February 12, 2010

Book Review: Thy Kingdom Connected

As part of The Ooze Viral Bloggers, I recently had the chance to read Thy Kingdom Connected by Dwight J. Friesen. Dwight in an associate professor of practical theology at Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle, and the founding pastor of Quest: A Christ-Commons in Bellevue, Washington, and it is clear both these experiences inform his writing.

Thy Kingdom Connected looks at the role social networks play within the life of the church. Rather than looking at the specifics of networking tools like Facebook and Twitter, Friesen, insightfully examines the "big picture" of Scale Free Networks and how they are applicable to the life of the church. Drawing upon theology, biology, and sociology, Friesen makes the case that we need to rethink our conception of the congregation and the missional implications that ensue from understanding our fundamental interconnectedness.

Theologically, Friesen asserts, the Christian conception of God is inherently relational. He writes, "...only Christianity has a vision of God who exists in relationship before time - a God whose 'being,' as Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas says, is 'in communion'; a God who moves relationally toward creation, now away from it; a God who is personally and actively involved in human affairs, not just setting things in motion. And we don't just stop there; we believe that God created all that is out of love and for relationship, and we understand the very mission of God, as seen through the capacious narrative of revealed Scripture, to be the reconciliation of all things relationally unto God" (pg. 56).

And when we begin to consider that we each have importance and a place in this relational/networked kingdom that God has created, the missional implications become apparent, as Friesen notes, "As we begin to understand our interconnectedness, we begin to take on a shared mission: the mission of kingdom connectors is to actively participate in the ending of suffering of all kinds. Kingdom connecters know that when one person suffers, we all suffer, and that to bless one has untold ripple effects" (pg. 70).

Using this idea of a networked kingdom, the local church becomes a resource center with the goal of developing relationships. Friesen notes that each church should maintain its unique identity (traditional, contemporary, house, small group etc.), but the larger goal should be about connecting people with God and with each other, so that the people might be equipped to serve Christ in the world. As he says, "The church exists in relationship, by relationship, and for relationship. We exist to connect people with God, one another, and with creation in continuity with the capacious narrative of Scripture. Sometimes this means connecting people with a narrative so big and so beautiful that their lives find new meaning, redemption and hope. Sometimes it might mean connecting with others whom you personally wouldn't choose to connect with. Sometimes this may even mean helping people who are a vital part of your church connect to a different faith community or ministry even at great cost to your own ministry. And we can do this because every local Christ-Commons understands it is dynamically linked together in God's connective kingdom. The church doesn't exist simply to propagate the church, rather the local church exists as a local expression of the reality of God's networked kingdom" (pg. 109).

In a networked system traditional hierarchies no longer work, authority isn't derived through position or power but in the ability to connect. Using Google as an example, Frissen argues that the role of connective leadership is to help people connect and build meaningful relationships, building bridges and revealing God's reconciling work. Leaders in the church are "network ecologists" who help foster the life of the community.

Overall, Frisesen's book is a great read. It's deep - I found myself wanting to put it down after reading through each two or three chapters just to process everything he presents, and at the end of each chapter he presents some great questions for reflection and discussion, but it never felt overwhelming. The one (minor) difficulty I had was that it felt, at times, a little too "theoretical" to me, there were points where I wished he would have pointed to examples or provided a specific picture of what his vision of what church or pastoral leadership looks like in the networked kingdom. But it is largely written in such a way (especially with the questions) that the reader can fill in those gaps on their own.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Thy Kingdom Connected to review through Ooze Viral Bloggers. I will also receive a small percentage of proceeds if you click and purchase the book through the Amazon Associates link.

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