The Suburban Captivity of the Church: Contextualising the Gospel for Post-Christian Australia

tim foster
Author:  Tim Foster
Publication details:  Moreland, Victoria: Acorn Books, 2014
Summary:  Tim Foster is an Anglican minister and the current Vice Principal of Ridley College.  This book provides an Aussie case study based on his theological and missiological reflections of his own ministry journey in Sydney.  He discusses how the gospel has been captured by some suburban, middle-class values such as family first, homogeneity, ordered natural environment, security and privacy, and how this gospel does not gain traction amongst people groups in the city such as the urbanites and battlers where those values are not shared.  The suggested way forward concerns contextualisation of a gospel that is not impoverished and narrow but reflects the richness and breath of the Kingdom of God itself. He challenges the Christian community to break out of its captivity to the suburbs and re-imagine how it can engage and transform the suburbs, for if it does not the consequences are grave.  By acknowledging the importance of contextualisation in this journey, he explores the good news for the suburbs, especially for the two groups mentioned above which are underrepresented in the church.  This book emphasises hope in the transforming gospel which has not changed from Jesus’ time and offers ways to encounter these distinctive groups.
Evaluation:  This book has been shortlisted for 2015 Australian Christian Book of the Year and has an easy style.  I am using it as a textbook for my “Building Aussie Churches” class this semester.  Tim has a real heart for the city and I believe it is a significant book for several reasons.  Firstly, it displays a belief in the power and vibrancy of the gospel to transform lives and communities at a time when the church and its confidence in its message appears to be declining.  Secondly, it provokes conversation on the nature of the gospel for the Australian context, especially in the suburbs, and identifies how middle class values have permeated the fabric of Jesus’ message with potential damaging effect.  Thirdly, it begins the conversation around how to engage different groups that call the suburbs home and recognises that one approach does not fit all contexts.  This can lead to creativity and diversity in approaching the ways we seek to faithfully contextualize the gospel in our contexts.
Reviewed by:  David Turnbull

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