Edmund (Eddie) Gibbs is an English born missionary, professor, scholar, and author who has taught at Fuller Theological Seminary in California since 1984. Drawing from professional expertise in Church growth and renewal as well as first-hand church planting experience with the Church of England in Chile, South America (:8), Gibbs is able to provide a historical high-level view of the emerging church movement.
Co-author Ryan Bolger is also a Fuller Theological Seminary professor with expertise in contemporary and postmodern culture. Bolger’s background as a generation X-er involved in several new paradigm churches (:8) helped balance out Gibbs’ Baby Boomer generational worldview.
This book was born out of a desire by Gibbs to follow up his theoretical book ChurchNext with more practical data and Bolger’s need for field research to complete his Ph.D. degree at Fuller Theological Seminary (:7). Joining together, the authors set out to analyze “emerging trends in the U.K. and the U.S.” (:8) with the goal of proving that the church is in the “midst of a cultural revolution and that nineteenth-century (or older) forms of church do not communicate clearly to twenty-first century cultures” (:17).
To do this, Gibbs and Bolger spent five years listening to the stories of emerging church leaders across the USA and the UK (:9-10). Whenever possible, they visited the churches to see first hand what was happening on the ground and how these churches differed from more traditional mainline and evangelical churches (:333-333). From these interviews, Gibbs and Bolger indentified three main practices shared by all the emerging churches and six sub-practices embraced in different degrees by the various churches (:44-45).
After a short chapter on cultural worldviews (1) and another one on defining the emerging movement (2), the authors turn their focus on each of the nine indentified practices, giving each one a designated chapter. As such, the book flows in the following order: “Indentifying with Jesus” (3), “Transforming Secular Space” (4), “Living as Community” (5), “Welcoming the Stranger” (6), “Serving with Generosity” (7), “Participating as Producers” (8), “Creating as Created Beings” (9), “Leading as a Body” (10) and “Merging Ancient and Contemporary Spiritualities” (11). The book ends with a summary by Gibbs and Bolger (Conclusion) as well as two appendixes in which the authors list out the biographies of the fifty main emerging church leaders interviewed (Appendix A) as well as describing their own research methodology (Appendix B).
[Note: see my previous post “Defining the Emerging Church” for more details on these nine practices].
While there are many practical implications in this book, the one concept that really stood out to me was the idea of the church congregation becoming “contributors to rather then recipients of” the church service (:158). Having anyone and everyone who feels led by the Holy Spirit speak and/or teach during the Sunday morning service has typically made me feel nervous as there is, in the words of Karen Ward, “always the threat of a virus in the form of a crazy person” (:168). However, there is something to be said about allowing the body of Christ to minister according to the gifts given them by the Holy Spirit. Overall, I can see a shift in my theological understanding of the Christian church as a result of exposure to the emerging movement.