Culture / Formation / Global Church / Theology / Witness

The Missio Alliance Essential Reading List of 2017

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What does it look like to be faithful witnesses to Christ’s coming Kingdom in North America today? How can we reflect theologically on the cultural trends emerging in the world around us? In what ways must we be formed to bear forth the image of God into our culture? How must our imaginations and minds be transformed to see God so that we might understand what He is doing in this place?

These are the kinds of conversations Missio Alliance exists to foster. To that end, we have invited a diverse group of theological practitioners to offer their voices and perspectives alongside one another in the areas of theology, culture, formation, global church, and witness.

But we are a community undergoing our own process of exploration, learning, and growth that relies on voices and work beyond our Missio Alliance community. So at the end of each year, our editors and Writing Team compile a list of our favorite books published within the previous year—books that have guided us in careful thinking, shaped our imaginations, imparted deeper insight, and inspired us to fuller participation in God’s mission.

With so many different criteria that could be used to decide what constitutes the top books of the year, what ultimately determined the books in our list was a shared sense among our Writing Team and Editors that these books stood out in the following ways:

  1. They contribute something important to the conversation about being the church for God’s mission in post-Christian North America.
  2. They excel in championing the intersection of theological reflection and ministry practice.
  3. They offer a needed and irenic exploration of a crucial issue facing the Church in North America.
  4. They have been published in the last 12-15 months.

If you’re looking for books that seek to advance a theologically robust, diverse, & hopeful vision for evangelical witness amid the challenges & opportunities facing the North American Church in the 21st Century, we think these should be at the top of your list!

If you’re looking for books that advance a theologically robust, diverse, & hopeful vision for evangelical witness, we think these should be at the top of your list! Click To Tweet

In alphabetical order and accompanied by the publishers blurb…

Top 15 Essential Reads of 2017

1. 5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ by Alan Hirsch, 100 Movements Publishing

In the pages of this book, Alan Hirsch takes us on a really deep dive into the fivefold (APEST) typology of ministry as articulated in Ephesians 4:1-16, but he takes us to a depth and scope that few (if any) have ventured before. By laying out the most comprehensive model of APEST to date—one that incorporates deep theology as well as innovative practice—Hirsch once again demonstrates an almost uncanny capacity to change not only the nature and content of conversation itself, but also the scorecard on how we understand calling, church, leadership, and organization.

With remarkable passion, and with Scripture as his guide, Alan Hirsch delves ever deeper into the symphony that is God’s church. More than practical, 5Q really informs and inspires. Slowly, as we read, the five-fold gifting unfolds as visible in all creation, a masterpiece of God’s marvelous design, magnificent to behold. David Fitch

More than practical, Hirsch's 5Q really informs and inspires. Click To Tweet

2. Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology by James KA Smith, Baker Academic Publishing

In this culmination of his widely read and highly acclaimed Cultural Liturgies project, James K. A. Smith examines politics through the lens of liturgy. What if, he asks, citizens are not only thinkers or believers but also lovers? Smith explores how our analysis of political institutions would look different if we viewed them as incubators of love-shaping practices—not merely governing us but forming what we love. How would our political engagement change if we weren’t simply looking for permission to express our “views” in the political sphere but actually hoped to shape the ethos of a nation, a state, or a municipality to foster a way of life that bends toward shalom?

Negotiating his way through the mass of confusions known as political theology, Smith has written a superb book that develops a constructive and nuanced position in the Reformed tradition. He has done so, moreover, by engaging in conversations with Oliver O’Donovan and Jeff Stout. This is a book that should be read widely by anyone interested in addressing the fundamental questions of church and politics. Stanley Hauerwas

What if we could imagine living in our neighbourhoods in a way that transformed our whole outlook on faith, hope, and love? Preston Pouteaux writes about how an unlikely journey into beekeeping changed how he saw his neighbors. The Bees of Rainbow Falls reminds us that we matter to our community, that goodness is found all around us, and that new life emerges out of the small and sublime. With the quirky curiosity of a beekeeper and the thoughtful care of a pastor, he gently welcomes readers to step into their own neighbourhoods. What if the very best gift was waiting for you just beyond your front door?

Through personal stories and reflections, fascinating historical accounts, and challenging texts and images, Preston encourages and urges us all to re-imagine where we live as the place where God is at work and we are invited to join Him. Read it. Then read it again and share it with others. And most of all, live it! Karen Wilk
Preston encourages and urges us all to re-imagine where we live as the place where God is at work and we are invited to join Him. @KJWilk3 #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

4. Christian Women in the Patristic World: Their Influence, Authority, and Legacy in the Second through Fifth Centuries by Lynn H. Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes, Baker Academic

From facing wild beasts in the arena to governing the Roman Empire, Christian women—as preachers and philosophers, martyrs and empresses, virgins and mothers—influenced the shape of the church in its formative centuries. This book provides in a single volume a nearly complete compendium of extant evidence about Christian women in the second through fifth centuries…showing how their achievements can be edifying for contemporary Christians.


This is a book for every pastor’s and teacher’s bookshelf because it not only tells stories about women but also shows how the early church, which has often been maligned for its reputation when it comes to women, was more formed by women than many know. Scot McKnight

5. Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 and 2 by Gregory Boyd, Fortress Press

A dramatic tension confronts every Christian believer and interpreter of Scripture: on the one hand, we encounter Old Testament stories of God commanding horrendous violence. On the other hand, we read the unequivocally nonviolent teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Reconciling these two has challenged Christians and theologians for two millennia.

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God takes up this dramatic tension and the range of proposed answers in an ambitious constructive investigation. Over two volumes, Gregory A. Boyd argues that we must take seriously the full range of Scripture as inspired, including its violent depictions of God. At the same time, he affirms the absolute centrality of the crucified and risen Christ as the supreme revelation of God.

Here a world is opened up where the violence of the Old Testament becomes not merely tolerable but illumines the God who loves, never coerces, and rejects all violence in Jesus Christ. A monumental work. Breathtaking in scope. A stunning accomplishment from one of the brilliant theological minds of our day. I could not be more thankful for a book. David Fitch

[email protected]_boyd opens up a world where the violence of the Old Testament illumines the God who loves, never coerces & rejects all violence in Jesus Christ. @Fitchest on @greg_boyd #MissioEssentials2017 Click To Tweet

6. God Is Stranger: Finding God in Unexpected Places by Krish Kandiah, InterVarsity Press

Many of us call God our Father, Lord, Friend, and Savior. But when we delve into the perplexing bits of Scripture, we discover a God who cannot be pinned down, explained, or predicted. Is it possible that we have missed the Bible’s consistent teaching that God is other, higher, stranger? Krish Kandiah offers us a fresh look at some of the difficult, awkward, and even troubling Bible passages, helping us discover that when God shows up unannounced, uninvited, and unrecognized, that’s precisely when big things happen. God Is Stranger challenges us to replace our sanitized concept of God with a more awe-inspiring, magnificent and majestic, true-to-the-Bible God.

In this xenophobic age of open vilification toward outsiders, Krish Kandiah presents us with the provocative idea that God often comes to us as a stranger. This is such an important book, reminding us that xenophobia is not only irrational, it is sinful. God’s concern is for the least, the lost, and the left out, and so should ours. Michael Frost

Kandiah presents us with the provocative idea that God often comes to us as a stranger. This important book, reminds us that xenophobia is not only irrational, it is sinful. @michaelfrost6 #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

7. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren, InterVarsity Press

How do we embrace the sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred? Framed around one ordinary day, this book explores daily life through the lens of liturgy, small practices, and habits that form us. Each chapter looks at something―making the bed, brushing her teeth, losing her keys―that the author does every day. Drawing from the diversity of her life as a campus minister, Anglican priest, friend, wife, and mother, Tish Harrison Warren opens up a practical theology of the everyday. Each activity is related to a spiritual practice as well as an aspect of our Sunday worship.

Under Tish Harrison Warren’s insightful gaze, our seemingly ‘boring’ daily routines become a liturgy of their own―calling us to confession and community, Scripture and Sabbath, baptism and embodiment. Greg Jao

Under @Tish_H_Warren insightful gaze, our seemingly 'boring' daily routines become a liturgy of their own. #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

8. Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram by Alice Fryling, InterVarsity Press

“Who in the world am I?” The Enneagram is like a mirror, reflecting dimensions of ourselves that are sometimes hard to see. In this helpful guide, spiritual director and Enneagram teacher Alice Fryling offers an introduction to each number of the Enneagram and the respective triads into which they’re organized. More than just helping us discern our number, Fryling shows how knowing it can lead to transformation by revealing to us both our false and our true selves. With questions for reflection and personal meditations aimed at leading you into deeper self-awareness, Mirror for the Soul will give you new perspective on yourself and reveal how you can experience God’s love more abundantly.

Self-awareness in Christ is one of the most important elements of our transformation. Yet we often construct world views that protect an inner broken self and that perpetuate destructive coping patterns. Understanding these constructions and patterns can release a liberating wellspring of growth and teach us Spirit-led engagement in God’s mission rather than our misguided perceptions. MaryKate Morse

Understanding our broken patterns can release a wellspring of growth & teach us Spirit-led engagement in God’s mission. @marykatemorse #Enneagram #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

9. The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma, InterVarsity Press

It’s clear that issues of race and equality have come to the forefront in our nation’s consciousness. Every week yet another incident involving racial tension splashes across headlines and dominates our news feeds. But it’s not easy to unpack the origins of these tensions, and perhaps we wonder whether any of these issues really has anything to do with us.


For every person who has said, ‘I have a friend who is a person of color,’ or ‘I am not racist,’ or ‘I am not more privileged than anyone else,’ this book is an important read. Without grasping the concept of privilege, it is difficult to grasp the reality and pain of the racial divide in America. Adult small groups, Sunday School classes, book discussion groups would greatly benefit from reading this book. MaryKate Morse

A book for everyone who has ever said 'I am not racist,' or 'I am not more privileged than anyone else' @MaryKateMorse #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

10. Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ by Cynthia Long Westfall, Baker Academic

Respected New Testament scholar Cynthia Long Westfall offers a coherent Pauline theology of gender, which includes fresh perspectives on the most controverted texts. Westfall interprets passages on women and men together and places those passages in the context of the Pauline corpus as a whole. She offers viable alternatives for some notorious interpretive problems in certain Pauline passages, reframing gender issues in a way that stimulates thinking, promotes discussion, and moves the conversation forward. As Westfall explores the significance of Paul’s teaching on both genders, she seeks to support and equip males and females to serve in their area of gifting.

Breaks new ground in a worn out debate by looking at the entire Pauline corpus. Eye-opening! Carolyn Custis James

'Paul and Gender' breaks new ground in a worn out debate by looking at the entire Pauline corpus. @carolynezer #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

11. Race and Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation by David P. Leong, InterVarsity Press

Geography matters. We long for diverse, thriving neighborhoods and churches, yet racial injustices persist. Why? Because geographic structures and systems create barriers to reconciliation and prevent the flourishing of our communities. Race and Place reveals the profound ways in which these geographic forces and structures sustain the divisions among us. Urban missiologist David Leong, who resides in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country, unpacks the systemic challenges that are rarely addressed in the conversation about racial justice. The evening news may deliver story after story that causes us to despair. But Leong envisions a future of belonging and hope in our streets, towns, cities, and churches.

David Leong helps us see how racialized our cities have been historically and how we continue to suffer under these decisions from decades ago. But Race and Place also provides us with concrete steps to live out the good news of justice and shalom in our neighborhoods and communities. Amos Yong

Leong helps us see how racialized our cities have been historically & how we continue to suffer under these decisions. @DrAmosYong #MissioEssentials2017 Click To Tweet

12. Reunion: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints, and Sinners by Bruxy Cavey, Herald Press

Dig into Scripture with Cavey as he unfolds God’s message for the world. Learn why you shouldn’t follow the Bible (but why you’ll want to read it to learn how to follow Jesus). Scout out the real definitions of sin and salvation, which might surprise you. Discover your true citizenship in the Jesus nation, where you might be ready to die for a cause but never willing to kill for one. Glimpse a God who is love itself and who, like it or not, just can’t stop thinking about you.


Bruxy’s book of the gospel articulates the central Christian message in one word, three words, and thirty words grounded in God’s love for the world. This books offers helpful language to think about the gospel and communicate it in a way the empowers saints and attracts sinners. Derek Vreeland

[email protected] offers helpful language to think about the gospel and communicate it in a way the empowers saints and attracts sinners. @DerekVreeland #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

13. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News by Brian Zahnd, WaterBrook Publishing

In his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Puritan revivalist Jonathan Edwards shaped predominating American theology with a vision of God as angry, violent, and retributive. Three centuries later, Brian Zahnd was both mesmerized and terrified by Edwards’s wrathful God. Haunted by fear that crippled his relationship with God, Zahnd spent years praying for a divine experience of hell. What Zahnd experienced instead was the Father’s love—revealed perfectly through Jesus Christ—for all prodigal sons and daughters. Thoughtfully wrestling with subjects like Old Testament genocide, the crucifixion of Jesus, eternal punishment in hell, and the final judgment in Revelation, Zanhd maintains that the summit of divine revelation for sinners is not God is wrath, but God is love.

In his poetic mode, Zahnd invites us to an alternative that is grounded not in ‘Biblicism’ but in the reality of Jesus who embodies the inexplicable love of God that passes all human understanding. Zahnd writes as one emancipated to evangelical joy. He invites his readers to walk with him into such a God-given vocation that honors the God of love and that loves the neighbor. Walter Brueggemann

[email protected] invites us to an alternative that is grounded not in ‘Biblicism’ but in the reality of Jesus who embodies the inexplicable love of God. @WaltBrueggemann #MissioEssentials2017 Click To Tweet

14. Transforming Communities: How People Like You are Healing Their Neighborhoods by Sandhya Rani Jha, Chalice Press

When there’s so much conflict around the country and around the corner, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, powerless, and helpless. What can one person do to make a difference?Here’s the good news. Millions of everyday people are ready to step into their power to transform their communities. And you are one of them. Take heart and be inspired by real stories of ordinary people who took action and changed their corner of the world, one step at a time. Equal parts inspiration, education, and Do-It-Yourself, Transforming Communities by veteran community activist Sandhya Jha will open your eyes to the world-healing potential within you, and give you the vision, the tools, and the encouragement to start transforming your neighborhood, one person at a time.

Protests aren’t enough. And experts can’t fix communities from the outside. If you’re looking for hope amidst the turmoil of our times alongside practical strategies to enhance your own work, read each chapter and take notes in the margins. From innovative prison programs and new church models like Gordon Cosby’s Church of the Saviour, you’ll find inspiration. Rob Wilson-Black

Equal parts inspiration, education, and Do-It-Yourself, Transforming Communities will open your eyes to the world-healing potential within you. #MissioEssentials2017 Click To Tweet

15. White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to be White by Daniel Hill, InterVarsity Press

Daniel Hill will never forget the day he heard these words: “Daniel, you may be white, but don’t let that lull you into thinking you have no culture. White culture is very real. In fact, when white culture comes in contact with other cultures, it almost always wins. So it would be a really good idea for you to learn about your culture.” Confused and unsettled by this encounter, Hill began a journey of understanding his own white identity. Today he is an active participant in addressing and confronting racial and systemic injustices. And in this compelling and timely book, he shows you the seven stages to expect on your own path to cultural awakening. It’s crucial to understand both personal and social realities in the areas of race, culture, and identity. This book will give you a new perspective on being white and also empower you to be an agent of reconciliation in our increasingly diverse and divided world.

Daniel Hill’s personal and deep dive into whiteness, reconciliation, and the dividing lines in our social matrix of race is needed like never before. At a time of ongoing racial weariness and colorblind responses, I’m so grateful for this resource. Allow the transparency and courage of this book to lead you into the needed work of unity, liberation, and justice. Efrem Smith

[email protected]'s personal & deep dive into whiteness, reconciliation, and the dividing lines in our social matrix of race is needed like never before. @efremsmith #MissioEssentials17 Click To Tweet

What would you add to the list?

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40 responses to “Why the Missional/Emerging Church is so Young and White

  1. Fascinating. Nice post.
    I’m inclined to agree that with the statement that “context is everything” when attempting to understand the relative homogeneity of the emerging/missional movement, yet I’d be less eager chalk that homogeneity up to “one group is emerging out of modernity and for another, modernity is just descending” as I would be to state simply that the gospel is indeed a liberating word for human beings, whatever their context. What establishment power needs to be liberated from is far different from what those on the margins of power or privilege need to be liberated from, and this to me has less to do with distinctions between modernity and postmodernity as it does with the question of what side of power and privilege do you come from.

    To that extent, I ran across a marvelous article in Time Magazine online this week entitled, “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God” (, where the author states:

    “Anxiety – fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things – strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won’t take the initiative, won’t take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders … Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I’ve just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.”

    I resonated when I read that even as I thought, “But that is such a different kind of liberation than the liberation that I, as a second-generation white evangelical socialized into an ethos of individualism and personal prosperity need, and it will produce a very different kind of church. Both churches will be living out the liberating word of the gospel, albeit in different ways, for they are very different contexts.”

    So anyway, I’d be inclined to argue more from a “social context” vantage point in explaining the homogeneity of the emerging/missional church.

  2. In my recent study of St. Francis of Assisi, this issue has been very, very relevant. Francis embodied the voluntary poverty of the mendicants as a way to identify and live alongside the poor. While this can seem noble to those of us who have grown up with relative privilege (especially us white males), I have begun to see some of the dangers in what Francis modeled.
    First, we need to acknowledge that his poverty was, indeed, voluntary. He had the choice to keep his wealth, a choice not available to most of the poor. It is still a noble choice, but one that is still born of privilege, a fact that should be kept centrally in mind when considering following his example.

    Second, when Francis embrace the mendicant lifestyle, he did so out of holy devotion. While he faced initial rejection, eventually people saw him as a holy man. Though he did deny himself (to an abusive degree at times) ultimately he rarely was truly without (even if that was simply never being without the option of) food or shelter. The poor did not have the benefit of choice.

    Third, by associating poverty with a holy calling, it helped the ruling class set poverty into a mystical context. This allowed many people to ignore the systemic injustices of their society (from which they greatly benefited) by romanticizing the poverty around them.

    Of course, this is not an argument against what you are suggesting here, David. In fact, I strongly agree with you. However, what I have learned in living & serving in an inner city community for these past years is that the poor around us must be liberated & empowered to choose for themselves how they will live. We must recognize that it is easier to sacrifice an freedom already enjoyed than to be asked to sacrifice what you have never had the freedom to possess.

    I look forward to the conversation here.


  3. Jamie … right on … awesome insight … and especially well illustrated through St Francis!!! I think the later medieval place of poverty within society as practiced our of chosen vocation had a similar role as you are describing in the church … and it teaches us to be wary of romanticizing poverty … and being insensitive to those who have been victums of poverty as a systemic evil …Thanks Andrew … also … for adding to the discussion… showing how it’s more the context of history/non history of privilege than mo-pomo .. although I think the development of pomo is definitely intertwined with that history.

  4. Good discussion, I need to learn from this. We are fairly new to the context of poverty, and while our community is urban and poor, it is also 95% white with a smattering of native folk. While I have experienced poverty, it only lasted a couple years. I do identify with the core of the experience as “lack of choices.”

  5. Hi Dave – I think it would be helpful to mention the historical context that African-Americans live in when you speak of our “just now coming into modernity”. If you do not, you run the risk of sounding slightly condescending in your assessment.
    Iam thinking of he fact that my generation (I am 36) is the first generation in many Black families to even have an opportunity to go to college. The Civil Rights Movement of which Martin Luther King is an icon only happened about 40 years ago. Blacks have not been afforded the chance to engage in the “American Dream” for the vast majority of our country’s history. It is because of these (as well as other) factors that Black churches in general (though not all) are more susceptible to the prosperity gospel (which is personally disheartening to me, but that’s another conversation). When having these types of discussions, this history must be taken into account because it informs our understanding of ourselves and our history. By ignoring this history and the fact that we live in the residue of it, you could effectively cut yourself off from any meaningful engagement that could potentially make some uncomfortable in this type of conversation.

    On the flip side of this (and you and I have had this conversation before), I am of the opinion that Blacks must enter this conversation with the same level of humility we ask of you. I cannot walk into these conversations with a chip on my shoulder, but acknowledging that I am now a member of a new family that transcends our ethnic or racial identities by virtue of my new identity in Christ.

    In the spirit of time (I could write about this all day), let me just say this: I fully believe that you have to “do life” with people in order to fully understand the points of commonalities and differences that exist and why they are there…that this cannot be fully grasped in an academic, philosophical context. It must be fleshed out in the dailly grind of building relationship, history and stories with others. It is in this context that understanding can be had.

    (By the way…this is Michelle that used to go to LOV…hi! :o) )

  6. Michelle .. thanks for clarifying. Your second paragraph is a description for me of exactly what I was intending by the words “just now coming into modernity.”As for the second part of what you said, I’ve often recounted the same sentiments in agreement with you. I offer these thoughts as observations. See my post here ( where I was actually chastised for taking this position in relation to the women’s ministry issue. I also think it can be a too-quick conversation stopper.

  7. interesting note, David.a couple years ago I posted this thought from Pastor Soong-Chan Rah in Cambridge, MA on this issue…

    in the early 90s I did a course with Al Roxburgh at Mac on Social Context of Ministry, then went to South Africa to plant an urban multicultural congregation. I don’t remember Al talking about poverty as a particularly missional value, but “how does the gospel speak to the issues of the neighbourhood in which you live your life?” (back to context). I’ve been sparring with a friend who started participating in an east-end missional kind of church so she could identify more with “the poor.” I asked her, “but what about your affluent lesbian neighbours in the west-end where you live? How do you be missional there?”
    (met you at one of Pernell’s learning parties in the Hammer)

  8. […] post is a response to something I read from Erika Haub. She alludes to other thoughts by David Fitch and by Eugene Cho (copied in Erika’s post) on the disproportion of white privilege in the […]

  9. Thanks for adding the link, David. I’m afraid I was a little distracted when I was trying to leave my original comment and so it took three tries to actually put together a coherent one 🙂
    I imagine that our paths could cross someday! I was always a bit jealous of Doug’s many friendships that came out of his work at Fuller. I think I remember reading somewhere that Dick Staub was your pastor or youth pastor at one point? He and Kathy are my daughter’s godparents. We are thrilled to be closer to them since our move.

  10. Just wanted to say “Thanks” for these posts. Our church is middle class, mostly white suburban, but we are engaged with the poor in a nearby community and in the country of Haiti. I have intuitively “sensed” the disconnect between the way we sons and daughters of evangelicalism see prosperity and the way our poor brothers and sisters (who have no choices at this point) see it. This has been insightful. It seems that my desire to live beneath my means as a spiritually healthy practice and so that I may bless those with less is GOOD, but I need to be mindful always of the fact that they are still dreaming of even having enough… only then would the choices I have even open to them.

  11. “Missional church represents the sons and daughter (largely) of evangelicals who are fed up with modernity, its programmed church, its dualistic rationalistic version of salvation, its capitulation to monetary success and the way it has distanced itself from the poor.”
    postmodern, postchristen, post-megachurch. Emergers seem to have significant experience/exposure to megachurch or churches that embrace seeker-friendly, high-quality/production, sweater+khaki paradigms. And they have changed more than their clothes. Few minorities had that same experience. Is emerging church going to make the list of “stuff white people like”? (see #2, #14, #18, #62, #73) It takes years and tons of effort to break the Homogeneous Unit barrier, and I know that I’m not even close.

    On the other hand, I think that the typical urban church with it’s traditional worship can be quite missional as acts as a community to stand firm and encroach on the enemies territory with job training, AA, teen groups, and single mother support. So maybe brothers and sisters are out there, but we haven’t connected yet.

  12. I was reading Shane Clairborne talk about how a similar critque had been levelled at the new-monastic movement from the ethnic minorities they have been in dialog with.-
    I think that terms like living simply, sacrificially, generously or responceably could be used more than poverty.

    There’s been allot of great conversation around the new-monastic community latley regarding the issue of diversity

    theres been allot good said. I do think we need to be carefull of the attitude that say’s we just figured out this new great thing why don’t the black’s all come and follow us or join with us. Instead maybe we should be looking for those from minorities that we can follow in these steps. As a church as a whole we have a alot still to do in being one body not divided by race or culture

  13. just got back from a peace and justice gathering ( where alexie torres-fleming ( shared about her life in the south-bronx.
    she dealt with the issue of poverty in her talk and specifically said our mission wasn’t to lift people into the middle class. she grew up in the south bronx, and people within and without her community wanted her to make it, to move away, to be prosperous and famous. but instead, she moved back to the south bronx, started a ministry, is engaged in community, and is raising a family there.

    an exceptional anecdote? maybe, but she understood that there is more out there.

    i would also add that within the quaker communities, there seems to be a strong pull to things emergent. still white, but most are hardly evangelical.

  14. David,
    This post has been very helpful for me. I’m from malaysia, the east part of malaysia that is and a part of a tribal group of people of whom have lived in the context of poverty. A lot of the things that you addressed here are real in which you explain that “Meanwhile sits the others who for various contextual reasons do not see modernity and capitalism, the accumulation of wealth as a bad thing.” Here we are adapting with modernity and Christianity now is just adopting (or is progressing there) the ideology of what the emerging church is protesting against.

    I’m someone who has been interested in what the missional and the emerging church is for. But right at this moment this ‘ideology’ (missional and emerging) is not really ascribed or agreed to. It seems to me that those in these context of just “arriving into modernity” have to experience what you all in the western context have experienced to realize the ‘validity’ of the missional/emerging stance of understanding. Well this is just a thought.

    Anyway, this post had got me thinking. After I have worked through some stuff I will probably do a post in reflection of you post here with regard to the context I am in. I keep wondering will the emerging/missional work in a third world context?

  15. […] Posted January 23, 2009 Filed under: Brian’s Blogs | Tags: missional, Pastoral Ministry | A recent blog by missional thinker David Fitch asks “should pastors live beneath their means?”  This […]

  16. David,
    I’ve mulled over the observations on your post here and while these are certainly valid reasons you mention for the missional/emerging church’s peculiar demographics, I think this notion that African Americans and other minorities are “coming into modernity” is rather loaded and misleading.

    From my vantage point in the Afr Amer community, we have been dealing with modern(ist) issues for roughly as long as the white majority has in the American story. We have developed language for describing and interpreting the split between the poor, middle class and wealthy in our community that has existed for quite awhile. Words like “uncle tom” or “sellout” while misused and abused do indicate that growing wealth and status has not always been looked upon favorably and has certainly not been treated uniformly within our community. “Prosperity” is just the latest manifestation of this ongoing struggle, and has much to do with recent economic trends (such as the burgeoning middle class) and cultural trends (music, sports, etc.) Even in theology, black conservatives and liberals have had to join forces and cooperate in ways that their white counterparts have not. We have indeed been contending with the modern(ist) culture and its discontent.

    So its true that poverty is seen differently in our community as a whole. In many ways poverty is a forced burden which needs to be overcome. Poverty not just affecting the pocketbook, but one’s heart, one’s mind, one’s heart, and one’s confidence.

    But, I think these differences in outlook are more symptoms of the things that keep missional/emerging churches demographically homogeneous, not the actual causes themselves. There are cultural particularities of many such churches, in their music, their styles of conversation and deliberation, their metaphors and artistic endeavors. But also perhaps a fear of new styles and ways that may be disruptive to their own. I’m of the mind that African Americans and other minorities have alot to say and teach to our white majority counterparts about how to dance around the pitfalls of modern(ist) culture. We have alot to say about the difference between modesty, poverty and creativity. But we need to be approached and engaged.

  17. I was reading Shane Clairborne talk about how a similar critque had been levelled at the new-monastic movement from the ethnic minorities they have been in dialog with.-
    I think that terms like living simply, sacrificially, generously or responceably could be used more than poverty.

    There’s been allot of great conversation around the new-monastic community latley regarding the issue of diversity

    theres been allot good said. I do think we need to be carefull of the attitude that say’s we just figured out this new great thing why don’t the black’s all come and follow us or join with us. Instead maybe we should be looking for those from minorities that we can follow in these steps. As a church as a whole we have a alot still to do in being one body not divided by race or culture

  18. David, et. al.,
    Steve Taylor pointed me in your direction, so I just want to give a thanks to him for that. And, hello Jamie; I liked your words very much.

    As a white guy who was raised in an upper class setting by white parents, who grew up in the Southern (deep south) United States and is now married to a First Nations woman and living in Canada, I have now been asking this question (and had this question asked of me) for quite some time. My family, my community, is a mixed one – my in-laws, as well as my uncles and aunties are primarily, if not all, First Nations, American Indian, Australian Aboriginal, and New Zealand Maori followers of Jesus. I am nephew to various Indigenous church leaders, some of whom you may know or may have heard of; therefore, I represent more persons than just myself (though I don’t want to speak FOR them). I want to speak, and question, as an observer of my own people, my own white, Western cultural context.

    Now, why the long introduction? As example, primarily, because in the cultures of my family, I have learned that one does not introduce one’s self based on one’s accomplishments (what I do, where I work, etc.). Instead, one introduces one’s self based upon their “relations.” Their “whanau,” or family, as it’s called by the Maori. So, I’m learning how to do just that. Now, what does that have to do with anything?

    I think it has to do with the entire situation, though not to be reductionistic in the least bit. Correct me if my observation is incorrect here, but I find it very interesting that a matter such as the missional/emergent deal and the question of its young whiteness so quickly boils down to an economic issue. Granted, that’s part of it, but to a large degree, I think that we are dancing around a very huge bush – and that bush is called worldview. David, you mentioned in your second story, in relation to African American community, that there was no time to comment on culture nor that you had enough familiarity to do so. I think that this is, actually, what we need to see more of, though from representatives of those various cultures. My father-in-law, Terry LeBlanc, recently spoke at Brian McLaren’s “Everything Must Change” venue in Toronto (or Montreal, I don’t remember which), and he posed this argument, “unless worldview changes, then nothing will change.” Changed to what? I’m no pro at this, but I imagine for those of us in the West, either a change to a holistic worldview or to a dualistic worldview irrevocably influenced biblically, the only difficulty there being that Scripture wasn’t exactly written from a dualistic worldview (another conversation for another time). However, in North America at least, the church is primarily run from a Western, dualistic worldview. In this respect, there is a very desperate need for corrective balance.

    DaveR – in regard to not having connected yet with folks – I think this is an amazingly astute observation. And an important one, which helps me to ask this question:

    Instead of sharing money as “resource,” how can we share the names of those who can better help us understand our own culture and the way the Gospel gets spread by way of that? For example, my Uncle Richard Twiss quite often encourages leading speaker-friends of his in the emergent/missional conversation to share his name and the names of others like him when they are having conferences, speaking engagements, etc. How can we, seriously, begin to do the same thing? Not as token, but as normal rhythm?

    And just some questions of my own: What is the motive behind the white missional/emergent conversations? What is our thinking in regard to going into “poor neighborhoods?” Do we believe that the gospel is already there and that we are coming alongside those already engaged? Or are we “living below our means” because we think the gospel needs to get there for the first time?

    This is already too long, and I want to post another comment by way of email from Richard Twiss. Forgive me for the lengthiness of this. But thank you for the opportunity. Peace.

  19. David, and everyone else, I posed this question you’re asking to Richard Twiss about three weeks ago. His reply to me is as follows.
    i spoke at “Off the Map” conference, a very missional gig, last year and raised the same question to brian m. jim henderson, todd hunter and numerous “emergent types during my public sessions – this gig typically does well at including women, but not persons of color – when i spoke there were several ladies, including an African-american gal and a bro from argentina – for the most part white, middle-aged – for two years i spoke at the zondervan national pastors conference which has a heavy emergent component – so i’ve hung out over beers with dan kimball, brian, tony jones, spencer burke, doug pagett etc. and have reflected back to them that it is still essentially a conversation controlled by new power brokers from a philospohical power base – though they are still breaking free from the control and margins of conservative evangelicalism, that it still, in a measure leaves out non-western thought in the language of deconstruction and emergence, thus oppressing those still in the margins by default – however, the longer they choose not to make room for us it moves it closer to a kind of intentionality or cultural blindness and thus control –

    my challenge and encouragement to all of them is to use the favor they have received to make room for us and others – brian has been awesome in this regard – sharing and lending your friends is the phrase used – terry and i attended a gathering of “red letter christians” in december with bart and tony campolo and numerous other emergent/social justice types including shane clairborne, ron sider and many others which was very encouraging – one problem is we are so new on the scene of those conversations and groups we are easily marginalized by the exoticness of our indigenaety – “how does that relate to us” – our pitiful first nations atttempts at intruding upon and including ourselves in those circles speaks of the process us vangaurd types are roaming around in – we are busy making the introductions, opening doors, making the first impressions, speaking at the big gigs, getting published etc so you grasshoppers will have a legacy to follow up with – the next ten years are full of hope and promise – in ten years i’ll be 64 and i dont know if kath will still need me and still feed me when i’m 64 –

    yes, there are two rails in the tracks – they always join together in the horizon – pray for grace and kindness to permeate our efforts – pray for favor that comes from God just cause he wants to share it – pray that we find the time to get published so our stuff begins to infiltrate the academic world as textbooks and “credible sources” for professors and even popular reading that will begin to influence the wider conversations at home and internationally – along with praying you guys need to assume an advocacy role and writing the letters to the powers that be and suggesting/requesting that they meet with us in some capacity – read our books, have a phone call or email or a face to face – i am speaking at cornerston music festival this year and beleive that will open many doors to other large events where next generation leaders hang out – push naiits to everyone you know – push our websites and check our travel scheduless and encourage people to come hear us – for western/literacy types, books lend credibility and creates value for them in the way they entertain new ideas and movements – lastly, it will never be a truly missional conversation until the voices from the margins help shape the way the values are understood and embraced at the core – which is where your voices will enter the fray – so, now pluck this stone from my hand – missed! you are learning much so keep being alive and absorbing the goodness and wisdom of God in others – you are all amazing human beings and people I am glad and proud to call nieces and nephews (and sons)! much love to you all 🙂

  20. Hey Dan,whoah .. that’s a lot eh?… Say I can use the quotes from your Uncle Richard, and put it on a post all its own to ask the question about power-broking? publishing et al. ? For I truly think there are layers of issues and problems being revealed here… some of which are as frustrating to me as to your uncle. And they may not be exclusive to Native North American community … I think this cultural segregation has much to do with capitalism and media … and this can only be overcome through certain practices (which we probably could best learn from First nations) that you simply will not find at the kinds of conferences we do around publishing here in N America
    Blessings and please give my best to your father-in law Terry Lablanc


  21. David,This is one of the most important and well written blog posts I have read in a while. You raise a very important theological and contextual issue. I will no doubt use these thoughts to stimulate discussion in a class I may be teaching.

    Perhaps a book of essays wrestling with both of these contexts needs to be put into the works? I really think you have hit spot on why emerging/missional tends to be white and young. A lot of white and young people that grew up in boomer evangelical churches have had all their categories blown up or reconfigured by traveling into some of the most poverty stricken areas around the globe and they have seen on a global scale the bankruptcy of global capitalism.

  22. David,
    Yes, I apologize for the verbosity. I agree that the issues aren’t exclusive to the Native North American community, though, like other voices on the margins, they don’t appear to be at the table nor a part of the missional & emergent conversations; although, they are asking extremely similar questions regarding community and the gospel.

    In regards to Richard’s quotes, I’ll ask him his permission. I’ll let you know when he replies.


  23. My experience in multi-racial/cross-cultural settings are VERY limited. So take this observation with however many grains of salt you want:
    I have seed that some of the causes of entrenched poverty are exactly the same things that result in an isolated, empty “prosperity.” I have seen people with limited means spend on cell phones, large televisions, and new car accessories, often with absurdly costly credit-schemes. The desire is the same that keeps the suburban family anesthetized to real life and isolated from one another: it is the desire to attain happiness through property, wealth, status. The result may be different: the wealthy suburban family lives in an empty, isolated, meaningless stupor while the poor family falls deeper into poverty. But the spiritual problem is the same.

    This says nothing about the systems of oppression that keep people in poverty and exclude them from opportunity. Certainly, misio Dei should propel us to set the captives free, to bring opportunity and dignity to the poor and oppressed.

    But the call must still extend to those at the margins: The desire for personal fulfillment in wealth, status, or possesions is futile. Desire freedom, that you may in turn join the liberating mission of God.

  24. Hey Nate,
    Even though you may have limited cross-cultural experience, your sentiments ring true. The emptyness and vanity of our consuming search for wealth, status or possession is universal, even though its not universally accepted or understood. It may present itself differently among different cultural and geographic groups but the symptoms are similar.

    Its my hope though, that the missional/emerging church banks on the fact that there already exists modes of resistance within ethnic minority communities and focus its efforts on linking up with those pockets of resistance, learning and embracing some of their ways and inviting them into their worship and mission.

  25. I am concerned that the ideas presented in this post run the danger of ethnocentrism.
    1. While the average level of economic success may be a contributing factor in a disparity of interest in the emergent community between whites and people of color, I think an economic motivation for this disparity is a grave oversimplification. There are many cultural reasons, economic ones aside.

    2. Each of our ethnic Christian communities must face the failings of our respective cultures, and you are correct that there are some immaturities in various ethnic Christian communities. However, it is tragic that you fail to realize any immaturity in your own community, more specifically that you seem to see the white church’s immaturities as less immature. (White individualism, lack of respect for ancestors, and refusal to give power to people of color, anyone?)

    3. The historic church is fundamentally inter-generational and multi-ethnic. When any population purposefully removes itself from that dialogue, the danger of ethnocentric theology is great. An example of ethnocentric theology would be “we get it because we’ve been through that cultural phase, but you’re behind, so you don’t get it yet. our theology is more advanced. let’s dialogue so we can teach you things.”

    4. It is often observed in emerging church dialogue that God is present with “the poor.” That’s true. Have you ever thought that maybe the poor are intelligent enough to come up with a coherent theology of money, and that maybe you could try to learn from what they are doing, rather than assuming that they don’t know what they are talking about? Maybe God is with the poor more than in a comforting presence but also in a powerful blessing? It is objectifying to use the “poor” lifestyle as a means of spiritual growth for ourselves without considering the outlook and culture produced by that lifestyle as at least a viable option.

    5. You ignore the fact that church populations are exploding in the two-thirds world. Maybe you should rethink distinctive Western theology (for example, postmodern theology) if the church in the West is dying and churches in these places supposedly “aspiring to modernity” are growing explosively. It can’t hurt to look into it. Also, I don’t think it is true that many people are “enamored with the American dream.” I’m sure a lot of people don’t want to live in crippling poverty, but I doubt that most people in the world want to trade in their own cultural heritage for middle-class white (post)modernity.

    I know a lot of people who would consider some of your points passively racist. You should reconsider your wording at least, and I would suggest, some of your ideas as well.

  26. Rachel,on your comment “However, it is tragic that you fail to realize any immaturity in your own community, more specifically that you seem to see the white church’s immaturities as less immature. (White individualism, lack of respect for ancestors, and refusal to give power to people of color, anyone?” … did you see my response above to Dan Lowe?
    on your coment “it is tragic that you fail to realize any immaturity in your own community, more specifically that you seem to see the white church’s immaturities as less immature. (White individualism, lack of respect for ancestors, and refusal to give power to people of color, anyone?) have you read anything I’ve ever written on this subject? Whoah … what about what I said in this post as well ..”I wish to make no judgemnts of who is right on the issue of “living beneath your means.” Indeed, as Chris said at the Missional Commons, this is a contextual thing. I agree that there are many contextual elements here to which I have no way to speak to. But I suggest this may be an issue contributing to the young whiteness” …

    On your comment ..”You ignore the fact that church populations are exploding in the two-thirds world. Maybe you should rethink distinctive Western theology (for example, postmodern theology) if the church in the West is dying and churches in these places supposedly “aspiring to modernity” are growing explosively. It can’t hurt to look into it.”…

    Did you see what I wrote in the post talking about McLaren’s assessment of the third world … I said ” Here the gospel is doing well. Ironically much of this church movement is charismatic and driven by prosperity gospel (Peter Berger outlines this in an article in Books and Culture …) “…
    Rachel .. did you even read my piece? sorry, but I think dialogue could be improved by more careful interactions …

  27. Hmmm, I think we might be missing each other a bit. You are right, I’m sure dialogue could be improved by more careful interactions.
    Let me start out by saying that I appreciate that you are looking into this topic, and I think it’s an important one. I am very grateful it is on your heart to look into the relationship between the emerging church and ethnicity.

    I have read your blog and the comments (a couple of times), and I didn’t think they addressed what I was getting at. I hope the directness of my comments didn’t make you feel blindsided. My writing has a tendency to sound more severe than I am in person. 🙂

    Let me take a step back and say what I understood from your post, and then maybe you can correct what I got wrong. It was the second paragraph after “2nd story” that most alarmed me. I understood you argument to be the following: many whites have gone through modernity and have realized its deficits and abandoned it, and the white church’s response to this has been to “emerge.” African-American and Latino church goers, on the other hand, have been mostly poor and aspire to modernity-related success, have not realized the deficits of modernity, and thus do not see the incentive to “emerge.”

    I think that this might sound condescending to some people (perhaps especially people of color from those traditions?). If this is your argument, it sounds like you are putting progress on a line with white people at the head in postmodernity and poor Latinos and African Americans lagging economically and culturally in the modernity phase.

    When I talk about the two-thirds world, I am not talking about minority ethnic group churches in the US, I am talking about what might be called “premodern” contexts. I am pointing out that in a linear model of progress of modern to postmodern, you have left out a large population of people, and arguably the spiritual center of Christendom at the moment.

    With regard to the “prosperity gospel”: I’m not a fan. But I am saying that there is a very real cultural context for that message, and there are a variety of forms of it, and one should probably look into those things before deciding whether it is an unfortunate blemish on the progress of the two-thirds world church (you use the word “ironically”), or whether it is something interesting and worth looking into. (“Why is it so popular?”) But I probably share your hesitancy about that “gospel.”

    Lastly, I would say that it is important for people in the two-thirds world and people of color in the United States to share some about why they don’t go for emerging before emerging folks decide why they aren’t going for emerging. Like you observed, there are other contextual elements, so I am hesitant when one of these elements is named in the absence of other elements. It makes the discussed element sound more important.

    Now, I could be wrong in how I am interpreting you, and if so, then I apologize. Again, I really appreciate your thoughts and willingness to share. Thanks for the dialogue!

  28. […] that not only commented on it, but also tried to explain it. David Fitch of Chicago, USA, in his Reclaiming the mission blog, notes: I think it is fairly well accepted that the emerging movement/ missional movement is […]

  29. I found this quite interesting, and wrote about it and linked to it on my blog.
    Certainly here in South Africa, from what I have seen, most of the emerging/missional movement is white, and I think possibly for some of the reasons that you have listed, and an additional one is that that people in this movement seem to network largely through the blogosphere, and the proportion of black to white bloggers in South Africa is way out of proportion to the ratio in the population.

    That suggests to me that the emerging/missional movement, as propagated in the blogosphere, is rather tied to a particular technology. In Africa, African independent churchs have been missional for years, but they have different networks and different means of networking. Many of those tend to be pre-modern, or at least were in earlier periods, but they seem to have adopted different technology, the cell phone rather than the blog or Twitter, for example.

  30. Hi,
    A little late to be posting, but if you see this, thanks for your time if you read it.

    I am a recovering Catholic who recently stumbled on the network of emerging church and leaders in the US. While I have to acknowledge your observations about the emerging church being young, white and somewhere in the middle class, I don’t believe you when you write that you are not standing in judgement of “living below the poverty line”.

    You say the movement remains “stubbornly” middle class. Perhaps, have you considered, that this is because the US economic system remains “Stubbornly” divided as well?

    Is it better not to engage with people who are living in poverty simply because one isn’t poor themselves?

    How would you suggest fixing the “observations” you raise? It is to “not criticize” but there are some movement that truly engage with people of all diverse works of life in a true spiritual equality.

    Should people in a certain class only worship and minister with those of the same classes?
    Do people born in higher classes reject the gospel message so as not to offend the poor??

    I’m sorry, but I finished reading your article feeling a bit like eating sour grapes.

  31. […] 2.) Why is the Emerging/Missional Church so White? It is a subject that keeps coming up! This is a post from last January and we’re stiull dealing with it given SoongChan Rah’s book and the Missional Learnings Commons coming up Jan 8. Recounting this episode from last years’ Commons got me started on rethinking the whole issue. […]

  32. Some people collect antiques for any challenge. They get a buzz out exploring what is located at any given thrift store, garage sale or house sale. They test themselves in being able to find the best bargains and that rarest items. Both which are key elements to achieving your goal in the antiques operate.

  33. I have served on staff at an all Black church and have discussed the issue of the white ecm with an African American pastor. We agree that ecm is a movement of elitist, avant garde, snobs who only drink imported beer and espresso. They like incense, Christian yoga, and labyrinths. These are the kind of people who think Marcel Duchamp’s urinal is a profound work of art. The African American community has its feet planted too firmly on planet earth for these space cadets.

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