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"Rethinking Church" by Ron Highfield: A Review

Rethinking Church: A Guide for the Perplexed and Disillusioned is a short little book that challenges many assumptions about church structure in Western Christianity. I highly recommend it, and it is a very easy, quick read. The book was thoughtful and (usually) careful not to overstate. People who value the traditional form of church more than myself might disagree with me on this point. This review/summary is meant to pique interest so you might read the book for yourself, not as an analysis of the book as a whole.

The main point of Highfield is that much of what the modern-day church does is not essential to its being, and that we ought to distinguish between what the church "may do" and what it "must do" (pg. ii). What we "may do" in Highfield's mind has led us so far from what we must do that it's time to rethink the whole enterprise: "I began to realize that the structures, ingrained expectations, and traditions that guided the church would neutralize any effort at systemic reform...that the traditional way churches organize themselves is the major obstacle to embodying church life in the world." (pg. 2)

In the first chapter, Highfield lays out his minimal approach to ecclesiology based on what is essential vs. accidental: "The church is simple in essence, hence adaptable in form." (pg. 14) He lays out divine and human dimensions of what the church is: "In rethinking church...we must rid ourselves of any view of the church that displaces God as the primary actor and replaces him with human actors...Divine and human must be united in one community." (pg. 8 and 13) In chapter two, Highfield describes what he believes about the mission of the church, which is to "Witness" through essential practices like baptism, and the Lord's Supper. Chapter 3 describes how "The Lure and Threat of Political Power" (pg. 25) stifles church reform, and leads us to love the world. There is a price that comes with privilege: "for what the state gives, it can take away." (pg. 37)

Chapter 4 is where Highfield really begins to get into the nitty-gritty of the problems with the Western approach to church. The early church met in public spaces and homes "to share the Lord's Supper" (pg. 45). The approach of the early church was simple yet adaptable, yet the institutionalization of the church often leads to goals that gradually eclipse "the original motives and goals." (pg. 47) Highfield lays out how this is often the case in the modern Western church. Chapter 5 lays out the alternative that allows us to get back to God's intentions for the Church.

Check out Rethinking Church on Amazon in Kindle or paperback. It's just $9 and you won't regret it. :)

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