"Disappearing Church" by Mark Sayers. A Review.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Though the picture can be a bit bleak in places, nevertheless the analysis seems right. "Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience" is a 176-page dossier on where we are in the Western moment, and why churches keep missing the mark. As the author states, this book argues "that we cannot solely rely on the contemporary, Western church's favored strategy of cultural relevance, in which Christianity and the church is made "relevant" to secular Western culture" (12). Mark Sayers, senior leader of Red Church in Melbourne Australia, inveterate podcaster and author, pursues his evaluation, while pointing a healthy way forward. He writes in an easy fashion that makes this volume a straightforward read that can be comfortably knocked out on a Sunday afternoon, but will change what you see and perceive for a long time to come.
In a nutshell, Sayers sees the West as having moved into a metamodern moment that is becoming more and more puritanical in its obsessions with new purity laws, while seeking to deconstruct the old Christian backdrop from it's consciousness. Rightly does the author recognize that our societies have slidden into outright Gnosticism. In 2010 I published my book, "Gnostic Trends in the Local Church" which addressed many of the issues Sayers understands, and so I was delighted to watch him invest many pages and much ink on the subject. The anti-cosmic dualism* of our moment is screaming in our faces, and it is too easy to become deafened by the squall. Further, he correctly warns us that "mating our faith with Gnosticism can create a more sophisticated implicit prosperity gospel." Which means that we "do not recognize the way in which the implicit prosperity gospel affects us until our unspoken expectations are not met. Then the true extent of our belief is revealed" (82-3). The author's suggested remedies may well surprise many. They deeply challenge the siren strains that melodically beckon heedless hearts with yearnings for acceptance, achievement and acclaim.
"Disappearing Church" is a prime read for church leadership, and congregants. By putting this volume in the reading queue, book groups will not be disappointed nor will ministerial associations. And individual ministers will be enriched and find ways to reengage with their primary vocation. I highly recommend the book.
*What is anti-cosmic dualism? Very simply it is "body bad, spirit good". It is that mindset that finds the limits and constraints of creation bad in some way - our bodies, sex, the here-and-now, history, tradition, etc. And that what is good is transcending those limitations, remaking oneself in "enlightened" ways, bodily, sexually, historically, etc. In many ways it's the old platonic line that says the body is the prison-house of the soul.
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