Monday, August 24, 2009

Vintage Church: A Review

Mark Driscoll is one of the most polarizing figures in modern Christianity. Among my very small circle of friends, some think he is a dangerous person spreading toxic ideas about Jesus, the Church, and sex. Meanwhile, others hold him in near idolatrous reverence and cling to his every word and emulate his every practice. I don’t know Mark Driscoll, but something tells me that he would likely be the first to admit that both of these extremes are wrong. One thing is certain, and that is that we who do ministry in this generation need to be familiar with Driscoll, for he will certainly be remembered as one who shaped the Christian faith in this era. If we are to familiarize ourselves with Driscoll, we must resist the temptation to understand him by proxy, relying on the caricatures painted of him by his critics. They would have us to believe that Driscoll is a man whose sermons are filled with vulgarity and perversion and that he is out to ruin good churches with dangerous ideas. But if we do the intelligent thing, and read and listen to Driscoll for ourselves, I believe we will come to far different conclusions.

Having many friends who are planting churches under the umbrella of Driscoll’s Acts29 movement, I want to understand their philosophy of ministry and the convictions and assumptions they bring to their task. Having read Vintage Church (co-authored by Driscoll and Gerry Breshears), I have been helped and greatly encouraged. I picked the book up out of curiosity, suspicion, and fear. I put it down after reading it grateful to God for voices like Driscoll in our day.

Aside from its unquestionably tacky cover, Vintage Church ranks among the best overall books on ecclesiology I have come across. It is a wonderful blend of theory and practice, and thoroughly rooted in New Testament truth. Though I may “do church” differently from Driscoll, we agree wholeheartedly on what the church is and what the church should be doing. The book is immensely user-friendly. It is written in easy-to-understand language that is not ashamed of theological jargon, but defines it carefully. It is filled with biblical, historical, and theological insights, all of which are documented carefully in footnotes and indices. It is interspersed throughout with personal testimonies of Driscoll and Breshears about their own successes and failures. Each chapter concludes with a “FAQ-like” question and answer section about the common difficulties encountered in each of the areas addressed.

While each reader is likely to encounter something he or she doesn’t agree with along the way through Vintage Church, even this is profitable for challenging us about why we disagree, and whether our differences are based on biblical convictions or personal preferences. For example, I found Chapter 10 (dealing with Multi-Campus Churches) to be very questionable. As I wrestled with Driscoll’s argument, however, I had to ask myself if my objection to multi-site churches and video-preaching was based on something Scriptural, something assumed, something engrained, or some selfish motive. While I found Driscoll’s argument to based largely on silence and on deductive rather than inductive hermeneutics, I also found that my own position had its share of both as well. In the final analysis, though I remain unconvinced that multi-sites and preaching via satellite is ideal, I am convinced that this is more a personal preference than a biblical conviction and can appreciate my brother’s attempt to reach other through these methods with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Extremely refreshing were the chapters on the Christian Life, the Christian Church, Preaching, Discipline, and the final chapter which emphasizes the need for a focus on urban ministry in our generation. Many will undoubtedly object to some of the ideas found in chapters dealing with church leadership, multi-campus churches, technology, and a few statements made throughout the book about alcohol, it is good to see that even those we do not agree with on every point are striving to build their ministries on the foundation of God’s Word. We can agree to disagree out of regard for one another in humility and mutual submission to the Lordship of Jesus and the authority of His Word. Some of the most practical sections include those on preaching, discipline, love, unity, and technology. The appendix, which features the membership covenant of Mars Hill Church where Driscoll pastors, is helpful for church leaders thinking through what responsibilities ought to be required of their own church members.

Of the hundreds of books I own which have the word “Church” in the title, very few combine theory and practice as effectively as Vintage Church has. Most are either sterilized academic treatments of what the church ought to be (failing to take into account the reality that depraved human beings bring into the system) or are so man-centered that they fail to do justice to the biblical ideals of what Christ intends His church to be. Vintage Church wrestles with Scripture, theology, and church history honestly and practically, demonstrating through testimonies of success and failure how the principles contained within can be applied in each local church.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with all, most, or any of the conclusions drawn in Vintage Church, the book will undoubtedly help church leaders think through important issues that many others seem reluctant to even discuss today. It would be wrong to read this book in order to make one’s church to be a carbon copy of Mars Hill Church. Each pastor has to be himself (not try to be Mark Driscoll), and our churches are not Mars Hill, nor are cities Seattle. But we can glean from this book important truth as we seek to apply these insights into our own local contexts.

I would recommend the book to pastors and church leaders, teachers of church administration, pastoral ministry, and practical theology, and new Christians who are getting their first glimpse of what the church of Jesus Christ should be and do. I would also recommend the book to those who have only learned of Driscoll through critical caricatures. I believe their opinion of him as a person and a pastor will be challenged as they read his own words and see his love for Christ and the church in the pages of this book. I intend to challenge leaders in my own congregation to read the book with discernment in order to discover what we need to learn to be and do all to which God has called us. My hope is that soon it will be available in paperback to make it more affordable and accessible to the average reader. While it is certainly worth every cent of the $22 cover price, a cheaper edition would certainly increase its circulation to those for whom the price is an obstacle.


Eddo said...

You lost me at "Unquestionably Tacky Cover" - what exactly is tacky about it? I own the DVD series and the cover and all the graphic art pieces that pull the set together is awesome. Is there some particular detail you find tacky?

Russ Reaves said...

Thankful that you only objected to that one point! A little background ... when I read books, I wear them out; I am rough on the bindings, I mark all over the pages, they get banged around in my bag every day, etc. So, I always remove the dustjacket from hardbacks. Have you seen what this book looks like under the jacket? Oh my!!! It is shelves full of all the tacky junk sold in Christian bookstores since 1950, including but not limited to coffee mugs, "praying bears", bumper stickers, saint statues, etc. Having worked many years in a Christian bookstore, I have come to despise "Christian Kitsch". I think when some people think of Christians, they think of this kind of stuff. I think the authors/publishers had a good sense of humor/irony/sarcasm in choosing this for the cover, but it was downright embarrassing to carry the thing around without the jacket. I bought one of those stretchy covers for it. But DON'T JUDGE THE BOOK BY THE COVER, right? Its a great book.