Ian Stackhouse The Gospel-Driven Church has some unpalatable medicine to hand out to the evangelical charismatic church. The book starts with an unpleasant diagnosis: Falling short of its ecclesial calling in Christ, the church is instead going after “relevant” preaching; musician-led and emotionally fuelled worship; numerical growth at all costs, and what he calls “faddism” – the urge to follow the latest trend in the hope of bringing about revival. Instead of being an alternative to the consumer society, the church is turning into a reflection of it.
To this, the author holds up a mirror of patristic orthodoxy: an incarnational theology as opposed to an ecstatic spirituality, and a sacramental and ecclesial experience of Christ as opposed to immediate individual encounter. And so we come to his prescription: a return to liturgy, to the eucharist and baptism, to the daily office, and the “lost art of the cure of souls”.
Stackhouse quotes from Irenaeus, modern Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox theologians and popular theological writers. And he takes aim without deference, and his weapons hit home even when levelled at the Holy Cows of the evangelical/charismatic pantheon such as Alpha and the March for Jesus.
The line of his argument can wander at times, and you feel he is sometimes weighed down by the sheer quantity of his material. Nevertheless, with careful observation, deep thought and a rare detachment, he produces a series of lucid, pithy insights, set out within a firm theological framework. It is this that may deter people from reading the book; it comes across at times as being academic and bookish. This is a pity, as the style might alienate the very readers Mr Stackhouse would most like to persuade.
Don’t think, though, that the book is a polemic; the author is far too generous for that. He is careful to point out the many strengths of the revivalist tradition, and the ways it has benefitted the church. Indeed, he seeks to find a way of mixing the best of revivalism – the liveliness of the worship, faith in the work of Christ and the operation of the Holy Spirit – into his patristic prescription.
I am not fully convinced by Stackhouse’s conclusions but the book carries a vital message and a timely challenge for anyone seriously thinking and praying about the future of the evangelical church.