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Toby Jones, The Way of Jesus

The Way of JesusToby Jones, The Way of Jesus: Re-forming Spiritual Communities in a Post-Church Age (Eugene: Resource Publications, 2010), 133 pages, ISBN 9781608991525.

Toby Jones is a former Moderator of the Presbytery of Mackinac, who parted ways with the Presbyterian denomination in order to found Living Vision, a community attempting to offer an “authentic path to those seeking an apprenticeship in the Way of Jesus.” Jones encourages the creation of communities based on the seven practices he identifies as vital for such a community: open theology, authentic discipleship, embracing risk, radical inclusiveness, ‘Service. Period!’, no paid leader, and intentional homelessness in terms of a church building. These seven practices form the backbone to the book’s main chapters and each is illustrated by a discussion of a community visited by Jones which demonstrates the principles. The core chapters end with a number of helpful discussion questions, reminding the reader of the issues raised and meaning the book could be used as a resource for group study.

Jones challenges much traditional church thought and practice, and readers may well find themselves both heartily agreeing at one moment, then sharply disagreeing at the next. In particular Jones does not have the most optimistic outlook for the so-called ‘institutional church’ as hinted in the title with its mention of the ensuing ‘Post-Church Age.’ Jones, however, sees church decline as an opportunity for authentic community, as the institutional church has often actually hindered discipleship. The opening chapter seeks to highlight that the Greek verb pisteo should be properly translated and interpreted as an action verb that denotes a dynamic sense of following, including nuances such as clinging to, pouring oneself into, and putting absolute trust in. He seeks to contrast a risk-taking ‘pisteuw faith’ with more traditional, static translations of the Greek, which focus solely on the belief aspect. This focus on action naturally flows into the second chapter on discipleship, where Jones helpfully discusses some inspiring stories, notably that of the well known speaker Shane Claiborne, who in an attempt at radical discipleship ended up founding The Simple Way community through ministry among and support of a homeless community,

The chapters on embracing risk and radical inclusiveness are full of insight on how to avoid settling into complacency, although not everyone will be content with some of Jones’ conclusions on various controversial issues, including the place of homosexuality within the church. Similarly the dichotomy he presents between an inward looking church that emphasises holiness, and an outward focussed yet accepting church, perhaps does not adequately allow for the possibility of both an emphasis on holiness and outreach: Jesus after all called people to repent and follow him. His chapter entitled ‘service.Period,’ where he highlights the transformative power of merely serving the poor and vulnerable, rather than tying this to verbal evangelism, is moving and resonates with reality, however Jones perhaps ought to acknowledge that the gospels portray Jesus as both proclaiming the kingdom and enacting it. The final two chapters highlight the financial and spiritual gains both of avoiding the focus on church buildings, and of ministers fostering tent-making skills. These reflections constitute the most challenging and thought provoking of Jones’ insights given trends in church decline and troubled economic times. He points out that with no church building to maintain or pastor to pay, the church will have vastly greater resources to channel into practical ministry.

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Category: Living the Faith, Pneuma Review, Summer 2012

About the Author: David Purves is a Student Assistant Pastor with Bristo Baptist Church in Scotland, where he is involved in pastoral and mission work, particular among people recovering from addictions. He is currently working on a Masters course at Oxford University, supported by the Oxford Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture.

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