Book review: Church for Every Context: An Introduction to Theology and Practice, written by Michael MoynaghBook review: God’s Mission and Postmodern Culture: The Gift of Uncertainty, written by John C. Sivalonby Christopher Flanders

Mission Studies


History / Religious studies


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Book Reviews

Michael Moynagh

Church fo r Every Context: An Introduction to Theology and Practice. London, UK, s c m Press 2012. Pp. xxi + 490. £30.00.

John C. Sivalon

God’s Mission and Postmodern Culture: The Gift o f Uncertainty. Maryknoll,

New York, us, Orbis Books 2012. Pp. 160. $28.00.

Though different in approach, these two books are written with a similar con­ text in mind, namely the putative postmodern situation. Both fit squarely into growing literature that attempts to make sense, theologically and ecclesially, of a world that increasingly seems different from modernity.

John Sivalon, a Maryknoll priest who served in Tanzania and now is profes­ sor of theology at the University of Scranton, offers a theological examination of the meaning of Christian mission in a postmodern age. Three major shifts constitute this current postmodern context: changes in politics that have pro­ duced postcolonial awareness; changes in the social sciences that have led to a thoroughgoing ethnorelativism; and Vatican 11, which has broadened and deepened the church’s definition of mission.

Sivalon notes that many Christians categorically reject postmodernism as nihilistic and relativistic, viewing the postmodern as inimical to notions of truth and mission. In contrast, he attempts to demonstrate that postmo­ dernity provides the seedbed that can “breathe fresh insight, vision, and life into Vatican 11’s notion that mission is centered in the very heart of God” (11).

Put another way, by challenging central tenets of modernity, postmoder­ nity opens up rather than shuts down the possibility for faith, particularly a

Trinitarian faith.

Such an approach seriously impacts mission. Drawing upon postmodern hermeneutics, the Trinitarian theology of David Cunningham and Jurgen

Moltmann, and the dynamic dialectic of being and doing inherent in the concept of missio Dei, Sivalon explicates an approach to mission as “set­ ting out into the deep” that requires contemplation and imagination, seek­ ing the Trinitarian will and mission for all of creation. It is one that eschews mission that merely carries out marching orders, operates with a modem © KONINKLIJKE BRILL NV, LEIDEN, 2014 | DOI 10.1163/15733831-12341361 444 BOOK REVIEWS anthropocentric (i.e., merely “saving souls”) or ecclesiocentric (i.e., success by numerical growth) models of mission. Sivalon’s is a vision not conversionist or controlling in the traditional sense. Mission today, he contends, must be imagi­ native, vulnerable, contextual, incarnational, and radically open to the often mysterious work of God in the world. A very helpful part of the book is the series of brief vignettes from Cambodia, Sudan, Guatemala, and Bangladesh, which the author holds out as exemplars of the type of mission he advocates.

The book will likely not convince one not already positively disposed toward the postmodern perspectives upon which Sivalon draws. Indeed, this does not seem to have been a primary goal. It does, however, provide significant posi­ tive resources to engage in the increasingly prominent conversation between postmodemity and mission.

In contrast to Sivalon’s shorter work, Michael Moynagh, director of research for Fresh Expressions, a UK-based organization that encourages and resources new ways of being church, working with Christians from a broad range of denominations and traditions, has produced a lengthy volume offering a theological rationale for new ecclesial expressions in a postmodern context.

Moynagh claims that regardless of one’s opinion of these “new expressions” of church (e.g., church plants, emergent church, fresh expressions, and new missional communities), they are significantly impacting the contemporary church landscape and demand our attention.

The book has four parts. Part I sets the historical stage for understanding the current ecclesial landscape, part n offers a theological rationale for mis­ sion and contextuality of all ecclesial expressions, part I I I focuses on how new contextual churches come into being, and part iv lays out a vision for bringing new contextual churches to maturity. Much of the final chapter attempts to demonstrate productive ways to avoid the criticism that new ecclesial expres­ sions fail to reinvigorate mission, degenerating into a “series of new intricate cul-de-sacs.”

Irenic in tone, this book is a refreshing contrast to some advocating such fresh expressions. The author argues for a “mixed economy,” where new ecclesial forms and the “inherited church” exist side by side in mutual support. The book is full of many concrete examples and is wonderfully comprehensive in scope.

Each chapter contains multiple “For reflection” sections, which extend critical points into contemporary application. Also, each chapter ends with readings for further study and a set of discussion questions. This text will broaden every reader’s comprehension of new contextual churches and will challenge all to think deeply about mission, context, and church. Without a doubt, this will become the standard text for study of new contextual ecclesiology.

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Sivalon’s work is ideal for exploring postmodern thought and mission.

Moynagh’s is an ideal text for a study group and could function well as a text in any seminary or college class on contemporary church, church planting, or mission.

Christopher FLancLers

Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas, us

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