Metavista: Bible Church and Mission in an Age of Imagination

I want to be rich and I want lots of money
I don’t care about clever I don’t care about funny
I want loads of clothes and f***loads of diamonds
I heard people die while they are trying to find them

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
When we think it will all become clear
`Cuz I’m being taken over by The Fear

 These words from Lily Allen’s 2009 single, The Fear brilliantly capture attitudes of the context which faces the church in its mission in the contemporary western World. Materialism and consumption; disregard for the consequences of our lifestyle coupled with a desire to understand and deep seated angst. Metavista: Bible, Church and Mission in an Age of Imagination is an attempt at reimagining the Bible and the church in what the authors call the world of the Metavista.

The book begins with an analysis of contemporary culture. It traces this culture through modernism, postmodernism and post-postmodernism. Modernism is viewed in both positive and negative terms. Positively, modernism brought emancipation to humanity in the areas of economics, politics and science. However, this is in dialectical tension with its tendency to totalitarian ideology, whether this be in its Communist or Capitalist expressions. Postmodernism is described with reference to the first Matrix film. It is seen to be the harbinger of a new aesthetic; the destroyer of simplistic conception of reality; the questioner of the basis of knowledge; the encourager of direct political action and the reinventer of religion. All of this leads to a discussion on ‘the rules of engagement’ for Christians in mission in the contemporary world. It makes several proposals as to how to engage with contemporary culture, such as solidarity with the marginalised, the retelling of stories, the undermining of ideologies, the redistribution of power, etc. This section comes to an end with an analysis of the ‘post-postmodern condition’. This is described as post-Christendom, post-secular, and post-colonial.

How can we understand the bible in this Metavista? The authors try to recapture the Bible as story, and the subsequent need of all stories to be told and retold. They divide the Biblical story into fours subplots of creation, Israel, Jesus and the church. The bible should be retold as our part in this narrative. Additionally, the bible’s story should also be understood as fundamentally political. Politics is part of the created order and so is important to God, human politics holds back human evil and violence and so is important as the Church carries out its mission in diaspora and among political entities to proclaim the gospel of reconciliation and shalom among the nations especially as the political legitimacy of Western governments is based upon the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The church is very much part of this story. Drawing extensively on the work of Grace Davie, the authors attempt to deconstruct the ‘secular imagination’ by demonstrating the contradictions in the whole notion. Emerging from this deconstruction is a projection of how the church, in a post-Christendom world, needs to be reconceived as a ‘missional community’. It attempts to move beyond the ‘Gospel and Our Culture’ and the ‘Emerging Church’ movements, by examining the intra-ecclesial relationships as well as the church-world relationship. It is re-imagines the missional church’s life as a counter-cultural life, living and retelling the gospel story in engagement with contemporary culture. This requires the formation of communities of faith committed to a creative missional way of life. One that imagines life as it truly could be.

The conclusion of the book seems more like a summary than a conclusion, bringing together many of the insights of previous chapters. It ends with the hope that their efforts ‘will awaken for a new generation of Christians to embrace’ (p. 234) a missional consciousness that engages the bible, Christian tradition and contemporary culture.

There are many features that commend this book to our attention. It gives a more differentiated analysis of reality than is common in books on mission in contemporary society. It avoids the temptation to reduce contemporary society to modern or postmodern. One gets the impression that the authors are willing to allow their readers to share the confusion and culture shock of today’s contemporary world. Having said this, we are often left with the impression that this problem is one of the whole contemporary world which, to a greater or lesser extent, is true. Nevertheless, there are significant differences between, even contemporary western cities and majority world cities. I would like to see the authors attempt a wider and deeper analysis of the Metavista without attempting to suggest any response.

Also, we are drawn to the brilliant and extensive use of film, T.V., books and music as an interpretive key to understand reality. The breadth and depth of knowledge of contemporary media, especially, Mark Greene’s sections, is truly impressive and very helpful for the reader to access. It also supports the authors’ appeal for creativity and imagination as an integral part of the missional community. Additionally the breadth of scholarship with which both authors engage is impressive. Sociologists, psychologists, cultural theorists and theologians are engaged with a confidence and depth of insight which many would covet—if it were not to be a sin!