Saturday, February 16, 2008

Book Review: The New Conspirators

Paternoster sent me a manuscript of a forthcoming book to be published later this month (by IVP in the US). So I have the delightful privilege of reviewing Tom Sine's, The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time.

You may have heard of Sine, as I did, through his earlier book, Mustard Seed vs. McWorld: Reinventing Life and Faith for the Future, or perhaps you did through his bestseller: The Mustard Seed Conspiracy (Word 1981). If you have never heard of him, Sine is adjunct professor for Fuller Theological Seminary in Seattle, has a Ph.D. in history (with a minor in 'futures study' from the University of Washington) and is an engaging, politically aware and 'spiritually deep' author. Turning the first page I expected something good, but The New Conspirators exceeded my expectations.

About the book: It is divided into four 'conversations' (a much more trendy word than 'chapter'!). Each 'conversation' is filled with stories, information about specific groups, (sometimes very) personal reflection etc., and is consequently easy to read at the same time as being thoroughly informative.

Conversation I, 'Taking the New Conspirators Seriously', overviews four 'imaginative new expressions of life, church and mission' (11), namely the following four streams

  • emerging (including analysis of the importance of blogs!)
  • missional (those influenced profoundly by Lesslie Newbigin's book, Gospel in a Pluralist Society, and works such as The Missional Church etc.)
  • mosaic (defined as 'multicultural churches reaching out to a new generation' - 11)
  • monastic (the Northumbria and Iona communities, the Franciscans, Word Made Flesh [WMF], etc) - I sensed, perhaps wrongly, that Sine feels particular sympathy with this stream.

Conversation II, 'Taking the Culture Seriously' functions as a tour of the post 9/11 world, examining particularly globalisation and how it affects the life of faith. He writes with pressing concern:

'Not only does this imperial global economy claim to define what is ultimate, I believe it is increasingly colonizing the imaginations of peoples all over our planet to buy into its notions of what constitutes the good life and better future. No wonder that many of Islamic faith are concerned. And we should be to' (39)

He is firmly convinced that there is a 'religious' battle 'for the hearts and minds of the next generation', with the new global economy challenging the practices and beliefs of ancient faith communities, both offering incompatible and competing hopes and eschatologies. In examining these matters, and others like global consumerism, he seeks to understand how the four streams detailed in the first 'conversation' respond to the issues at hand.

Conversation III, 'Taking the Future of God Seriously', is an impassioned re-evaluation of popular eschatologies that have gripped the church in the West. It seeks to offer a more robust, biblical and practical eschatological vision, by focusing on the inauguration of the kingdom of God. Eschatology and the Christian hope, he quite rightly insists, is not just about 'going to heaven when you die', but about the recognition of 'another world that is already here' (66). Drawing upon the work of the likes of Wright (peace be upon him), Moltmann, Brueggemann etc., he looks through important Scriptures and places special emphasises on the importance of such (often neglected and/or misunderstood) matters as 'resurrection' 'evil', 'empire', 'judgement' etc.

Conversation IV, 'Taking the Turbulent Times Seriously', is an attempt to outline ways in which traditional churches, as well as those outlined in 'Conversation I', can think creatively and prophylactically about 'new challenges before they fully arrive on our doorsteps' (13). Given his minor in 'futures study', he details what he thinks are likely to be the challenges that will confront the church in the next 10 to 15 years. Rightly, he emphasises such matters as the abuse of the environment, the growing gap between the world's rich and poor, the challenges facing 'the imperilled poor' (107), homelessness, the specific concerns of the Western poor, the likely situation for the middle classes, soaring healthcare costs, the role of global power, the precarious situation of the church in the West, the coming mission funding crisis, etc., and discusses some ways that have been attempted of empowering individuals and communities to make a difference.

Conversation V, 'Taking our Imagination Seriously' is another global tour, this time introducing people who are finding new and creative ways of living in the inaugurated kingdom of God in their changing worlds. While not simply for novelty's sake, he invites us in this section to ignite our imaginations, to become innovators in the kingdom of God. The chapter starts with the question:

'Are you ready to join the new conspirators in imagining and creating new approaches to whole-life faith, community and mission that engaged the new challenges and give creative expression to that world that is already here?' (133)

This section is simply packed with practical wisdom and advice, dotted, as throughout the book, with inspirational stories. To be honest, I think that this 'conversation' is itself worth the 'price of admission'. Rather appropriately, the book ends with an index of organisations to pursue thoughts. In other words, this book is far from being a theoretical manual about various new types of church, or a theoretical reconsideration of eschatology. It is a profoundly practical call to live as followers of Christ in changing cultures.

At the end of each section he supplies a number of questions appropriate to the material in each 'conversation' such that the book can be used for groups.

'The New Conspirators' is the sort of book that I will find myself returning to in order to facilitate my thinking and stimulate my imagination as I seek, together with family and friends, to live with and for Christ and to express the inaugurated kingdom of God. I may prefer to understand some of the Bible passages Sine refers to slightly differently, and as more historically contingent to the story of Israel, but what he offers is, I think, an appropriate handling of these scriptures in light of today. For example, I am not so sure that 'kingdom of God' really means what Sine seems to think it does. I don't think we can translate the phrase one-on-one with 'social reform' today (I blame a certain Andrew Perriman for that insight). However, what he invests in the phrase 'kingdom of God' is a, I think, very appropriate reading of the term for today's 'scene' in the drama of God's dealings with creation, in which we all participate. Part of Sine's political vision reminded me of the sort of project outlined in Walsh and Keesmaat's Colossians Remixed, and, well, I'm not yet totally convinced. However, Chris Tilling talking about politics is like Rambo talking about Haiku, so I won't continue that line of thought. These (in practice small) points aside, The New Conspirators is a book written to help facilitate the implied readers live lives according to the gospel of God, a task in which Sine excels, and in my opinion more than succeeds.



At 2/17/2008 5:36 PM, Anonymous One of Freedom said...

That looks like a book I definitely need for my research. Thanks for the heads up!

At 2/17/2008 9:18 PM, Anonymous Brian said...

Yea for Fuller NW! - I went there for a year before transferring over to AGTS though I didn't take a class from Sine.


Post a Comment

<< Home