While neither Hansen nor Leeman is a pastor, both being employed by parachurch organizations (the Gospel Coalition and 9Marks), they have teamed up in the wake of the Covid shut downs to call Christians to rediscover the church. They are concerned that too many have attached themselves to livestream and virtual church and are depreciating the value of the church gathered. The authors strongly challenge such ideas, proclaiming that “regularly gathering together is necessary for a church to be a church” (p. 48) and virtual church is a push toward individualize Christianity (p. 53). “A Christian without a church is a Christian in trouble,” they state in the introduction (p. 11). Hansen and Leeman expand their conviction later: “This book aims to help you rediscover church so that you both understand what church is and in turn discover the richness of living as a brother or sister in the family of God; the joy of living as one part of Christ’s body united to other parts of the body; and the countercultural power of living as one brick in the holy temple where God dwells on earth now” (p. 24).
The author paints a winsome description of the church,
What’s a gathered church? It’s an embassy of heaven. Step inside your church or ours, and what should you find? A whole different nation — sojourners, exiles, citizens of Christ’s kingdom. Inside such churches, you’ll hear the King of heaven’s words declared. You’ll hear heaven’s language of faith, hope, and love. You’ll get a taste of the end-time heavenly banquet through the Lord’s Supper. And you’ll be charged with its diplomatic business as you’re called to bring the gospel to your nation and every other nation. Jesus didn’t ask the United Nations, the U.S. Supreme Court, or the Oxford University philosophy department to represent him and declare his judgments. He asked the humble, the lowly, the ‘things that are not’ (1 Corinthians 1:28). He asked your church and ours (pp. 54-55).
Good chapters are devoted to preaching (chapter 4), church membership (chapter 5), church discipline (chapter 6), loving those who are different and unbelievers (chapters 7-8), and church leadership (chapter 9). But the authors’ already-not-yet eschatology gets out of hand when they declare, “Your church, the one we want you to rediscover, is the place where the Bible says heaven has begun to descend to earth… Heaven touches down on planet earth through our gathered churches” (p. 25). They try to prove this concept through several out-of-context scriptures, but this simply is not taught in the New Testament. Worse, their social justice agenda follows: “When this happens, you offer the citizens of your nation the hope of a better nation, the residents of your city the hope of a better and lasting city” (p. 25). This is not surprising, given that the authors recommend Tim Keller’s books, especially his strong social gospel work, Generous Justice (p. 122), and his disturbing Prodigal God (p. 42).
I appreciated much of what Hansen and Leeman had to say about church discipline (pp. 89-99), but reject how they see the process unfold. To them church discipline is merely removing someone “from membership in the church and participation in the table” (p. 88) coupled with a statement by the church that “We are no longer willing to publicly affirm your profession of faith” (p. 88). More, “Ordinarily, someone disciplined out of a church should remain free to attend the church’s public gatherings” (p. 89). It is significant that none of these pronouncements is followed by any biblical reference — for there are none. Church discipline in the New Testament is a complete removal of a professing Christian who is living in open, indisputable, unrepentant sin, from the fellowship and worship of a local church (Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Corinthians 5). The limp-wristed approach suggested by Hansen and Leeman is popular today among the few churches that even attempt church discipline, but it is not what the New Testament clearly teaches.
The overall message of Rediscover Church is good, but the reader needs to be discerning in the areas mentioned above.
by Collin Hansen and Jonathan Leeman (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021) 158 pp, paper, $9.42
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel