The tendency towards polarization in our society is rampant. We see it perhaps most clearly and prominently in political debates, but it happens all over the place, not the least of which being debates within and about the church. While polarizing voices do tend to get a lot of attention, itâ€™s debatable whether theyâ€™re really all that helpful in any positive, constructive sense.
For that reason, I’m thankful for thoughtful people who know where they stand, but who arenâ€™t intentionally or flippantly divisive about it. Tim Morey, author of Embodying Our Faith: Becoming a Living, Sharing, Practicing Church, is one of those thoughtful voices.
Morey is a pastor and church planter in California, and this book is a reworking of his dissertation from Fuller Seminary. What I so appreciate about the book is that while Morey asks a lot of penetrating questions (â€œIs a church really a church if it exists only for itself?â€?) he goes about the task humbly, without any apparent axe to grind. He seems genuinely concerned with helping the church – his own and the North American church more broadly – to become, as the subtitle says, a living, sharing, practicing church. His is a high ecclesiology without ever slipping into the realm of wishful thinking.
Morey writes as one who at one point walked away from the church before coming back to make pastoring and church planting his lifeâ€™s work. This gives his perspective and insight some added legitimacy, in my opinion. He understands and empathizes with those in our â€œpost-Christianâ€? culture who have left the church or simply see no reason for it, but he is also deeply committed to help bring them back. Or, perhaps more accurately, he is committed to helping the church go to them. He takes up Lesslie Newbiginâ€™s plea for the necessity of being a missionary church to our own Western culture and urges us to develop an â€œembodied apologeticâ€? rather than a merely rational one.
Importantly, while urging us to embrace the â€œwholeâ€? gospel through an embodied apologetic including both compassion and evangelism as the fabric of our life, he warns that we run the risk of losing sight of the simple core of Christâ€™s teaching: discipleship. Highly rational, propositional evangelistic approaches – arguably the norm in evangelical churches – have tended to de-emphasize the importance of what’s supposed to happen between conversion and death. Many of us are guilty of a sort of bait-and-switch evangelism in which we offer a fire insurance policy for free and only later share the fine print about what is expected of us as Christians, disciples of Jesus. Alternately, others of us have tended to focus on compassion but never get around to what it is that’s uniquely Christian about our activity.
Morey comes to basically the same conclusion I have been coming to of late: discipleship entails a life in which compassion for others (regardless of need) and a call to conversion (most often a process rather than an event) are but two parts of a seamless whole.
Though he might have turned more heads and sold more books by taking sides in the hot-button theological debates of today, Morey has chosen the better way. He engages these pressing issues in a smart yet humble way and, through his example, urges us to move beyond reactionary rhetoric and towards the building up of a more Christ-like community of faith that truly embodies the good news for our neighbors.