Convergence: Recommended Strategic Reading

In recent years I have had the opportunity to pursue reading across a broad spectrum of materials. I have been thinking about several books that are interconnected with the opportunities for global witness of the evangelical Church. Here is a brief reflection on eight books (in no particular order), many seminal works unto themselves, that can contribute to strategic thinking for churches and mission organizations willing to take the time to think deeply about their actions before taking them. It is likely that many readers are already familiar with most or all of these but even so, perhaps it would be best to revisit them and think on how they interrelate. None of these books are new but, as we are wont to do, we may have let them slip from the forefront of our awareness and thinking. These are some of the best works in our generation and worthy of refreshed reflection.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t – Jim Collins (HarperBusiness, 2001).

Collins offers eight chapters on the key elements of what make great companies great. He has ordered them according to their importance to the endeavor toward excellence. Perhaps three keys are most relevant to effective evangelical missions work. The first is that each organization is headed by humble leadership. These folk know their own limitations and make sure they augment those with the right folk, which is the second key: getting the right people “on the bus.” These leaders also pursue the best interests of the constituencies they serve. Personal interests and agendas, fiefdoms, political maneuverings, etc., have no place in their pursuit of success. The third key is The Hedgehog Concept, that is, zeroing in on what it is your organization does specifically and not allowing ancillary activities undermine the best efforts that might be applied to organizational focus.

The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization – Thomas A. Stewart (Currency, 2001).

Missions organizations and churches seem to function more on instinct than extending a best effort in intelligence gathering and data analysis. It is almost as if “there is no king…everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). It is hard to imagine that the Lord condones the disunity and lack of transparency among many in missions work today. Many will not share intelligence because they fear it will undermine their ability to fundraise. To be most effective, missional leaders must shed such fears and practice their faith with an open hand, sharing and coordinating information and efforts. To not do so is tantamount to robbing the Kingdom of its most expeditious effectiveness. Information is often more valuable than money today in pressing toward organizational success. The Church is a singular reality and divisions undermine its witness and ability to minister to the world.

The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization – Thomas L. Friedman (Anchor Books, 2000).

I would recommend coupling this work with Friedman’s The World is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Friedman has been given an uncanny ability to capture a snapshot of globalization in our day and its far reaching implications. The world is far smaller than it used to be and missions organizations can tap into the same re-organization of thought corporations do as both seek to enter and grow in global markets. But to do so without at least trying to frame the globalized world into missional strategies will result in transcultural failures and missed opportunities.

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order – Samuel P. Huntington (Simon & Schuster, 1996)

There is one key point to this book that keeps it in front of me though I do not remember Huntington discussing it directly, and that is liminality. The whole world is in flux, especially politically and economically. Whole societies and cultures have been disrupted by the globalization of the past few decades. People everywhere are confronted by a depth of knowledge of other cultures and systems unlike any time in human history. Research has shown that people are most open to new ideas as they face life transitions, like having their worldview shaken by exposure to new ideas. These are transitional times and the best (often, most practical) ideas will be adopted to replace less effective notions of reality and living. How does the Church address the opportunities at hand as whole populations are faced with conflicting ideas, with new opportunities, or losses of opportunity? How is Christian faith framed as the best option for understanding the world we live in and making the best life for individuals and communities? How is Christian faith framed in light of the draw of Islam, Hinduism, secular humanism, etc.? People are looking for life and their world to make sense. They are searching for answers and meaning in highly agitated and disrupted times. How can the Church provide them answers and meaning?

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time – Jeffrey Sachs (Penguin Books, 2005)

The real message of Sach’s book is an unanswered question: If we have the economic power to eliminate abject global poverty, why are we not doing it? The Global Church controls immense amounts of wealth. Unfortunately many Christians in the West are committed to worldly, fear-based investment strategies to ensure their own comfort in old age. Retirement accounts appropriately parsed, at least to the world’s thinking, among precious metals, blue chips stocks, and a slight commitment to riskier high growth funds, have nothing in common with the biblical admonitions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and house the homeless. What we are missing is that the greatest wealth generation possible is by investing in the poor who, since all GDP is ultimately labor, possess the greatest potential for economic growth.

The Phenomenon of Man – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (HarperPerennial, 2008, first published in 1955)

Chardin was a French Jesuit and an authority in the field of paleontology. First, he was unafraid of reconciling the biblical creation account with modern scientific considerations of evolution. On this point, I agree with him wholeheartedly. It is only by a misguided insistence that the Bible is a history book rather than a sacred text that we must insist that every aspect must be taken literally. Unfortunately, that approach misunderstands the literary genres of the Bible and that stories, like Jesus parables, can contain truth without being factual. My second takeaway from Chardin’s book is in his visionary considerations of the growth of the noosphere, a “layer” of collective human intelligence surrounding the earth like the biosphere. The advent of the Internet has, in practical ways, made his vision come true. This points back to Stewart’s The Wealth of Knowledge above. The development of growing human knowledge, computing power, and global electronic communications offer opportunities to reach all the people of earth with the message of Christ in ways never before imagined. What strategies will best take advantage of these opportunities? Will they be restricted to simply “preaching” online or might they include ways of helping the world overcome its strife and struggles through the dissemination of ideas and practical applications of knowledge to alleviate suffering? Can global communications and knowledge-sharing help with economic development which, in turn, undermines oppression, modern slave trading and sex trafficking, economic isolation and deprivation? The possibilities have yet to been intentionally considered in the missions community. There are some pursuing these lines of thought in missions but who will step up to encourage and facilitate the conversation on a global scale?

Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration – Keith Sawyer (Basic Books, 2007)

Scripture is replete with the wisdom of seeking a multitude of counsel before formulating plans. Unfortunately, attempts to coordinate efforts among mission agencies, even to host gatherings of likeminded people toward collaborative work, is met with resistance. Two problems seem to exacerbate trying to overcome such resistance: the unwillingness to share information (see The Wealth of Knowledge above), and busyness. The first I have already discussed. The second is due to shortsightedness and an over emphasis on pragmatism. In the ancient days, when agrarian societies could afford some down time from productive field work, a fair amount of time was spent in learning and discussion among city elders. The worst impact of modern commercial society is the lack of opportunity to spend time together simply to discuss matters at hand. We have lost the art of personal social discourse and relegated it to blog posts and short articles on LinkedIn to share our ideas. These venues, unfortunately, do not allow for fluid discussion and the nuances of casual conversation. To be intentional about collaborative thinking, leaders must be willing to set aside portions of their schedules, trusting that the gains gleaned from such conversations will, in the long term, outweigh the fire-fighting and setbacks of business-as-usual. Together we can accomplish far more than we can individually, especially as we share ideas and parse our work according to each one’s strengths. The marketplace has demonstrated the positive impact of comparative advantage and specialization that many missions organizations and churches have yet to understand.

Non Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny – Robert Wright (Pantheon Books, 2000)

This is an interesting read as Wright studies social development throughout human history then draws a parallel between that development and biological evolution. Perhaps the most interesting observation, though Wright refuses to cross over into the discussion of metaphysics, is his conclusion that the progression toward higher complexity and specialization in both orders seem to be unidirectional and compelled by an inherent “force” or impetus. Though humankind has experienced some setbacks and dealt with some serious flaws along its developmental path, Wright’s conclusion paints a hopeful future.

Conclusion

The global Church is poised to take on some of humankinds biggest problems – poverty, human trafficking, political corruption. To do so will require a great deal of collaboration and willful high-minded thinking and strategizing. To do anything less, given the opportunity, is to short change God’s calling on every Christian life to become living witnesses to the glory of God. Can we set aside egotism and self-protecting fiefdoms? Can we embrace the tensions of admitting we each lack comprehensive knowledge and trust one another as God’s own children, all with the singular focus of welcoming and advancing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? How might we go about creating a virtual think tank that openly welcomes disparate views on our current reality and then discuss without vitriol how different interpretations of Scripture might inform next steps and long term strategies?

Historically, the Church has suffered, and inflicted suffering upon the mission of God, by its own divisiveness. Very often, it has been the Church which hindered the progress of God’s agenda as movements of God have been embraced in the Spirit but then institutionalized, making them more a reign of human organizations than of God’s leading. If you have read some or all of the books discussed here, please reflect on them and how they can contribute to deepening discussions of Christian discipleship and Kingdom advancement.

18 Comments

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18 responses to “Convergence: Recommended Strategic Reading

  1. Thanks, Dave, for this thoughtful list of particularly worthwhile books. Selectivity is very helpful in the fire hose flood of books. And thanks for the annotation of the message and potential value. A couple strike me as potentially a bit superficial at points b/c of not believing and taking seriously enough the fallenness of humans. But then, we cannot expect otherwise of fallen thinkers who both see, but do not see.

    Thanks, again.

    • David – Thank you for your comments. I agree that the fallen cannot answer all questions but my intent, as you recognize, was to point out that the world is still full of thinkers created in the image of God, many of whom have a great deal to offer. One of my great apprehensions is that the Church, in some ways, still tends toward isolationism and does not engage the world around us intellectually (other than perhaps on vocational fronts) to help solve real-world problems. I am still praying we could have a think tank approach that would invite the best thinkers to put forth their inspired works. I like TED Talks but 15 minutes, especially with no feedback loop nor enduring follow-on discussions, is more like intellectual gluttony…imbibing to satisfy curiosity but never producing meaningful results.

      • Absolutely. I agree. Good point re TED talks. Isolationism is one problem of the church. The ironic absorption of cultural worldview, values and morals is another, perhaps bigger and very much related. A long-time pastor friend of mine who is leading his church out of the United Presbyterian Church recently commented “If you look at every cultural/theological shift in the UPC over the years, every one has followed the shifts in the culture.”

  2. Steve Spaulding

    Thanx for this doc, David. I’ve followed you from a distance, and do have an interest in BAM of all kinds, but it’s not because I’m into “business” or simply “mission.” It’s because I’ve developed a pretty thorough re-understanding of our “great commission,” and I tend, in the past several years, to summarize it in the following, super-simple phrase: “obedient nations.” It is a vision which encompasses basically all that we as Evangelicals have been doing for a long, long time, but also much more. I could send you a paper on this if you’re interested. Thank you also for this annotated biblio of some of your better reading. I’ve read about half of the ones you listed, and might add my own:
    Darrow Miller: “Discipling Nations”
    Chris Wright: “The Mission of God”
    N.T. Wright: “Surprised by Hope” (and many others!)
    Landa Cope: “Old Testament Template”
    Jim Stier (ed): “His Kingdom Come”
    Andy Crouch: “Culture Making” and “Playing God”
    Vishal Mangalwadi: “Truth and Transformation” (and others)
    …and I’ve just reread an article written by J. L. Richard called “All Things Are Yours” published in the May/June 2011 issue of Mission Frontiers magazine…v.g. on some basic missiology, but controversial to those for whom the whole ‘insider movement’ thing is ‘an issue.’

    Anyway, thanx again for your leadership in this little network–shalom,

    steve spaulding, resident missiologist, OC International, COS

    • Steve – Thanks you your reply. On your list, I have also read Chris Wright’s Mission of God, a tome to be sure but well worth every page. I appreciate you addressing the re-work on the Great Commission and I really like the “obedient nations” summary. I had a lengthy online discussion just yesterday about the meaning of salvation (personal AND systemic). I am encouraged to keep pressing the conversations.

      BTW, from looking at your job title, I now have job envy!

      Shalom,

      Dave

    • Steve,

      Great list! What does “resident missiologist” mean in OCI? And, do you know the Krafts? They were members of the IVCF chapter at Johns Hopkins where I served as IVCF staff.

      I might suggest one refinement to your Gt Commission boil-down–obedience among the nations or something that direction. I would want to avoid any triumphalism or idea of restoration of this fallen world before Jesus returns.

      • David – I agree with your concern re triumphalism but the idea of restoration is already a work in progress. The telos will not come to culmination until Christ returns but I believe we are called to be advancing the Kingdom of God even now. I believe that the Church is called to demonstrate and create its own “internal” social order within the frameworks of existing institutions as exemplars of righteousness to influence existing societies and cultures toward that same righteousness. There is an interesting parallel to be drawn between Robert Wright’s Non-Zero and Chris Wright’s Mission of God. Interestingly, I read those two books as “book ends” wrapped around N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian. I had not intended it that way…it just sort of happened, but I found the juxtaposition of the three poignant.

      • I totally agree with all of these goals/commitments. They are part of the creation mandate and it repair since the fall. But I have serious trouble with the Post-Millennial restoration theology which sees God’s kingdom coming gradually on earth. Show me in Scripture. And show me on earth/history.

      • David – I understand the skepticism. Oddly, one of the books on the list, Non Zero, contains some of the best evidence because he takes a very long view of history. Modern education, healthcare, scientific development, economic development, (classical) liberal governance, etc., all owe their roots to the Juedo-Christian heritage. There have also been studies done showing that death due to war (as a percentage of human population) has been decreasing century by century. I would also point to du Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man. But only by taking a long view of history can the movement toward higher civilization be seen.

        Again, note that I said it would not culminate until Christ’s return. But that the New Jerusalem exists / will exist in this world is the statement that the people of God will be able to pass in and out but those outside (the unclean things) will not be allowed in (an interpretation of Rev 21).

        The parallel to incrementalism of it coming in time is the step by step measure of the retaking of the land of Canaan in the Old Testament and the “from glory to glory” transformation of the individual in the New Testament. The term used for “new” in the new heaven and the new earth is kainos, which means renewed, a process, rather than a spontaneous event. Something brand new would be denoted with neos.

        The whole enterprise of God’s mission (missio Dei) is redemptive and restorative, not destroy and replace. That is why Adam did not die, why Noah was closed up in the Ark, etc. God chose to redeem (saved and sanctify) his creation because it was good, and humankind very good, and certainly not corrupted beyond salvage at the hand of God’s intervention (the Christ).

      • Very interesting input. Thx. I’m really interested in NonZero from what you stated. Also, I imagine you are aware of Rodney Stark’s work on the impact of Christian worldview. The Victory of Reason, which concludes the same thing. Also, some of his other works which I’ve not read yet.

        Am I correctly getting the impression that you embrace Restoration theology? I cannot do so b/c of Revelation. All external progress must also be evaluated along with the internal mindset and posture toward God of humankind, which is very sobering in the post-modern, post-Christian West. Any real restoration must have at its core a genuine surrender to God from the heart, dependence on him, and absorption in his glory. This we simply do not see and Revelation seems to say it will never be so as I read it. In fact, the anemic, man-centered state of the church is a great source of anguish to me.

        Your comment on kainos is also interesting. I’ll have to check that out. However, all words possess a semantic range and meaning is controlled by context. I’ll have to review the text.

        Thx for you input.

      • Another interesting note on kainos. Hebrews 8:13 — “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” — also uses kainos, because the covenant in Christ is actually the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham “renewed,” as in, made complete.

      • But also obsolete and replaced.

      • I believe the “obsolete and replaced” is the Church in the place of Israel. Plus, the new commandment (John 13:34) supersedes the Mosaic Law.

      • David – I believe there will be a restoration of unity in the Church but it will be by the move of the Holy Spirit, not by an institution of human effort. We can see evidence of God moving in this in ecumenical initiatives and conversations. We need to get back to basic doctrine . . . we have far more in common than the issues that divide. Current divisions have been created by politics and pride in the Church that only God can overcome. I do no believe we will witness a full restoration until Christ returns.

        My theology, I am sure, will draw accusations of utopianism but I, again, do not see the Kingdom coming by human hands. It is coming and we are agents of transformation but for us to “lay out plans” is presumptuous, especially given the doctrinal divides among us. I think too many expect that we can engineer this movement because we are shortsighted and do not recognize that God is not in the hurry that we are. We have but seventy years, or, if by strength, eighty, on this earth. We have a very narrow view of what eternity means, what it means for God to exist outside time and space while participating in both. We are each called to advance the Kingdom as we are each given works to do but our “hearing” of God’s voice is enormously hindered by our fallen nature. All our efforts are faulty at best but the collective efforts of the Church through time are at the impetus of God who transcends our generations. We are not patient creatures but God is, as Scripture says, longsuffering, enduring our arrogance while still crafting his mission through us. Thank God, God is more powerful and wiser than are we.

      • And, yes, I am familiar with Stark’s work:

        Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. New York: HarperOne, 1997.

      • Steve Spaulding

        Resident missiologist–I would say–just means I’m basically a student of the passions of God for this age….I used to be your standard ‘missionary’ with Dawn Ministries–out of South East Asia (10 yrs in Manila), and we got to witness there the culmination of the world’s first DAWN movement–in the Philippines in 2000 (planting about 45,000 plus churches in a little over 20 years–the whole church doing it–(and starting with between 4 and 5000 around 1975).
        Anyway, my eschatology has certainly shifted as I’ve studied this idea of ‘obedient nations’ in Scripture and beyond. N.T. Wright has been a big help in this regard, as well as a few others. One thing which really ‘came home’ to me as I reconsidered what was once (I suppose) your mildly dispensational take on end-times stuff, was the fact that the most quoted vs. from the OT in the NT is Ps. 110:1 “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'” It’s in all the Synoptics, in Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2, in Paul’s writing (1 Cor 15) and in Hebrews (1 and 10)…in other words, all over the place, and it’s really quite eschatological, in that these writers would have all agreed that when he ascended to heaven after his resurrection, Christ was fulfilling the essence of this verse…but then that means it’s actually referring to the time of Christ’s return…NOT when the Antichrist is ready to show up, or some ‘rapture’ but when he enemies have been defeated…and in 1 Cor 15, that passage makes clear that the ‘final enemy to be destroyed is death.’ And I found your average, older commentator saying that that was referring to his second coming, in that there would be a general resurrection at that point. Anyway, between 1 Cor 15 and Heb. 10:11-12, I’ve likely been pushed rather gently toward what could be seen as a post-millennial position, although, because it’s the future, I’m never adamant about these things. I do see much more “basileocentric” (Kingdom-centered) thinking in Scripture than I used to, and, in part because I’m no longer a dispensationalist, I do not hold the profoundly negative view of our current age–as they apparently do (the idea that this age simply needs to get worse, and worse and worse and worse, and THEN, Jesus can come back–and THEN we’ll really see the kingdom). I think that’s profoundly unbiblical stuff at this point…but that’s just where I’m at.,..at present :) (if you’re interested in a few other books, I might recommend some pretty simple stuff: “Victorious Eschatology” by Eberle and Trench, as well as a blogsite by a younger, former dispensationalist–I think it’s still called “whyIamnotadispensationalist.com” His name is Eric Adams, and he’s laid out some good points, certainly not polemic/biting in his style, and I found him pretty convincing…it’s a lot of blog-site reading. (several years ago I cut and pasted well over 100 pp of his site into Word, just so I could read it in block form…but it was well-organized and covered some good territory).
        Shalom, sms

      • On topics of eschatology I would recommend two more books. The first (Russell), though nearly 140 years old, is the standard on the preterist view, which I would say I am closest to. It is available for free on Google Books. The second (Walls), is expensive but I use it extensively.

        Russell, J. Stuart. The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming. London: Daldy, Isbister and Company, 1878.

        Walls, Jerry L., ed. The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology. Oxford: The Oxford University Press, 2008.

      • Steve, you’ve motivated me to get Everles & Trench’s “Victorious Eschatology and read it sometime. (It is not 1st priority.) Also, thx for the website link.

        I found your thinking interesting, but unobtainable for me b/c of the tremendous severity of Revelation’s picture of humanity and evil with the assertion that it only when God “takes [his] great power and begins to reign” in ruling and judging power that it will be turned back, There is no contest in the end, but Babylon the great whore appears totally seductive and invincible until that catastrophic time. I also remember that Jesus said that his “kingdom was not of this world.” And finally observation of reality of history and of current realities makes postmillennialism unobtainable to me. But I look forward to reading.

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