This is a review of the book Thy Kingdom Connected by Dwight J. Friesen, sent to me courtesy of The OOZE Viral Blog Network. This review will also be posted on their website. You may also click here to follow the book on your Facebook account.
Dwight J. Friesen is listed as the associate professor of practical theology at Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle. To clarify, this is the school associated with Stanley Grenz and Brian McLaren, not connected with Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll. You can click here to visit Friesen’s webpage.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Thy Kingdom Connected describes God’s kingdom as a giant network, using metaphors derived primarily from the world of technology but also living systems as well (note: the book’s subtitle is slightly misleading: the book compares social networking and the church, rather than actually discussing what can be learned from them).
The book is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Friesen describes the book as “…a hermeneutic of God’s networked kingdom more than it has been a ‘how-to’ manual for connective living.” (p. 172)
Relationships are described in terms of “links,” and connected individuals are referred to as “nodes.”
The environment where such connections happen is called a “Christ-commons”: “a visible structure, institution, denomination, building, worship service or small group that is formally created with the hope that the structure will provide an environment or space where people are most likely to experience life in connection with God and one another.” (p. 107)
Leaders are described as “kenotic matchmakers,” known for their ability to connect individuals together (p. 83-85).”
The book had the following strengths:
- Great introduction to the connected life. The book serves its intended purpose, and its greatest strength is found in communicating the connectedness of God’s kingdom. There are already many books being written on the subject of organic community/connected church. Friesen’s book joins their ranks as an excellent overview of this subject, and his approach will surely be refreshing to many young Christians and pastors.
- Writing style. Friesen draws from a great deal of sources. At times this approach can feel esoteric and cluttered, but the advantage is his ability to speak to a variety of educational and spiritual levels. The book is appropriately short, whose dense content reveal something of Friesen’s passion and enthusiasm.
- Appeal to postmodern epistemology. The “connected” model appeals directly to the “web” metaphors of truth increasingly popular in postmodern circles (or the “chastened epistemology” of the Gospel Coalition and others). Mind you, Friesen is not endorsing any particular approach to epistemology (making this one of the saner voices of the emergent village), only that is model mirrors current philosophical trends.
- Emphasis on humility. Time and again the subject of humility emerges, a subject of which the church often needs reminding. The section on “dissipative community” (p. 153) highlights the fact that ministry disruptions often precipitate our (re-)evaluation of our ministry models.
Most reviews of the book have been overwhelmingly positive, and deservedly so. However, there are some areas where clarification would have been helpful. To clarify, these difficulties are far from insurmountable, and are mentioned only because they require further conversation and clarification:
- What is the gospel? Friesen would articulate this subject in a section on “the ministry of reconciliation,” though even here it is less than clear. At other points in the book the church’s role seems to be described almost solely in terms of social activity. Further articulation of the nature of the gospel and the church’s responsibility towards it would have been helpful.
- Leadership and authority. The author’s admitted discomfort with these terms is understandable, and many readers will surely empathize with the way leaders have abused their role with the body (p. 87-88). However, abuse of authority does not mean that leadership does not have its place. Similarly, church authority is defined in terms of “the mission of God,” “imparted from Christ and missional congruence,” and the “Holy Spirit’s empowering presence” (p. 114-116). Friesen fails to deal with key scriptures that describe structure and authority given to leadership positions (elders, pastors), and it would have been very helpful to see how he may have woven Paul’s pastoral epistles into his connective framework.
- Connecting community is not missional community. Friesen describes evangelism as something that happens naturally (the sneeze effect, p. 143-4), but experience reveals that this task is often anything but involuntary. While Friesen’s description of a connecting community was solid, I was unconvinced that this model leads to a community focused on Christ’s mission.
- The book is entirely descriptive. In the author’s defense, it was never intended as such, and even the final three chapters pointed in a slightly more practical direction. But some may find this frustrating. Practical strategies for connecting people to Christ and His body will require further thought and discussion, though I suspect that this is one area that the author would agree.
Overall, the book provides an excellent summary and introduction to the subject of connective/organic community, and will surely stimulate conversation regarding the nature of God’s kingdom.
Those looking for practical advice will need to read further, though again, I suspect that Friesen would agree that his work is part of a larger conversation.
This book is recommended to those already involved in this conversation or for those seeking an introduction, and may be a helpful tool among church staff members or elder boards.