I recently had the opportunity to read a review copy of It's A Dance
written by Patrick Oden. When I first heard about this book I was intrigued - a theology book about the Holy Spirit written in story form. I am aware that the role of the Holy Spirit is not mentioned often in emerging church discussions. Perhaps the fundamentalist/evangelical roots of many of us in this conversation who grew up being told that the salvation of Pentecostals and Charismatics wasn't for sure and that the Holy Spirit no longer works in our current dispensation may have something to do with that. But whatever the case, I haven't heard much talk about the holy Spirit recently and so wanted to explore It's a Dance
The book is set up focusing on a writing assignment of a southern Californian journalist, Luke. His assignment leads him to visit and review churches in the area in search of something new and different to capture the readers attention. While the assignment is part of his job, the search echoes Luke's own spiritual quest to arrive at some sort of understanding and expression of faith he can accept. This quest leads him to a very different sort of church that meets in a pub. Luke then discovers the hows and why of this church's differences as he sits down for long discussions with the pastor and church attendees. Through these discussions we hear the stories of what brought people to this different church (often stories of pain) and are exposed to the basic theology driving the church. All the while the presence of the Holy Spirit makes itself known as the conversation returns again and again to how the Spirit is at the center of what drives the church.
I personally enjoyed reading the theological exploration in conversational format. Many of the conversations in the book reminded me of ones I have participated in from time to time. There were points where the writing slipped out of conversational mode into sermon mode, but then again when you are writing through the voice of a pastor, it is hard not to sermonize every once in awhile. Although the book does not use footnotes (they would have broken up the flow of the conversation), Oden lists his sources at the end of the book and one can tell that centuries of theological traditions and reflections informed the dialogue in the book. As I read I encountered ideas common in emerging church circles as well as explorations of the Holy Spirit that were new to my understanding of faith. It was a fun intellectual journey to take.
In the presentation of the "different" church Luke encounters, it is easy to recognize many of the trendy trappings of relevant churches. They met in a pub connected to a coffee shop/bookstore, they don't do programs, they offer a prayer room for contemplative prayer, they eschew the typical patterns of modern American churches and so forth. Nothing wrong of course with any of those things, they just fit the common stereotypes of what emerging churches look like. I appreciated that Oden went beyond describing the stylistic structure of the church and told the stories of the people who identify with that church. Reading their stories and discovering how they came to find a church home there fleshed out the theology presented in the book. Their lives represented theology lived out and were a great reminder of the real life implications of all that we believe. Through them one could see the Holy Spirit moving in the never-ending dance to draw us into faith and worship.
I think this book is a needed addition to the growing library of books on how we do church in an emerging culture. It is an accessible read and will be helpful to those who understand theology more relationally than didactically.
Labels: Book Reviews, Church, Emerging Church