Being Church, Doing Life: Creating Gospel Communities Where Life Happens, by Michael Moynagh
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours in exchange for an honest book review.]
In reading a book like this one, which is light and selective on scriptural quotations (and even citations) and heavy on references to dubious cultural advice from such sources as Charles Darwin and the Ragamuffin Gospel , there are two difficult tasks that the fair-minded but critical reviewer must keep in mind. On the one hand, a book like this contains much that is useful, as well as much that is unscriptural and loaded with all kinds of unbiblical assumptions, which is a challenge to the fairness of a reviewer who finds much to appreciate (even appropriate) but also much to critique. On the other hand, so much of this book is based on mistaken and faulty assumptions and so much of this book is seeking to promote an ungodly agenda that it is difficult to convey what is good about the book without whitewashing its many and serious flaws, and difficult to critique the book completely without discrediting or attacking that which is good about it. Nevertheless, it is this task that must be attempted as justly as possible.
It should be noted that a book that is nearly 350 pages of dense material packed with everything from testimonials of churches that have sought to water down their traditions and liturgy to appeal to people in the midst of sex-changes and people who are fond of bull sessions over beer or heavy metal music or tattoo parlors but apparently cannot be bothered to go to church because they prefer to surf to ways that a church can engage in the difficult process of evaluating progress in experiments in ways that are fair to donors (often in churches) who are funding the efforts of people to start communities. It appears, in fairness, that the author himself is engaged in a difficult task, trying to convince believers to modify their approach to meet others but also address concerns about the faith being watered down in the effort. In order to address these concerns, the author seeks to paint a picture of a post-Christian world that would be the result of a refusal to adapt with the times, and makes vague appeals to the work of the Holy Spirit (often accompanied by unscriptural references to praying to the Trinity and a decentralizing of power and authority, including the interpretation and application of scripture) as being involved in the effort of supporting the emergent church moment.
What is largely missing from this book, though, is any kind of sustained involvement with what the Bible says about evangelism. The author, it should be noted, is perfectly content for emergent believers to have a long period of having a “form” of godliness by being discipled without any kind of decision in terms of worshiping in a regular church. Indeed, the author seems to revel in a postmodern appreciation of ever learning but never coming to the truth of God, something that Paul was rather vehement against. Likewise, the author believes it is acceptable to pander to contemporary fads (whether those fads are cultural or scientific or philosophical in nature) rather than seeking to transform the world into the image of God, or understanding how God’s ways are demonstrated by the example of prophecy (which is primarily aimed at pointing people to the constant requirements of God’s ways and how God’s judgment comes on those societies and cultures that reject God in order to seek after their own corrupt ways) as well as the standard of biblical law that remains applicable for people. The author hardly ever references biblical law, and usually does so abominably poorly when he does so (including a complete misunderstanding of the Sabbath practices of the early church ). This book would have been better off in order to start from the Bible and work out its ramifications and implications, rather than seek to cherry pick isolated and few biblical passages in order to support what is at its heart a human agenda that seeks cultural relevance and the approval of the world rather than the approval of God.
Nevertheless, this book is not without value, even if its worth is very limited. There are essentially two worthwhile aspects of this work for a genuine Bible believer. The first, and most important, is that this book encourages people to listen to others and understand their needs without being obsessed with saving souls or increasing the size of one’s church. Even if this book goes about this noble goal in completely the wrong way, this is a noble and Christian task that needs to be remembered. In a similar vein, this book shows that much of what we are attached to with regards to Christianity, for those of us that are fond of formal services (and obedient to biblical passages like Hebrews 10 concerning church attendance, which admittedly would apply in a smaller group of believers as well in a place like a house church ) is a matter of tradition and not always a matter of scripture, something that is especially common when it comes to format and liturgy . The other aspect of this book is worthwhile is that the approach of this book provides a typically Catholic approach to swaying with the cultural winds in order to preserve relevance and power in the midst of shifting societal tides, and also provides a way that there could be a superficial “revival” of Christian belief that would lack any sort of genuinely biblical culture. This book, therefore, provides a warning message about how a shallow ecumenical faith that is not only ecumenical with regards to other denominations but also with the ungodly could spread and be seen (falsely) as the work of the Holy Spirit. This may not be the sort of worth the author wished to provide, but it provides reason to study this book and understand the marketing approach behind it that seeks to replace a repentance from the ways of the world to a wholesale adoption of the ways of this world as a way of preserving “relevance” to a world that has little interest in or knowledge of God’s ways.
 See, for example: