THE STORY THAT CHOOSES US: A TAPESTRY OF MISSIONAL VISION
EERDMANS PUBLISHING, 2015
In his book The Story that Chooses Us, George Hunsberger reaches back in time and chronicles the evolution of the mission mindset as we have grown to understand it today. In doing so, Hunsberger prompts us to imagine a roadmap that reveals where we are headed. It becomes evident that if the church in the Western context does not pay heed to the wisdom of the ages, it could lose its relevance completely. (Though some might argue this has already begun!) However, if we can be attentive, we might still be able to become the “hermeneutic of the Gospel,” which reverberates throughout the pages of The Story that Chooses Us. The church can then seek to be relevant again and redefine the dynamics of missions as we commonly understand them.
How do we make ourselves indispensable in a world that does not see a need for us?
In a world where a question such as “why do millennials leave the church?” unleashes a flurry of emotions from all parts of the spectrum, where the word “missional” makes people in the church uncomfortable and where the role of churches in their communities continues to be perfunctory at best, Hunsberger’s collection of essays offers a series of guideposts that not only scratch the itch but offer a fresh perspective that will guide churches and their members in rethinking how church gets done in today’s context. Hunsberger deftly takes us on a ride through the history of the North American church and traces its current place in the societal context. As the church continues to become more and more irrelevant in civic matters, discourses and decisions, the question of the true nature of our calling begins to get redefined. Thankfully, Hunsberger points toward a greater hope and calling for all of us.
As someone who entered the American church from the Asian context, I have often wondered about the genesis of today’s missional mindset in the western church. And I have noticed that many average churchgoers do not understand why missions are valued and practiced in certain routinized ways. Additionally, witnessing the church as simply a vendor of goods and services has always struck me as an unhelpful and rather limited perspective. Regularly hearing short-term mission reports that ended with the phrase “friends, we are so blessed here” has caused me to both cringe and dream about how we could do better. How can the church today faithfully enter into the larger picture of God’s good work around the world? And, more important, how do we make ourselves indispensable in a world that does not see a need for us?
Drawing heavily from mission heavyweights, including renowned missiologist Lesslie Newbigin, and using his work as part of the Gospel and Our Culture Network, Hunsberger discusses how the North American church can reclaim its missional identity despite having lost its prime position on the social ladder. Repositioning the fulcrum of the conversation, Hunsberger guides and challenges the reader to approach the idea of missions as being directed toward the North American landscape rather than being directed from here to the world. It is a masterful move that most churchgoers would not have previously been asked to consider.
Newbigin’s concept of the congregation as a hermeneutic of the Gospel to the world around us is richly fleshed out for today’s context. Hunsberger’s suggestion that we are “the only lens though which people see and interpret what the gospel is about and how it may be embraced” is a powerful reminder of why mission matters. Hunsberger’s book invites the reader to play a role in a story that is much larger than the individual or the church. He provides the intellectual backbone to the missional muscle that people love to flex but aren’t able to fall back on when challenged or pushed.
Hunsberger’s is ultimately a book that invites us into a world where we are reminded of what will characterize our work, our presence in weakness and our persistence at the margins. This is a book that is a must-read for pastors and leaders who desire to see their churches become relevant in their post-modern/post-Christendom neighborhoods, communities and beyond.
J.P. Sundararajan works with Audio Scripture Ministries. He lives in Michigan and India.