Review: Should We Change Our Game Plan?

March 28th, 2013

George G. Hunter III's latest book title suggests the answer to its question. Should We Change Our Game Plan? Yes, Hunter answers, and it is past time to do so.

Hunter, a Distinguished Professor, Emeritus of World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary, compares the current relationship between church and culture to the changes in basketball over the past half century. The church, he says, is akin to a basketball coach who still teaches two-handed set shots and underhanded free throws. By refusing to acknowledge that the way the game is played has changed, such a team would become a laughingstock, unable to complete. Likewise, churches that hold on to mindsets and practices that no longer fit the culture are doomed to futility.

Hunter traces how the divide between church and the larger culture has developed. While Christianity once enjoyed a “home field advantage” in Western culture, in which churches were both an assumed fixture and a center for gathering in everyday life. Over hundreds of years, however, phenomena such as the Renaissance and the rise of empirical science have caused widespread secularization. Christianity’s various responses to secularization—deism, retention (instead of evangelism), compartmentalization, etc.—have been woefully inadequate.

Is there a better response to postmodern people, a better way of doing church in a postmodern context? To Hunter, the answer lies at least in part in church history. Early Christianity, he asserts, was essentially a lay movement. Likewise, today’s setting requires that evangelism take the work of Christ into the world, not leave it in the hands of clergy who spend most of their efforts within the church.

If a new lay movement is to make any significant headway, however, it requires that church leaders recover from the individualism that pervades most of what we call ministry. The work of Christ in the world demands a team approach, one in which all people work together in apostolic teams to bring the gospel message into populations often viewed as unreachable by churches.

As they organize into teams, church leaders must put renewed effort into learning about how to approach the postmodern world with the gospel. Hunter suggests that our best sources for learning can be found in scripture, tradition, research date, and behavioral sciences. He also spends considerable time explaining the rise of megachurches and argues that they have much to teach us in the way of reaching pre-Christian people.

Should We Change Our Game Plan? puts on display the skill with language that Hunter has developed from years as a writer and lecturer. However, the content of his latest book adds little to the conversation about church growth in the postmodern world. Hunter’s book will be useful as a study tool for small groups that have not been exposed to current cultural trends and recent Christian responses to them. But it does not provide any new insights for those who have already been engaged in the conversation surrounding ways the church can and should change.              

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