It is true we are living in changing times. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch not only recognize this as a historical truth, but they offer a theological proposition for what the authors consider the impending irrelevance of the current church. Indeed quite an indictment, the theological judgment is coupled with an offer of a major shift in thinking for the Christian church of the West. This book is an Australian perspective on the current state of the Western church that both bites and instructs (or what many theologians mean by "informs").
Frost and Hirsch build their argument by declaring their own orthodoxy, and yet the book is really written to promote "emerging missional communities" that are not particularly concerned with orthodoxy. Say Wha? The book is intended to give legitimacy to the emerging church and to justify its role in missiology by providing a vocabulary for the current praxis. The authors construct their line of reasoning by surveying what they call the Christendom church, the church as has existed from Constantine up to the present day, and then exposing the inherent weaknesses and growing irrelevance in that approach. After a quick overview of what the authors define as biblical Christianity, they promote an alternative post-Christendom church that is radically different from Constantine's baby.
The authors unabashedly borrow terms from a wide variety of theological camps to support their proposition that Christendom-thinking has almost died, laying in the casket already and stinking. By identifying with the postmodern culture, the authors instead advocated a "wholesale change in the way Christians are doing and being the church" (ix). The book is not intended to be prescriptive, but the authors do cite many current models in their advocacy for the creativity they say is necessary to reach post-Christendom.
To build their argument further, Frost and Hirsch define Christendom-thinking (remember Constantine?) by discussing four of its main elements. First, the traditional church has been an attractional model where lost people are asked to come to a building to find Christ. Second, there has been a dualistic framework for separating the sacred from the secular. As such, Christendom has placed a premium on sacred places for meeting. Third, the Christendom model is hierarchal with a separation of clergy and laity. Fourth, even the sacraments have become institutionalized and have lost their meaning.
The authors counter this irrelevant model with a post-Christendom church model. Instead of being attractional, Frost and Hirsch advocate a missional approach with the church going to the lost instead of asking them to come to church. They also advocate neutral space where lost people can be met in a nonthreatening environment. They say that average Christians should lead the ministry of the church instead of relying on a hierarchal system of authority. And they promote a messianic or Hebraic renewal of Christianity's initial roots to discover the deeper meaning behind the sacraments.
Part of what the authors promote is valid. The traditional church has indeed lost its understanding of meaning behind the tradition. But to advocate a radical overhaul of the church might be considered reckless, rebellious, and redundant (that would preach if I had a poem to close with). Frost's and Hirsch's argument is paradoxical at worst and a wake up call for the church at best.
Some of what the authors promote is reckless. To abandon the entire historical church model on the whims of one emerging culture might not be warranted. Granted the church should adapt the medium to reach the current generation, but the authors philosophically identify the medium as the message, so I think there is perhaps some confusion as to what defines the church at its core, the true biblical functions of the church and the reality of the gospel message.
The authors could also be accused of rebellion. Rebellion can be revolutionary (see Lenin). Rebellion could also be mutinous (see Bligh). Rebellion can also be foundational for a new identity (see Tea Party). I simply wonder if the great majority of Christian history needs corrective action versus switching sides.
Much of what the authors promote is redundant. Although the book is sprinkled with various diagrams and charts to identify the church and culture, it seems that most of the information presented is simply an integration of ideas from current social sciences. Their vocabulary is definitely fresh, but it seems that nothing the authors endorse is new to a healthy historical and biblical church model. The church has never previously used the term "not yet Christians," for example, but they have used the term prospects. Even their APEPT five-fold ministry formula is in reality an adaptation of the Pauline teaching method in Ephesians.
It is true that an unhealthy imbalance has been generated as the church has historically ignored apostolic and prophetic leadership, but to say that it has been nonexistent is to be naive to Christian history. Therefore, the authors' arguments should not fall upon deaf ears in the West, but it should be read within a larger historical perspective. For this reason the book has some valid missiological implications for planting churches cross-culturally.
However, perhaps the greatest fault of the book is the potential to fall into the same snare for which it denounces the traditional church. Christendom established a certain mode of doing church. The authors identify both a new model and new mode for doing church, and almost in an either-or approach, they say the West should jump off the old wagon and onto the new. Even if the main points of the argument are valid, Frost and Hirsch would do well to balance their new vision with a broader historical perspective.