The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-in-ProgressWritten by Rob Bentz Reviewed By Michael LeFebvre
No one complains that people in hospitals tend to be ill. That is what hospitals are for. Why then are people dismayed to find the church filled with the spiritually broken? Rob Bentz’s new book is a challenge to rediscover the purpose of the church. It is “a gathering of broken people” seeking spiritual wholeness in Christ (p. 16).
However—and this is the crux of Bentz’s book—the church must be a community where people are finding the spiritual nurture they need. The Unfinished Church is a plea for congregations to embrace this calling, offering a three-part vision for caring communities.
Part 1 (called “The Foundation”) contains two chapters. Here Bentz defines the church. It is a community of redeemed individuals called to minister redemption to one another. The problem? “Many of us tend to find the ‘one another’ and ‘each other’ passages, so prevalent throughout the New Testament, to be mere suggestions” (p. 17). The solution? “A healthy church, at its core, is a group of redeemed Christ followers . . . living in authentic, honest, forgiving, grace-giving community” (p. 54).
Part 2 (“The Construction”) comprises chapters 3 through 7. Here we find the meat of the book. The framing chapters of this section describe the diversity (ch. 3) that congregations should embody, and the unity (ch. 7) that such assemblies should nurture. With regard to diversity: “The church that Jesus is building is an eclectic, intriguing, quirky, diverse mess of humanity” (p. 62). With regard to her unity: “Unity is the result of a great deal of heart-wrenching, God-seeking, others-forgiving effort. Jesus calls us to this immense personal and corporate challenge” (p. 140).
In between those framing chapters, Bentz unpacks three “one another” commands of Scripture that produce this sanctifying unity: “Love One Another” (ch. 4); “Encourage One Another” (ch. 5); and “Serve One Another” (ch. 6). “Love is hard. Not because we don’t like the idea of love. Who doesn’t? It’s the action connected with love that trips us up. . . . To offer another person genuine biblical love is almost always messy, time-consuming, and hard work” (pp. 80–81). Bentz makes no attempt to be novel or to propose new “secrets” for more effective ministry. Nor is his book built around techniques. Instead, Bentz helps us rediscover historically orthodox insights on the church in a fresh presentation that is thought provoking, convicting, and encouraging.
Part 3 (“The Completion”) contains the book’s final chapter. Here Bentz comforts us that “God continues to build his church through you and me. It’s a church that is now flawed and imperfect, but will one day be made perfect . . . the finished church” (p. 158).
Each chapter ends with three short resource sections. First, a section on “Church History” provides relevant citations that place each chapter within the stream of historic Christianity. Second, a “Music” section suggests songs that support a given chapter’s theme. Third is a list of “Questions for Discussion.” The book is clearly designed for use in small groups, and offers these helpful resources for such settings.
One caveat is needed, however. It is important that the reader recognize this is not a book about congregational care in general; it is a book to rekindle a vision for lay ministry within the church. Unfortunately that focus is not stated explicitly at the book’s outset, so readers might miss this point. But there is no discussion about the role of pastoral care or Christian counseling, or the place of church discipline in Christian growth. (On the oft-neglected topic of church discipline, see Eric J. Bargerhuff, Love That Rescues: God’s Fatherly Love in the Practice of Church Discipline [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2010].) Also, while there are several passing references to the importance of worship, there is no substantial treatment of the role filled by congregational worship and preaching in Christian nurture.
Instead, this volume targets the “one another” lay ministries so desperately needed within the church. The book is clearly the fruit of the author’s own ministry. Bentz is the Pastor of Small Groups at the 6,000-member Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs. Bentz has rightly brought us the fruits of his own focus in ministry.
Recognizing that the target of the book is on lay ministry also explains its approach. The writing is explicitly doctrinal in its moorings, yet it is predominantly anecdotal and motivational in its presentation. The result is a work that is eminently readable and theologically sound, but it does not provide the theological rigor of a book like D. A. Carson’s comparable text on the church’s duty to love one another, Love in Hard Places (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002). For those seeking exegetical and theological rigor, its absence in the present volume will be a drawback. But for those seeking motivational rigor—which is often just as needed—this is it. Bentz’s volume is a useful vision casting and teaching tool that will be helpful to many congregations.
Christ Church Reformed Presbyterian
Brownsburg, Indiana, USA
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