Truths Undergirding the Church as Apologetic
The two key truths undergirding the book are gospel and community. Gospel is the revealed message of truth about Jesus Christ. We must proclaim the gospel. But it is also a message that forms a new community, the church. The authors want to remind us that we are the hermeneutic of the gospel for the unbelieving world. We are the hermeneutic not merely at a personal level, or even at a family level, but at a corporate level. Chester and Timmis explain:
The Holy Spirit brings the church into existence through the gospel word. Through that same gospel word he continues to change people so that they become less lovers of self and more lovers of God and others….As non-Christians are exposed to this dynamic, they begin to see that the gospel word is more than a set of propositions to be assented to. They see it as the very power of God for healing and wholeness, as the word that brings life and blessing.
They don’t deny the sovereignty of God in salvation. Rather they argue that it is God’s purpose for the church to be a hermeneutic of the gospel for the unbelieving world.
To their credit, they call us to a biblically informed high standard of gospel community. They do so without falling into an abstract idealism. Sinners fill the church; we aren’t yet perfected people. The thing is: we don’t witness to our works, but to the grace of God. That grace takes concrete expression in repentance and forgiveness. This honest challenge is compelling to me. It calls us to a higher standard then we often allow for ourselves. But it does so in a way that fits with real life.
How the Church as Apologetic Can Work
The book challenged me most about what it means to be the church in an unbelieving world. When you believe that God became man to deliver people from the disaster of sin and death, you believe in a God on a mission. As His people, we are part of that mission. Especially as Americans, it has been easy for us to view our part in exclusively individualistic terms. Total Church argues for a more community-oriented understanding.
What would such a community-oriented witness look like in practice? For one thing, it would include inviting non-believing friends to experience something of the Christian community.
People often tell me how they have tried telling their unbelieving friend about Jesus, but they just do not seem interested. So they want to know what to do next. My answer is to find way of introducing them to the Christian community.
Such an approach will also require what the authors call “gospel intentionality.” Basically it means a commitment to mission through ordinary life. But it definitely includes aiming to open the Bible, and to discuss the person of Jesus with people. The idea is to bring together your non-believing friends with the believers in your church. The authors give several examples of the shape that might take. It’s as diverse as the lives of the believers.
The book has me thinking about how to bring together my non-Christian friends and neighbors with my church family. I think one reason this makes such a strong impression on me is that it doesn’t offer a technique or method. Rather it calls us to our God-given purpose. It’s a purpose that must go beyond the personal. The church isn’t merely an optional appendage to the calling of mission; it’s essential.
I recommend this book. If you are a Cornerstone member, I hope you’ll read it. If you are a believer, you will respect the authors unwavering commitment to Scripture’s authority. I hope, like me, it will challenge you to understand and practice the church as essential in God’s purpose. Sinners fill the church, but that doesn’t undermine the church as apologetic. But it requires that in humility we admit our need and seek grace from Christ. We also will need to seek and give forgiveness with one another.
One caution: if you are an introvert, you might read the book and come away with the idea that you can’t possibly ever be a faithful Christian when it comes to mission. I don’t believe that is the case at all. I think you can apply the authors’ principles; it may just look a little different from the examples provided. As you work through how the principles should apply, you might find the following link helpful: http://www.introvertedchurch.com.