Over the last couple of decades the church in the West has been going through a significant transition away from established assumptions of Christendom in which there are cultural expectations of church involvement. Indeed, this realization has arisen long after the reality in the West has broken down many, if not most, peoples involvement with churches. It became clear that the church in the West was in need of a new stance, a missional stance, in which faithful disciples of Christ no longer waited in sheltered enclaves for outsiders to peek in and join up. This involves a new stance towards involvement in this wider society, bringing the light of Christ out and among the people. This goes well beyond church growth strategies, and may be just the opposite. It also goes well beyond evangelism, as a renewed reading of the Gospels and the whole Scriptures suggest a call to Christ’s followers to be involved with others in significant, holistic ways. With this dawning, missional realization the last couple of decades, and especially the last five or six years, have brought a large number of helpful texts and teachers who are asking significant questions and have helped contribute very useful guidance as those in church continues to stumble its way through this transition. I have read a number of these books, and indeed I’ve begun specializing in these approaches, focusing my attention on the impact on deeper aspects of theology that comes along with this renewed embrace of a holistic discipleship. I’ve been involved in churches, and I’m now working on an advanced degree in theological studies and church history. It is with all this practical and theoretical involvement behind me that I come to this book.

And with this all in mind, I consider Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship (Shapevine) to be the best book on contemporary missional theology and practice I’ve read. Untamed by Alan and Debra Hirsch

I do not say this lightly, nor do I say this with a predisposition to freely applauding the many missional books that have been written. Most, for me, have offered useful ideas but each seems to have at least one major flaw that keeps me from being wholeheartedly supportive–and often leads me to grumbling. Indeed, this grumbling of what I read over the years was a big factor in me going back to pursue more study of theology in its ancient and contemporary expressions. I was not finding anything that seemed to be truly balanced in reflecting Christ’s call in our lives.

Untamed finds this balance. This is not to say Untamed is the last word on missional theology. Indeed, I would say the opposite. Instead, in Untamed Alan and Deb Hirsch have combined their practical experience in a variety of very missional settings with their deep considerations on life with God to provide what I see as an extremely helpful, constructive starting place for continued development of practices and of theology that reflects more deeply on these practices. A lot of missional books are filled with angst or worry or point to questions without leading to substantive answers. Untamed, however, moves past this and points towards significant points of orientation that allow a renewing, freeing life in community with Christ and others.

Two points stand out especially to me, though there are many, many others worth noting. The first is the Hirsch’s perspective on holiness which embraces the idea of holiness in a renewed way, one that acknowledges this call of God in our lives as it is reflected in Scripture. The Holy God is not the distant God, but the one who lived among us, walked in the streets, runs towards us, died for us. The holiness of God embraces humanity, seeking us, yearning for us to find our whole identity in him, and in doing this freeing us to become truly who we were made to be. The second emphasis, so utterly rare in these types of books, is the specific discussion of the Holy Spirit. This discussion renews a perspective on the Spirit who is God’s power and presence with us, bringing us each to wholeness with God and in community. By bringing in the Holy Spirit to the discussion, the Hirsch’s avoid the oft common works-oriented demands of so many ministry books that emphasis a call of God, then pressure the reader to perform. Instead, the Hirsch’s are at every point, beginning to the end, emphasizing the work of God who empowers us, freeing us, inviting us to join in this work as we are empowered and led by the Spirit. This creates a refreshing renewal of theology and practice that does not put a heavy weight on already tired souls, but instead delights as it points to how we can best live in the new reality that God brings to our lives in this world.

If I were to recommend one book of missional theology–or indeed one book on living the life Christ calls us to live in this present context–I would point to Untamed as being a the book to start with. It refreshes as it reorients, it enlightens as it challenges, it brings new perspective to old stories, all while staying more faithful to the whole testimony of Scripture than most any ministry book I’ve ever read. And it does this while being immensely readable.

Get this book. Share it with your friends. Read it through to get a sense of the whole, then read it through more slowly and reflect on each point, using the Hirsch’s insights to help ignite your own study of Scripture, your own personal relationship with the Triune God, and your participation in the community of God’s people. This is not a definitive, comprehensive work. It’s a starting place. But it’s starting us with a holistic, wonderful, renewing perspective on God’s grand work in this world. Something we all should study and develop more, each in our own settings.

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