Borderless Church: Shaping the Church in the 21st Century – Book Review

Borderless Church: Shaping the Church in the 21st Century
Author:  David Lundy
Publisher:  Authentic Media, 2005
ISBN:  1 850 78646 1

Book Review by  Rev Dr Colin Bulley, Academic Dean and Head of Practical Studies, Redcliffe College.

At first I thought that I was the wrong person to be reading Borderless Church but I found it stimulating and inspiring before I finished it.

I thought I was the wrong person because I am a lecturer at a missionary-training college and what David Lundy says about God wanting a borderless, i.e. missionary, church, and about globalisation and the postmodern context was all stuff that we have been wrestling with and teaching for quite some time.

Naturally, there was a strong sense of déjà vu and, ‘when is he going to say something new?!’ Lundy himself recognises that ‘I cannot really claim that I am saying anything new or revolutionary’ (p.xix).  At the same time, however, there was a consciousness that these things might not be well known within Western churches and so there might be a need for them to be said (again).

As I went further on, I began to appreciate the many interesting statistics used to support the author’s case (I do love it when people provide evidence to support their assertions!) and examples of what the author was talking about, culminating in the four inspiring case studies of borderless churches on three continents.  I also appreciated Lundy’s treatment of ‘soft apologetics’, arguing for the truth, but relationally and respectfully in a postmodern and religiously plural world, and his treatment of the fraught relationship between church and parachurch organisations, especially mission agencies.

I was very interested in the characteristics of borderless churches that Lundy draws out from his four case studies.  First and foremost, they state and practise their belief that the church exists primarily for those outside it, both locally and worldwide, through word and deed.  Second, they have vibrant worship in which many people sense that God truly is being honoured.  Third, they stress community, usually but not always through small groups.  Fourth, the preached word is central.  Fifth, they equip the laity (horrible word!) for ministry and mission.

There are points at which I take issue with Lundy:

* He is overwhelmingly negative about postmodernity, as tends to be the case for those who emphasise strongly the word-based nature of God’s revelation in Scripture.  To balance this, however, he emphasises the place of the arts in worship and the great need for relevance, anecdotes and illustrations in preaching.
* In emphasising the parallels between the early centuries of the church and today, he does not give adequate attention to the differences.  I am thinking particularly of the tiredness of the early centuries with most religious alternatives to Christianity and the appeal of its novelty, as compared with the present Western tiredness with Christianity and its lack of novelty.
* Lundy comes across as very anti-short-termers (p.108 for example), but does not criticise his case-studies when they emphasise the number of their short-termers as evidence of their commitment to mission (see pp.117 and 150, for example).
* It is at least questionable whether 2 Peter 1.20-21 implies that ‘there is one meaning to each specific portion of Scripture, one intended by the Holy Spirit’ and discernible by the church (p.76). This statement has a very modernist, as opposed to postmodernist, ring to it.
* There are a few points at which Lundy is just unclear, for example the first half of the first sentence on p.29: should the ‘not’ have been omitted?, and the statement ‘inimical to discipleship is learning by doing’ (p.68): surely ‘inimical’ is the wrong word here!  ‘Mission’ becomes the privy of the professional’ (p.131) conjures up amusing pictures (!) and I wonder whether everyone will know what ‘meiosis’ means (p.160).
* No reference is given for a quotation in the middle of p.104.
* There is a good deal of repetition – but one man’s repetition is another’s reinforcement!

My final question about Borderless Church was: will it reach those who need to hear its message?  My fear is that it will only be people like myself, who are familiar and agree with the message, that will read it, and those who are firmly wedded to a maintenance model of the church will not.  I would love to be proved wrong!

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