Brief Book Review: Beyond Four Walls

Beyond Four Walls:  Explorations on Being the Church
Michael D. O’Neil and Peter Elliott, eds.

What did I hope to learn? As a priest serving a congregation in one of the least religious parts of North America, I had hoped to gain some insights into how the church goes beyond its walls to reach a ‘spiritual but not religious’ population. This hope was not realized.

What’s the main point of the essays? The express purpose of this collection of essays arising from a conference held in Perth, Australia a few years prior to 2020 (the date of publication) is that “the church . . . might yet become what it is called to be . . . to gather, renew, build up, and send forth the people of God” (p. xiv)

Why is this book useful? This collection of essays is useful because it is a reminder that the struggle to proclaim the gospel effectively to people in ‘first world cultures’ is not limited to the so-called ‘mainline’ churches. Evangelicals are also seeking ways to share the gospel with those who have no religious affiliation or interest in what we have to say. Having a perspective from the Pacific region adds to our understanding of how our context is both similar and dissimilar to other ‘first world’ contexts.

What did I find most helpful? As often happens when the papers from an academic conference are published, the most valuable contributions come from the keynote speaker(s). One hopes that the subsidiary papers will unveil something new to the conversation or will add a new perspective on a topic or approach that has been explored widely by others.

This collection of essays falls easily into this pattern. The more valuable and more widely-applicable essays are taken from the addresses given by Scot McKnight, the Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Chicago. In his first essay, ‘Church as Gospel’ [pp. 1-16], McKnight makes two bold claims: (i) evangelicals have misdefined the gospel and (ii) the church, local and universal, is the gospel. In doing so McKnight presents his audience with what I might describe as a patristic and evangelical take on the church as a local and universal embodiment of the good news of God in Christ.

In his second essay, ‘The Pastor-Teacher and the Church’ [pp. 79-96], McKnight explores the relevance of the Epistle of James, not always a frequent reference in evangelical circles, to contemporary pastoral praxis based on teleios, ‘spiritualwholeness’ or ‘perfection’. His final essay, ‘Atonement and Church’ [pp. 193-205], simply makes the point that Christians in mission today cannot be effective if they restrict themselves to only one understanding of how we are reconciled to God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Michael D. O’Neil and Peter Elliott, eds. Beyond Four Walls:  Explorations on Being the Church. Australian College of Theology Monograph Series. Eugene, OR:  Wipf & Stock, 2020. ISBN 978-1-7252-7890-5.

REVIEWER: The Venerable Richard Geoffrey Leggett
Vicar of Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral &
Archdeacon of Westminster,
New Westminster, British Columbia

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