I recently read John Armstrong’s new book Your Church Is Too Small. It’s not an denigration of small churches or a defense of mega-churches, but more of a call to recognize and participate in the Mega-est Church: the unity of the Body of Christ across denominational lines.
Ever since Jesus prayed for the unity of his followers in John 17, most Christians have thought unity in the church is a great idea, but when it comes time to discuss what that unity ought to look like or how it should be embodied concretely, there seem to be as many ideas as there are denominations.
Essentially Armstrong’s book is a call for Christians and churches to commit to a relational unity with one another, based not on denominational affiliation or doctrinal distinctives, but in the mission of God, the person of Jesus Christ, and the ancient ecumenical creeds. In basing unity in ancient tradition, he is not setting aside or downplaying Scripture at all. “The visible church must be rooted in Scripture,” he writes, “But the great traditions of historical, incarnational, and confessional Christianity all flow from Scripture and the life of the church. Scripture alone, without human life and community consensus, is subject to every whim and fancy.” One need only look at how cult leaders use Scripture to justify their actions to see how Scripture without tradition can be dangerous.
I share Armstrong’s passion about the importance of the Great Tradition, and have often run into the same arguments against tradition he mentions. His book does a great job of explaining the importance of tradition to evangelicals who are suspicious of it. “I do not wish to overdramatize my point,” he writes, “but evangelicalism’s two-hundred-year approach to tradition has been an unmitigated disaster” (130). Just imagine what that sentence would have said if Armstrong was prone to overdramatization!
At its core, Armstrong’s book argues that the church’s unity is “our greatest apologetic,” and thus one of the most important issues facing the church in the 21st century. He tackles the thorny issues surrounding this topic with aplomb, but I think the most important move he makes is recognizing that the missional movement has the potential to join churches together in unity. He calls this missional-ecumenism, and it bases unity in the church joining in with what Jesus Christ is doing in seeking and saving the lost. Rooted in the thinking of early missional and ecumenical theologians like John Mott and Lesslie Newbigin, Armstrong calls for a relational unity among Christians rooted in the missio Dei (mission of God).
It is interesting and inspiring to read about Armstrong’s journey from strict doctrinal denominationalism into missional-ecumenism. My hunch is that for those who have been part of the missional movement for awhile, most of Armstrong’s claims will seem uncontroversial and obvious. But for those with similar backgrounds to Armstrong’s, this book could be a powerful and helpful tool for the church to be able to more concretely embody the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17. I highly recommended this book to you.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
John H. Armstrong says
What a fine review. I am so pleased, especially since I read your blogs faithfully and have become quite fond of them and your keen mind and passionate heart for Christ and his kingdom. Thanks for doing me this great honor Ben. I do hope we meet sooner than later.
Ben Sternke says
I hope so, too, John. Thanks for writing this book!