08/05/2015

Intelligent Church (by Steve Chalke)

Steve Chalke is the leader of a Baptist church in the UK. He is outspoken in his insistence that God’s love is offered to all, and that faith must be accompanied by social or community action. He’s made some controversial statements in recent years, but this particular book is one he wrote nearly ten years ago, and which was recommended to me some time ago - probably because I enjoyed one of his other books, The Lost Message of Jesus, a few years ago.

‘Intelligent Church’, which I was given for a recent birthday, looks at ways in which the author believes the Christian church should be functioning in the 21st century. Rather than merely following tradition, or taking everything we hear from church leaders as absolute, he recommends that we think for ourselves, and ask questions about how the church can be effective in discipling believers and reaching out to those who do not yet know God.

As such, he focuses on several different aspects of church as he sees it. Some of them are ideals rather than actualities, although in his church he aims to meet all these criteria. He begins by insisting that church must be inclusive - not just of people of all ages and nations, but of all cultures, and (more controversially) all lifestyles. He points out that Jesus mixed regularly with those of his society who were considered outcasts, often sinners of the worst kind, by the priests of the time. We’re called to follow Jesus, and that means reaching out in love rather than condemning those who are different.

The book continues with chapters on church as a messy place without strict boundaries; an honest place where it’s okay to ask questions and be ourselves without masks; a generous church where people give of their time and material resources; a political church, in involving ourselves with the social needs and political agendas of those around us.

Each chapter ends with some practical suggestions as he asks: ‘Yes, but how?’ and then poses some thought-provoking questions to be considered by small groups and church leaders.

The book is clearly written, each point made with Biblical and practical considerations. There are some anecdotes relating to the author’s own experiences - both positive and negative - although at times I found the style a little dry. I had to concentrate, sometimes, to take in what was being said, and re-read paragraphs when my mind drifted. I found that one chapter per day was about as much as I could take in.

Still, it made some excellent points, and painted an encouraging picture of how the church could be: a mixture of ordinary people, making mistakes and getting things wrong regularly, but pulling together to build each other up and make positive changes, however small, in their communities. Indeed, I’m not sure there’s any other way that a modern church could be if it’s to appeal to the diversity of people in the world around.

I particularly appreciated the clear difference made between proselytism and conversion, one I hadn’t really spelled out in my mind before, and which made a great deal of sense.

I would recommend this highly to church leaders and home group leaders everywhere.

'Intelligent Church' was first published in 2006 but is still available in paperback form and can also be bought for the Kindle.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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