Monday morning after logging my menu selection and discussing Bosnia with my waitress, I began to dig into Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church. I’ve not had much time with it this week, so I’ve only ingested the introduction and chapter one… but I found myself jotting down an inordinate number of notes and quotes for so brief a sample, and yesterday when I tweeted “Those who miss the missional renaissance will find themselves rendered irrelevant to the movement of God in the world. — Reggie McNeal” it proved to be good retweet material. (Paraphrased from p.17 for the sake of a 140-character limit.)
When my review copy arrived in the mail last week, it contained a three-page press release and suggested interview questions about the book, packaged by McNeal’s PR firm. The release contained the sentence, “McNeal is an expert on the missional church whose bestseller The Present Future is the definitive work on the movement.” I don’t know — I seem to grasp the movement fairly clearly, yet I’ve never read The Present Future. Still, a lot of people have and it is recommended highly by notable people. As for “definitive,” I suggest that given the number of definitions, too many people still haven’t gotten the message. At any rate, the statement is the kind of “Big Claim™” that publicists are wont to write, so I’m going to just let it go.
Besides, there’s another point to be made. Recently I was discussing blogged book reviews with someone who suggested that there seems to be a dearth of books about which everyone can blog excitedly and/or favorably — at least for those of us in the emerging/missional conversation, and it was wondered whether all the blogging about books we aren’t passionate about was negatively influencing the conversation. The last rave book recalled was Frost & Hirsch’s The Shaping of Things to Come. Even with TSOTTC though, I found I was reading a lot of familiar material, ideas I’d already had but not put into words or had done so differently. Not to short-sell it, TSOTTC is pretty much required reading, along with Darrel Guder’s GOCN volume, Missional Church. A more recent possibility might be Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence, which I had just finished reading when McNeal’s book arrived (good timing) and about which I have more to say.
Now it’s really too early to tell — I’m only a tenth of the way through the book — but McNeal’s Missional Renaissance just may prove to be one such book. And I’m inclined to compare Tickle and McNeal somewhat. Tickle’s book is largely one about emergence and the emerging church, while McNeal’s is specifically about the missional church. Some equate the terms, but I don’t… and the difference between the two books intrigues me. I find myself drawing comparisons like these:
- Emerging Church: the world has changed
- Missional Church: the world is changing
- Emerging Church: theological responses (shifts) adapting to cultural change
- Missional Church: cultural change requires theological / ecclesiological responses
- Emerging Church: postmodern context
- Missional Church: timeless context, currently postmodern
- Emerging Church: controversial theology, misunderstood practice
- Missional Church: non-controversial practice, misunderstood theology
Of course, generalizations like these are almost too sweeping to be in any way helpful, and the emerging/missional church has a lot of overlap where the best and/or worst of the above contrasts converge. Differences like these, however, will shape the way Tickle and McNeal approach their subject. And isn’t it interesting — the comparative metaphors chosen are the Reformation (Tickle) and the Renaissance (McNeal). I enjoyed and recommend Phyllis Tickle’s book, yet my strongest lingering doubt about her thesis is this: “are we really there yet?” I don’t know, and as I’ve said elsewhere, history will be the judge, not me — or us. But renaissance is something different, and I think it’s actually a very accurate description of where we are. And besides, I sorta like the idea of being called a Renaissance Man. ;^)
For more on Reggie McNeal and this particular book: Missional Church Movement — The Next Big Thing?. McNeal discusses concepts from the book in the following video:
Certainly I’ll have more thoughts on the matter as I give the whole thing more consideration on the way through McNeal’s book. For now, the floor’s open for your thoughts on the matter — dive on in.