful to provide definitions, what is omitted from them and what is taken back at places where one felt good was given must be carefully discerned.
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