What is the purpose of the church?
It is a question that has been asked and is being asked in clergy offices, in denomination meetings, in seminaries, in homes around the dinner table, in small groups, and in the quiet of clergy minds on a daily basis.
It is a question that is being answered through many books, conferences, seminars, podcasts, scholarly society papers, and in sermons from pulpits in churches large and small.
Asking it generates considerable (and intense) discussion, anxiety, argument, writing, and, if we are honest, revenue.
What about this answer to the question, What is the purpose of the church?
“the church’s role is to be the better place that God has already made in this world…”
It is a response to the question, John C Nugent has made in his book Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church (Cascade Books, 2016)
Laying out the case for what he calls, a “kingdom centered view” Nugent challenges what he considers the three major views of engagement in which the Christian Church operates today:
The Heaven-Centered View which focuses on going to a better place one day
The Human-Centered View which focuses on making this world a better place now
The World-Centered View which focuses on making this world a better place by working to make it so
and then lays out his view, The Kingdom-Centered view that is based on “two fundamental truths”
- “Jesus has already made a better place in this world
- The role of God’s people is to embrace, display, and proclaim this better place.”
To support his belief, Nugent begins at the beginning of scripture and from there walks the reader through his argument of how God, ultimately through Christ, has already made a better place in the world. This journey takes up the second of three main sections of the book where he lays out an Ecclesiology rooted, this reviewer believes, in the Restorationist or Stone-Campbell movement of American Christianity.
In the third section of the book, A Better Place in Action, Nugent addresses the issue of discipleship, leadership, followership, vocation, missions, and the key issue of witnessing to the powers of society, as well as others, as it relates to the Kingdom-Centered view. And a very helpful appendix, in which the numerous questions which come as you read are answered, is included.
This book was hard to engage at first for two reasons. First, it is a book that requires a slower read, because of the depth of writing which is essential in discussing the nature and mission of the church. Second, it has challenged many of my assumptions regarding the role and place of the church in relation to society.
But it turned out to be a very important read because in this day the Church is pressured to do and be many things. And such pressure, demands, even, wear on both members and clergy as they attempt to navigate their mission and ministry through competing claims and suggestions on how to do and be the church.
This book was a breath of fresh air to this reviewer, also a member of the clergy, as it gave me some very serious pause on how the Church is to be the Church in this day and age of programming hype, political activism, and cultural relevance.
It isn’t. It is to be the good news now, in the midst of society, as part of the Kingdom that is here and now and is to come.
I liked this book because it provided me with an in depth reflection of my own assumptions regarding the Church and its ministry. It would be a great addition to undergraduate, graduate, and seminary classes as well as for church leaders.
I gave this book a four-star rating on Goodreads.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.