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God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Book Review 5: The New Conspirators by Tom Sine

For my next Church Planting book I decided to read The New Conspirators by Tom Sine. Tom is a prolific writer who began the Mustard Seed House in Seattle, Washington, a community of believers who attempt to live the Great Commission together. He is also an adjunct professor at Fuller’s campus in Seattle.
The New Conspirators is a book in which Sine has five “conversations” writing about different aspects of Christian life and new theologians who are challenging traditional churches. Conversation one suggests that Christians take four groups serious: Emerging churches, Missional churches, Mosaics and Monastics. Conversation two critiques modern popular culture. Conversation three looks at the state of the church today. Conversation four speaks about the challenges the globalized world gives to each class of people and the church. Conversation five ends the study by giving practical examples and principles for living out the previous chapters.
Normally I read the assigned books for class and if I like them I’ll put them on my Amazon wish list (http://bit.ly/grahamwishlist). However, this book is difficult for me to decide if I want it or not. On one hand I loved the major sections on contemporary culture, how it influences individuals and the church collective, and his practical advice from conversation five. On the other, his hyperbolic doomsday scenarios are completely devoid of God he also says is all-powerful. These types of worst-case scenarios are extremely naïve and take innovation in production as static, doing exactly what he complains most mission agencies do, “It is rare to find a Christian organization that researches how the context in which they do mission will likely change before it does strategic planning” (p. 130). This is my biggest problem with theologians who write on economic ideas. They often speak negatively about globalization and the free market and then put their foot in their mouth giving simplistic views and faulty logic about economics and how to solve poverty. However, I have previously written about this topic, so I will not belabor the point more.
The opening chapter (after the forward by Shane Claiborne and the acknowledgements) gives an opening shot across the bow. Sine’s writing is very cut and dry. He gets to the point quickly. These are turbulent times (I have yet to read a book that does not start out this way regardless of when it was written) and there are a small group of people who are working to buck the trend. The first conversation gives names to the movements and leaders of each movement. This chapter is a great introduction for anyone looking for a summary of new expressions of Christianity in the Western world.
Conversation two, “Taking the Culture Seriously,” is also a solid piece of writing which describes the major cultural shifts going on. Except for a few places where he makes sure to include the obligatory “the widening gap between the rich and poor” concept, his warning that nothing is spiritually neutral in how it is used is one which should be heeded. The only weakness I can see in this is that he focuses so much effort on the fact that people are going heavily into debt to keep up their lifestyle and yet never blames the people for doing it. This is why I respect people like Dave Ramsey more than most theologians. He at least puts the blame squarely on the person. “The culture may have told you to do it but you went out and bought that car, got that $50,000 education to make $30,000 a year, or went $10,000 in credit card debt. Now get to work or sell everything you can to pay off the loans.”
Conversation three, “Taking the Future of God Seriously,” is an interesting critique of modern culture. Sine’s idea that we have replaced the final coming of Jesus with disembodied spirits going up to meet him in the air is a great critique of Western theology. However, the idea that we can produce heaven on earth before that time reeks of utopianism. Poverty will never be eradicated. To encourage Christians to help as many poor people get on their feet as we can is different than complaining that all Western countries are evil because poverty continues to exist.
Conversation four, “Taking Turbulent Times Seriously,” is basically summed in my previous post and comments above. The only thing I would add is that he does not denigrate the rich but challenges them to offer training and education to those who wish to do more with their lives. This was one of the most refreshing surprises of the entire book.
If I could, I would take conversations one and five (“Taking Our Imaginations Seriously”) and create a great book of wonderful suggestions and people thinking outside the traditional church box. This conversation alone is worth the price of the book. In it he gives great suggestions and practical examples of people taking their spirituality and making it real by loving their neighbor as their self. His suggestion to start really, really small is really, really good. Often I think Christians become so paralyzed by the plight of the poor around the world that they may forget that “the system” is no more than a group of people who need to know God one by one (or the entire group at the same time, if possible). I appreciate everyone who tries to make life easier/better for the world. Interestingly Sine includes a section on entrepreneurship with a mission. This can be where Christians can have the most impact. Encouraging Christians not to be Christians who get stuck with a job because they are unwilling to minister but to how the Good News of Jesus and the salvation of the world can change their coworkers is a shift I love. In times like these I wish I were one of them. Being with theologians all day can wear on a person after a while.
In the end I decided to add the book to my wish list. If I use it in a class, I’ll probably use only the first and fifth conversations completely and use sporadic chapters in the middle. His great suggestions and practical theology are worth enduring the doomsday ideas about economics and what causes people to have high mortgages.
Sine, Tom. 2008. The new conspirators : creating the future one mustard seed at a time. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books.