Book Review: Embodying Our Faith: Becoming a Living, Sharing, Practicing Church by Tim Morey (InterVarsity Press)
Tim Morey (D.Min., Fuller Theological Seminary) is a church planter and pastor. His church, Life Covenant Church is located in Torrance, California. He is also on the national church planting team for the Evangelical Covenant Church and is an adjunct professor teaching practical theology at Talbot School of Theology.
Tim Morey asks, “How do we bring the message of Jesus to a culture that is deeply skeptical about truth claims, rejects metanarratives (such as the gospel), considers the church a suspect institution, takes offense at moral judgments and believes any religion will lead them to God?”
When put that way, our task seems a bit overwhelming. However, Morey does a great job of developing a philosophy of church planting while simultaneously making evangelism in a postmodern context a simpler concept to understand.
At the root of Morey’s approach to evangelism and church planting is the concept of “embodied apologetics”. Morey writes:
By this I mean an apologetic that is based more on the weight of our actions than the strength of our arguments.
I underlined this sentence 12 times.
Morey is not saying that we abandon our logical understanding of Truth. He’s suggesting the timeless idea that our actions speak louder than our words.
In my head I envision a person standing on two feet. One foot represents logical arguments for the gospel. The other foot represents our experience of the gospel. In today’s society, I believe Morey is suggesting that the weight is shifting from one foot to the other; from the logical foot, to the experiential foot. However, we still stand on both feet.
We need to maintain our understanding of the Truth but realize that many people need to see our faith in action before they will ever consider the truth. Morey spends a lot more time explaining an embodied apologetic than most others who have talked about the concept and I appreciate his ability to take an abstract concept and make it concrete.
More from Morey concerning an embodied apologetic:
The Christian life is not meant to be an objective pursuit of orthodox doctrine but is embodied in those who follow a Person rather than a dogma.
Seldom do you find [in the book of Acts] a proclamation of the gospel without an accompanying experience of the gospel.
From describing an embodied apologetic, Morey then turns to contextualization in the chapter entitled, “Same Wine, Different Skin”. Again, he is able to succinctly describe a vision for the present about how we should contextualize the gospel. Morey wants the church to start being on mission. As church members, we are missionaries in our own neighborhood. He writes:
The task of every missionary is to understand the culture to be reached and to bring the undiluted gospel to that culture in a form that will be understandable to the hearers. This process is known as contextualization.
His point is that we shouldn’t think that this process is only for the missionary in Japan who wears a kimono or the missionary in Ecuador who learns to speak Spanish. In our own communities, we need to begin to grasp the “language” of our neighbors and begin to think more missionally about how to share our lives with them. He quotes Eddie Gibbs:
The contextualized church “represents a serious attempt to engage with the cultural setting in which the local church is endeavoring to bear witness,” whereas the market-driven church “signifies a church that tailors its message and employs any gimmick in order to attract a crowd.”
Clearly, Morey believes we should be more relationship-driven and he calls this “the contextualized church”.
Evangelizing baby boomers is like picking fruit from an aging tree, while evangelizing postmoderns is like fertilizing the roots in hope that fruit will one day appear.
Agree? Disagree? In chapters 3 and 4, Morey talks about what it means to make disciples in a postmodern context. In Morey’s mind, we shouldn’t be separating evangelism from discipleship (I love it!). Jesus didn’t seem to reserve spiritual practices only for those who were members. Here’s what Morey says:
Jesus seemed largely unconcerned with who was in and who was out (“You do not want to leave too, do you?” [Jn 6:67]), but simply called all to follow regardless of where they were at in the process, always inviting them to go deeper.
In other words, Morey believes that we are seeing a shift in how people come to Jesus and it may not be a one time event…it might be a process. He describes several shifts for us to consider today:
- Evangelism as an event to evangelism as a process
- Impersonal evangelism to personal evangelism
- Rational apologetics to an embodied apologetic
Too often we present the gospel as a set of truths we must subscribe to, as opposed to a relationship with Jesus who is the Truth.
Elements of an Embodied Apologetic
Throughout the book, Morey is developing a way of thinking about the needs of our postmodern neighbors and how the church naturally meets those needs through an embodied apologetic.
An embodied apologetic must be experiential. Our worship gatherings are, by nature, experiential. Especially when we include elements of communion, prayer, silence, music, food, Psalms, ancient writings, story, giving, art, meditation, preaching, teaching, and benediction as Morey suggests. This experiential worship resonates with postmoderns who have a need for transcendence.
An embodied apologetic must be communal. This happens through our small groups, hospitality in our homes, mentoring, accountability, confession, etc. These practices really meet the needs of postmoderns who are longing for authentic community.
Finally, an embodied apologetic must be enacted. The church should be active in compassion and justice both locally and globally. This meets the needs of postmoderns who are trying to find their purpose.
These three elements of an embodied apologetic – experiential faith, communal faith, and enacted faith – are the subject of the final three chapters of the book. These last three chapters are extremely practical and helpful. Notice also that all three of these expressions of our faith are extremely natural and Biblical. They may not be easy, but this is the essence of how God wants us to live.
There is nothing new here about the gospel or even about how to share the gospel, Morey simply does a good job of matching the needs of our postmodern neighbors to the fulfillment of those needs in Jesus as we live, share, and practice our faith in front of others.
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The apologetic I propose in Embodying Our Faith is experiential, communal and enacted. These dimensions correspond to the longings postmoderns have for transcendence, community and purpose.