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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"On the Block" (Doug Logan)

TITLE: On the Block: Developing a Biblical Picture for Missional Engagement
AUTHOR: Doug Logan
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (202 pages).

What good is a Church mission if missions are only delegated to a subcommittee or a few gifted individuals who say they are called? How sustainable is any mission endeavour without the support of a Church backing? How can a Church witness Christ in the neighbourhood if there is no outreach? In this book about missions in the urban context, author and pastor Doug Logan believes that both the church (ecclesiology) and missions (missiology) need to be simultaneously practiced with Christ as the foundation and purpose of it all. The Church does not exist for itself and Missions cannot be isolated from the Church. The Church has a mission and this mission needs the Church. Logan puts it this way: "Our Christology drives us to be missiological ecclesiologists and ecclesiological missiologists." In other words, when we are in Christ, we live out as Church in mission. He uses four persons as examples to set the stage for this biblical engagement. Since the time of Adam, when Adam sinned, God had already set in motion a redemption plan in Gen 3:15. The story of Nehemiah is not simply about a man but a whole people of God called to build the temple. In Jesus, we see what it means to put the Word into action and to live in the world as people of God. In Paul, we learn about the five ways of addressing the culture of the world.

  1. Unveiling the customs and superstitions of the world
  2. Unveiling the true character of God
  3. Exposing the emptiness of worldliness
  4. Revealing the emptiness of culture
  5. Revealing the truth of Christ's resurrection.
The way of Paul is not attacking but unveiling the cultural values, exposing the errors, and revealing Christ. Logan shows us the challenges of serving in the city of Camden, notorious for being an above average crime city. Using Isaiah 60 as a light of hope, he shares about what it means to serve among the least, the last, and the lost. Not only that, he refuses to accept the dichotomy of us vs them. Mission is for all people, not just any one distinct group. Through the Church, God transforms not just people but communities. That is the essence of the kingdom come. From prayer walking to people talking, we are urged to build indigenous leaders. Using Camden as an example, Logan gradually challenges us to do the same for our own cities. If he through Epiphany Camden could do it, so could we. He knows the challenges that many of us would have to face. Thus he supplies various tips and strategies for us to deal with them. On fear, we learn not to rely on our own bravery but on God's sovereignty. We need to address our fears of reaching out to groups outside of our own. The problem with our lack of strength and conviction of this mission is due to a lack of strength and conviction in God's assurance. There are no 'steps' with regard to mission for God. There is only a full reliance on God alone.

This is a book that challenges us on three fronts. First, it challenges our theology. We may have the best theological knowledge and teaching but until those are put into action, they remain unproven knowledge. Active learners are passionate practitioners. Theology is essentially the application of all branches. In this book, Logan pulls in the essence of ecclesiology with missiology as the purpose of the church. Both are anchored on Christology. They cannot be studied in isolation but to be asserted together. Sometimes, we would do best to go into partnership with churches that complement our lack. For instance, doctrinally strong churches should go partner themselves with socially active communities. 

Second, it challenges our sensitivities and fears. The example of Paul going forth to reach the Gentiles is a particularly relevant. Facing a city of idols and foreign culture, Paul can still manage to engage with them and to reveal Christ in spite of a hostile culture. Conviction guides his conversations. The fear of differences and setbacks will always be there. If we depend solely on our own wisdom and strength, there will be plenty of excuses for us to avoid reaching out to the most needy in our society. The gospel is for all. It does not come with qualifications or exceptions. Christ died for all, not only for certain segments of society. By venturing into Camden, Logan and his Church have proved to us if it is possible for them to minister in a high-crime neighbourhood, how much more for those of us in safer places? 

Third, it challenges our understanding of what it means to be a missional community. A Church that exists only for itself will eventually lose the spiritual luster and meaning of of being a light of the world. We are called to be "new people" not "nice people." He challenges us to meet people where they are; to make disciples of them; to mature each time we gather; and to multiply our mission endeavors. He makes an important clarification of what 'holy living' means. It is not separate from missional living. In fact, missional living is part of holy living. From mending basketball courts to book bag drive, dog breeding to healthy food initiatives, the sky is the limit with regard to outreach. For as long as the heart is willing, nothing is off the table. 

My takeaway as I read this book is about the centrality of the gospel. It is the gospel that shapes our mission, not our contexts or our circumstances. Far too often, we have allowed our tendency to focus on our own weaknesses and our limitations to dominate all discussion of mission. From being too reliant on our own financial resources to the lack of manpower, or the difficulty of the neighbourhood and the endless demands of community work, we have become proficient excuse makers instead of passionate gospel disciples. If our limitations have become the guiding rod of mission, more likely than not, we will not do anything. If the gospel shapes our mission, we will do whatever is necessary to do the work we are called to do. Logan is right. A right view of Church will lead to a proper understanding of mission. The right practice of mission is a result of a holistic understanding of what Church means. This books does not simply expose the human-centered behaviour of culture and churches but exhorts readers to live beyond themselves. For the gospel that is from above is for all people. We who have been privileged to receive it have the obligation to share it. 

Doug Logan is founder and lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship Church of Camden, an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church or America as well as a board member of Thriving and Acts 29 church planting networks.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Moody Publishers without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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