Missio Dei: In the Crisis of Christianity. Nashville: Cold Tree Press, 2007. 116 pp. $10.95..
Fred Peatross ministers to a traditional church in the fellowship of the Churches of Christ in Huntington, West Virginia. His other writings include Tradition, Opinion, and Truth: The Emerging Church of Christ (iUniverse, 2000) and articles and interviews for Wineskins.org.
Peatross’s purpose in Missio Dei is to provide a primer on what it means to be a missional church for those who have lived their faith lives in established, conventional churches. The content relies heavily on authors in the emerging church movement, particularly Alan Hirsch (The Forgotten Ways, Baker, 2007) and Michael Frost (Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture, Hendrickson, 2006).
Peatross’s beginning point is recognizing that Christianity in the West has lost its place as society’s centerpiece and is now a marginalized influence, often irrelevant to the emerging culture. Established churches have typically reacted to this dramatic disconnect from their societal neighbors by turning inward, developing a protective mindset to minimize moral and numeric erosion.
The alternative Peatross leads the reader toward is to leave the established, attractionally-based church behind and launch into the new, explorative mode of the missional church. The emerging, missional church will be defined by two primary characteristics: (1) a focus on kingdom growth over church growth as a missional measure and (2) an emphasis on birthing new gospel communities over resurrecting or revitalizing established churches. The theological impetus for this decision is summarized in Jesus’ parable of new wineskins for new wine (Matt 9:16-17) and God as a sending God (John 20:21).
This brief introduction (92 pp.) to missional thinking ends with some practical “lessons learned” that call exploring Christians to live their lives intentionally in the context of those who are not Christians. In this way the leavening influence of faith can seep into contexts of unbelief.
Peatross writes with a gentle spirit, and he will help any reader develop their love for those who do not yet live in relationship with Jesus. Missio Dei provides a brief, reasonably coherent introduction to the reader who is uninitiated into the stream of missional church literature, which is this book’s best use. For readers who are already familiar with Hirsch, Frost, or Brian McLaren, Missio Dei will add little to either their comprehension or practice.
Two points call into question the validity of Missio Dei as a book to recommend to serious readers. First, Peatross bases much of this work on the assertion that Christianity has been on a 250-year decline (10). This assertion comes across as naive in the face of the evidence provided by the eminent historian of world Christianity, Kenneth Scott Latourette, who describes the century of 1815-1914 as “The Great Century,” characterized by “abounding vitality and unprecedented expansion” (A History of Christianity, vol. 1 [San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1975], vii).
The second point is the curious absence of any discussion of worldview as a reason for the disconnect between existing churches that were planted to reach and minister to 20th-century people and the rising 21st-century people who think in a different worldview arena. Peatross hints at this in his discussion of online social networks but fails to bring the reader to an appreciation of why internet realities are important.
Stanley E. Granberg
Executive Director, Kairos Church Planting
Portland, Oregon, USA
Harding University Graduate School of Religion
Memphis, Tennessee, USA