This book is of particular interest to those who like myself are part of the newfrontiers family of churches. In it, John Hosier seeks to set out what are the values of the “new churches” that have sprung up over the past 30 years and of newfrontiers in particular.
Most of the material in this book will not come as a surprise to those who know the movement well. It starts off reiterating an uncompromising passion for the church, which is “fundamental to God’s glorious purpose in the earth.”
I suspect that most, if not all, the chapters in this book were originally seminars or sermons given by John Hosier, edited slightly to make them more suitable for a book format, but it still retains the style of spoken rather than written word. He draws regularly on his thorough knowledge of the book of Revelation, as well as touching on many other Biblical passages as he goes through each theme.
The first chapter is on the topic of Restoration, which is interesting as I feel that this word has been largely lost from the vocabulary of the new churches. “God’s ultimate purpose is restoration”, and this purpose will be accomplished through establishing his church as a colony of heaven on earth. Thus the restoration of the church to match God’s intention as revealed in the scriptures is a matter of the utmost importance. The church is restored in order to be the demonstration of God’s wisdom to the world.
Salvation is listed as a core value, particularly that the church is made up of those who are saved. He expounds Rom 3:21-26, and underscores the newfrontiers’ commitment to a vicarious understanding of the atonement.
As would be expected, apostles and more generally “Ephesians 4” ministries are covered in some depth. The case is made that while the “twelve” and the apostle Paul are understood to have non-repeatable roles in church history, nonetheless the ministry of “apostle” is ongoing, and indeed one of the gifts that Christ gave the church after his ascension.
This moves on naturally to a discussion of God-given leadership, which is considered vitally important. The main leadership of churches is seen in teams of elders (not apostles), who are to exercise servant leadership.
Next up is God’s lavish and undeserved grace, which perhaps is one of the “flagship” doctrines newfrontiers churches seek to be known for. Avoiding legalism at all costs, the Christian is to look to the Holy Spirit rather than the law as the dynamic for a holy life.
There are two chapters on water baptism and Spirit baptism (fire). Newfrontiers churches practise believer’s baptism, and remain broadly Pentecostal in their doctrine of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The latter remains the more controversial doctrine, with many prominent charismatics equating the baptism in the Spirit with regeneration. However, Hosier puts forward a strong case, based in part on Lloyd-Jones, and also drawing from David Pawson, that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a distinct experience, though we should normally expect it soon after conversion.
In a chapter on worship he defends the more lively style of the new churches against the more formal worship of traditional churches, although this debate has moved on a long way now from when the new church movements began. Another chapter deals briefly with the charismatic gifts of tongues and prophecy, again a significantly less controversial topic than it was in the early days of the restorationist movement.
I was interested to see a chapter devoted to prayer. Certainly the new churches have a very different and more dynamic style of prayer meetings than those typically found in the traditional denominations. However, my personal experience is that there were far more prayer meetings in my old Baptist church than I have found in newfrontiers. Possibly this is a value that needs to be recovered.
The chapter on money emphasises the importance of cheerful, generous giving, while rejecting the tithe as a binding law on New Testament believers. Marriage and family each had a chapter of their own. Again the emphasis on these topics varies greatly from church to church.
The topic of women is probably the most controversial in the book, as newfrontiers retain the more traditional evangelical view known as complementarian, against the egalitarian approach which seems to be more prevalent in charismatic circles. Hosier argues carefully but firmly, working mainly from 1 Cor 11 (the passage on head covering), explaining why newfrontiers churches do not appoint female pastors or elders. He did however note that there was a diversity of practise in regards to whether women could preach. I think that this is an issue that does need some clear teaching on, as many churches prefer simply not to mention it and hope that no one asks!
The book then moves on look at the kingdom (already not yet) and mission, underscoring the commitment to plant churches as the primary means of extending the kingdom.
The chapter on flexibility is very interesting. In it John Hosier lists a number of issues over which there has been a change of direction. For example, some churches are now embarking on building projects, having originally intended to avoid doing so. Other changes include various models of house group or “cell group” being tried. I couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t so much that flexibility is a core value as that we have backed away from a more dogmatic and inflexibile idealism of the early days of restorationism. Whether this is a good thing or not is debatable.
The final chapter is on hope, and again we possibly see a modification of the more postmillenial roots of restorationist churches. John Hosier himself holds to an amillenial eschatology, but an “optimistic” one, in which the church does indeed experience triumph and restoration while at the same time there may be persecution and even apostasy.
After reading the book, I reflected on what the “missing” values were. Perhaps we might have expected to reiterate a confidence in the Bible as the Word of God, along with the conviction that we can find direction for the ordering of our churches in it. Also I felt that preaching and holiness deserved a mention. I don’t think the omission of these mean that they are not valued, but we should be careful lest they be taken for granted. Many in the new churches came out of reformed evangelical circles and so a thorough working knowledge of the Bible was second nature to them. We do need to ask though whether the next generation, those who grew up in the new churches, are getting a well rounded foundation, or whether we are so focused on the values that make us distinctive, that these other things get neglected.
Overall, it is a fascinating book for those in newfrontiers, and it will hopefully challenge all who read it to consider whether these “values” are really being believed and lived out in our churches. If it has a weakness, it is that a book of this length cannot really do justice to such a broad range of topics.