A book review
The Tangible Kingdom is an exhortation to Christians to get out of their insular bubble and build relationships with people outside the faith. It is an exhortation first to get to know them, then to help and serve people around you. It is an exhortation to have real conversations about things that matter especially the kingdom of God. That is real conversations – not trying to score points and win arguments – but, out of friendship, listening to where people are at and to discuss openly issues that matter. Our faith is to be lived out in front of people not hidden away in a church building.
Though it is co-written with Matt Smay it contains Hugh Halter’s own story about how he has done just that. It tells how he left a comfortable ministry job to move to a new town, and working as a painter and decorator gathered together a group of people that he went for drinks with. This eventually leads to him planting a church that just keeps on growing. At one point he was offered financial support by one denomination but he declined as they require their ministers to be teetotal. Going for a pint seems to be an important key to Hugh’s ministry; it is when he appears to discuss the kingdom best.
The book is subtitled ‘Creating Incarnational Community’ but if you’re looking for a theological explanation of the incarnation and the kingdom of God you will be frustrated by this book. Though it aims to outline how we can be relevant to our culture it doesn’t do so in a deeply intellectual way. Some of the writing is a little confusing and it is full of anecdotes and that often failed to enlighten me. I felt that it could have been vastly improved by stricter editing especially of the American colloquialisms and perhaps some deeper research by the writers. But despite all this I felt gripped by the book’s hard hitting agenda.
Halter and Smay’s desire is that Christians won’t just think of evangelism as occasionally plucking up the courage to invite someone to a church service. They want to see churches transformed into communities that are mixing with people around them in order to demonstrate God’s Kingdom in tangible ways. The main premise of the book is that just as Jesus came to this world to be one of us so we should go to the world and rub shoulders with others. Halter and Smay realise that producing such incarnational communities is not easy. But step by step we can begin to move our church in this direction.
As I read this book I found myself feeling that I had heard all this before. But then it dawned on me that I wasn’t doing it! As an introvert I find some of this particular difficult. So I found it particularly interested to read in a couple of places that Hugh Halter regards himself to be an introvert. Chapter after chapter Halter and Smay spell out the fact that we need to get out more – not be afraid of being ‘contaminated by sinners’ – but instead to be salt and light in our community. Each chapter has questions to ponder and they suggest reading through the book with others, discussing these and taking practical steps to actually do this.
As I said – The Tangible Kingdom is not too intellectual – but it certainly is challenging. It left me feeling that somehow I want to go for this.
Halter and Smay run courses training people in some of the principles in this book. For more details and some more videos visit their website here.