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Norma Cook Everist: The Difficult but Indispensable Church


Norma Cook Everist, ed. The Difficult but Indispensable Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 262 pages.

This book is a collaboration of members of the Wartburg Theological Seminary and includes 21 individual authors. Their goal is not to develop a cohesive, monolithic work, but to examine the (local) church from many different personal viewpoints and academic disciplines. The structure of the book is intended to mirror a local church: diverse, dynamic and didactic.

Wartburg is a seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The terminology and references reflect that background. Still, it’s easy to see how the ideas and concepts would apply to almost all church bodies.

The writers speak their minds freely in their articles. As instructors in theology, targeting Pastors and other church readers, this work is heavily theological and intellectual in its language and approach. Still, there is valuable insight among the pages.

The book is divided into four major parts: individuals, faith foundations, church mission and church diversity. The articles within each part address the subject from a variety of personal and professional viewpoints. The expertise/professions of authors within a specific book section vary widely. Theologians, counselors and church theorists all shine a different, and revealing light on their chosen subject.

“Re-Membering The Body Of Christ,” article 5, examines the nature of an appealing local body. Professor Everist discusses trends among modern church-goers, and the nature of local churches that retain them. Her analysis is based in Scripture and observation.

One conclusion of the article is not unexpected: modern church bodies must be prepared to “reinvent” themselves to appeal to the unchurched. Another conclusion is somewhat surprising: modern churches must cling to the fundamentals of the Gospel fiercely and rely on God’s power all the more.

An interesting analysis of the local church and American culture was made in Article 17, “American Civil Religion: A De Facto Church.” American civil religion is a body of Christian influenced morals, ethics and beliefs that are a quasi-religion in themselves. The unique laws and history of the United States helped spawn this “institution” and our “open society” maintains it.

Professor Fjeld asserts that Christians and local churches are often influenced, or overwhelmed, by “American civil religion.” Willingly linked to the Bible, but not centered in Christ, American civil religion is a competitor with true Christianity. Its “gospel” tends toward wealth and self-reliance, rather than Godly grace or submission to Jesus Christ.

Article 18, “Imagining The New Community In Christ,” examines the issues and challenges of a culturally, racially or ethnically diverse local church body. How does a church body function together when they lack a dominant culture or common history? Is it possible to be effective, vibrant and distinctive under such circumstances?

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Category: Living the Faith, Pneuma Review, Spring 2005

About the Author: Kirk Wesley Hunt, MBA, is a minister at Tucson Church International in Tucson Arizona. He is the author of Soldiers Of The Kingdom: Reclaiming the World for God (CadreMen Press, 2002) and Blessed and Blessing: Devotionals for Gospel Champions (CadreMen Press, 2015). He publishes a weekly devotional at:

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