Previous | Next

Spring 2001 · Vol. 30 No. 1 · pp. 105–8 

Recommended Reading

On the Church and Our Culture

Raymond O. Bystrom

Many theologians believe that the critical challenge facing the church today is not the intellectual challenge of how to make Christianity credible to the modern world. Rather, the crucial challenge is ecclesiological: the creation of a new and more faithful church, the transformation of the church, not through accommodation, but through conversion. The key pastoral challenge involves thinking through the question, What kind of community are we called to be in order to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ?

During the past couple of years, most of my reading has focused on this issue of what it means for the contemporary church to be faithful to the gospel. So I have listed below several clusters of books that I have read and found especially insightful and helpful on the ecclesiological challenge facing us today. I think you will find them worth reading too.


A series of brief paperback books on Christian mission and modern culture is currently being published by Trinity Press International (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). The series is edited by Alan Neely, H. Wayne Pipkin, and Wilbert R. Shenk. The goal of the series is to provide church leaders within Western societies with a missiological orientation. The series makes two assumptions: first, the church exists in a changing social and cultural context; second, the gospel calls the church in its changing context to new forms of missional identity. For a complete annotated list of the current volumes in the Christian Mission and Modern Culture series, check out the Gospel and Our Culture Network (GOCN) web site. In the meantime, here is a list of ten of the volumes I have found worth reading.

David Bosch, Believing in the Future: Toward a Missiology of Western Culture. TPI, 1995.

Jane Collier and Raphael Esteban, From Complicity to Encounter: The Church and the Culture of Economism. TPI, 1998.

Kenneth Cragg, The Secular Experience of God. TPI, 1998.

Darrell L. Guder, The Incarnation and the Church’s Witness. TPI, 1999.

Barry A. Harvey, Another City: An Ecclesiological Primer for a {106} Post-Christian World. TPI, 1999.

Philip D. Kenneson, Beyond Secularism: Re-Imagining the Church and World. TPI, 1999.

Alan J. Roxburgh, The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality. TPI, 1997.

Gordon Scoville, Into the Vacuum: Being the Church in an Age of Barbarism. TPI, 1998.

Wilbert R. Shenk, Write the Vision: The Church Renewed. TPI, 1995.

Jonathan R. Wilson, Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World. TPI, 1997.


Another series of (heftier) books under the general title The Gospel and Our Culture is being edited by Craig Van Gelder and published by Wm. B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, Michigan). The series aims to foster the missional encounter of the gospel with North American culture. For a complete annotated list of the currently available volumes, go to the GOCN web site. In the meantime, here is a list of five of the current volumes I believe are worth reading by educators, pastors, and church leaders.

Darrell Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church. Eerdmans, 2000.

Darrell Guder, ed., Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. Eerdmans, 1998.

George R. Hunsberger, Bearing the Witness of the Spirit: Lesslie Newbigin’s Theology of Cultural Plurality. Eerdmans, 1998.

George R. Hunsberger, ed., The Church Between Gospel and Culture. Eerdmans, 1996.

Craig Van Gelder, ed., Confident Witness—Changing World: Rediscovering the Gospel in North America. Eerdmans, 1999.

A forthcoming title in the GOCN series sounds especially interesting:

Alan Roxburgh and Mike Regele, Proper Obsession: Refounding the Church for a Postmodern World.

By the way, Roxburgh and Regele have already published,

Crossing the Bridge: Church Leadership in a Time of Change. Costa Mesa, CA: Percept Group, 2000. {107}

Here’s another list of five recently published books that fit nicely under the general heading of the gospel and our culture. Although they are not part of the GOCN series, they are still worth reading by educators, pastors, and church leaders.

Michael L. Budde and Robert W. Brimlow, eds., The Church as Counterculture. New York: State University of New York Press, 2000.

Eddie Gibbs, Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000.

Michael Jinkins, The Church Faces Death: Ecclesiology in a Post-Modern Context. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Philip D. Kenneson, Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000.

Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000.


The church is called to embody the gospel of Jesus Christ in its current cultural context. To do so, Christian communities and their leaders must unpack the cultural context as it is manifested both outside and inside the church. Church leaders need a theological “window” through which to see the changed and changing landscape of North American culture. During the past three years I have found practical help for this task from The Center for Parish Development (Chicago, IL). It has served as a helpful resource for me as I have sought to better understand the practical question of cultivating missional communities. For an annotated list of the resources I have mentioned below, go to the CPD web site. In the meantime, here’s a list of five resources that I think educators, pastors, and church leaders will find worth reading.

Michael L. Budde, The (Magic) Kingdom of God: Christianity and Global Culture Industries. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1997.

Burton Buller, Does Techno-Faith Have a Future? and Other Media Musings. Elkhart, IN: Mennonite Board of Missions, 2000.

Peter Schmiechen, Christ the Reconciler: A Theology of Opposites, Differences, and Enemies. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996.

Tom Sine, Mustard Seed Versus McWorld: Reinventing Life and Faith for the Future. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999.

Jim Wallis, The Call to Conversion: Recovering the Gospel for These Times. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992 (reprint of 1981 ed.). {108}

Finally, here is yet another list of five books that fit under the general title of missional Church. They too are worth reading.

Robert Banks, Revisioning Theological Education: Exploring a Missional Alternative to Current Models. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999.

Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996.

David G. Myers, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

Christian Smith, Going to the Root: Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1992.

R. Paul Stevens, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.

Raymond O. Bystrom is Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministries, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California.

Previous | Next