A review of The Shape of Participation

If you share my concern about the theological thinness of much of the current craze of construing Christianity as a practice, get Roger Owens's book. Even more, if you care about the theological identity of the church, you will find The Shape of Participation to be this decade's finest work of ecclesiology.

Beginning with the preaching of early American Methodist John Barritt and a recent Sunday at Mount Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, Owens notes that the church is indeed a community that is defined and sustained by practices. His modest and mundane beginning is a setup for some heavy theological rumination.

Owens notes how James Gustafson's Treasure in Earthen Vessels (a book that was very important to me as a seminarian) confirms that the church shares many of the sociological characteristics of any human institution. Then he enlists Dietrich Bonhoeffer to show how Gus­tafson's sociological account, though influential on many contemporary de­scriptions of the church (including much of the practice movement), is insufficient to account for the peculiar nature of the church.