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The Spirit of Christ and The Postmodern City. Asbury Theological Seminary Series in World Christian Revitalization Movements 2. Lexington, KY: Emeth Press, 2009. 256 pp. $34.00..
As a theologian, church planter, and urban missionary, Viv Grigg explores the question, “What is the relationship of the Spirit of Christ to the transformation of a postmodern city?” (10). The resulting work is of more than theoretical value: it ultimately introduces us to new and challenging conversations that will activate “transformational revival” in individuals and ultimately in groups great and small, public and private.
The book is divided into three parts: Framing the Conversation; Goals of Postmodern City Transformation; and Processes of Citywide Transforming Revival. The overall organization of the book is good. Each chapter builds easily upon the one prior and gives a sense of closure while also inviting the reader to further reflection.
The first section develops a theological framework for the study and introduces the “transformational conversation hermeneutic.” Several questions are posed, including:
Books could be filled with analysis and dissection of these questions (and many have been), but this book does not indulge the intrigued. The author’s hermeneutics regarding the nature of God, per these guiding questions, set the course for this study, though mostly as guides, not as the destination. This section closes by providing additional framework, which is spent defining terminology and outlining the cultural and structural setting of the study’s case city—Auckland, New Zealand.
The middle section outlines the results that one can expect of a postmodern city touched with transformational revival. A second, “ideal,” city is introduced in this section. If transformational revival is the goal, then the socio-economic structure of a city that drinks of the river of life flowing through it will resemble another city of Scripture—the City of God. With “universal affirmation of the metanarratives portrayed” (62) in Genesis 1-11 the author explores several characteristics that any city transformed by the Spirit will possess. Drawing upon the nature of God, any city of God will then reflect these divine qualities: urban development marked by linear process and new growth; creativity produced by innovation and design; media and learning as cities liberated with communication; good[ness] as cities filled with value and aesthetics; community reflecting both authority and equality; structure as cities founded with purpose and justice. Posing the question of “transformation into what?” it is with these preceding characteristics that conversational engagement can take place within the postmodern city.
The third and final section of the book deals with the process through which transformational revival can be realized. Grigg first explores characteristics of past revivals in Auckland and then extrapolates them for the postmodern city. He gives nineteen transforming revival principles, beginning with the precondition of transforming revival, all the way to cultural revitalization. In between lies a progressive course of transforming revival that must move from individual to small group, from small group to wider structure, and from wider structure to whole culture. This final section is the heart of the study, as Grigg provides not just action steps but actual illustrations of these transformational revival principles in practice.
What I thoroughly enjoyed about this work is how the author donates a fresh perspective of missional thought and praxis to the growing number of homogeneous contributions on the subject. As our cities, cultures, and languages evolve, it is essential that our conversation does as well. While the church has a unique responsibility in the process of urban revival and transformation, I find it rejuvenating that the author emphasizes a highly pro-outward response. Incarnate and missional principles apply at every level of transformative revival; the church is to bring the conversation to the source of stagnated life. This book not only presumes an incarnational (“living theology”) approach to missions, it leaves little room for an alternative way forward in a postmodern society.
As a mission leader in Auckland, I feel particularly kindred to the direction and scope of this book. Where I cannot speak with certainty that the principles in this book will translate fully in every postmodern city, I do sense they are well measured and finely tuned to Auckland.
Though relevant, this scholarly book could be shorter, as some of the points could have been made just as effectively with more conciseness. I did not find the graphs and figures very helpful, nor the author’s numerous (54) injections of cameos into the body of text. Regarding the former, I felt they aided my understanding of the subject matter very little, and a few of the figures did not seem to correspond to the outline of text very precisely. Concerning the latter, they were disruptive to the flow.
I wanted to dance after finally finishing the book (and I did brag of this accomplishment to my colleagues), but over time I found myself more challenged and introspective, and perhaps a little fatigued. Even still, this book is a worthy addition to the conversation about world missions in postmodern cities, and though it may represent just a sliver of the pie, it has whetted my appetite and has me craving more of this beautiful and challenging dialogue.
Auckland, New Zealand