Joining God in the Great Unraveling: Where We Are & What I’ve Learned

Alan J. Roxburgh,
Cascade Books, 168 pages

“Our God is a missional God and we are God’s missional people.” We have been discussing what this means since “Missional Church” was published in 1998. Alan J. Roxburgh was an original contributor to this effort and has been a leading participant in the conversation ever since. In Joining God in the Great Unraveling, Roxburgh chronicles how he changed his mind—and how the missional conversation has unraveled!

First, the missional conversation has become “ecclesiocentric,” or church-centered, which shifts the focus away from what is God doing and toward how to “fix” the church. Next, the conversation has been colonized by technological rationality – focusing not on discerning God’s presence but on an instrumental mindset of methods, procedures and steps to follow. Finally, the conversation is controlled by the “clergy industry,” which justifies its own expertise while neglecting the work of the Spirit among God’s people. Roxburgh confesses that he was complicit in advocating for an ecclesiocentric, technological rationality, and clergy-focused perspective—until, as he puts it, a light shined in the darkness.

The “darkness,” as Roxburgh describes it, is a conversation about how modern people believe that if we can understand, predict and control things then we can reverse the decline of the church. The “light” is the greater truth: God is a personal agent actively at work in the midst of the great unraveling. Rather than resist the unraveling, Roxburgh invites us to see God at work and meet God in that space.

If we accept this premise, then we need to discern what God is doing.  Roxburgh does so by “joining God” and listening to God “in one another and the people of the neighborhood.” We listen to one another when we dwell in the Word together through Lectio Divina. We listen to our neighbors when we build real and vulnerable relationships with them.

Roxburgh names the neighborhood as an important location of revelation, which led him to give up his car and instead walk the neighborhood, bike his city, and enter into the lives of his neighbors. He realized he paid little attention to those around him because he focused on what he needed to accomplish; Roxburgh chose to follow the Luke 10 injunction to bring peace, saying to himself, “Lord, bless this person,” or “bring peace to this place,” as he encountered people and places. He writes, “Starting to quietly use these words of blessing, the way I saw people my relationships changed.”

Roxburgh makes his case while interacting with several outliers, Mary Jo Leddy, Lauren E. Oaks, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and Simone Weil, as well as Leslie Newbigin, all of whom are an essential part of this conversation. Readers may find certain parts of this book repetitive, as Roxburgh is relentless in his argument and states it many times passionately and with purpose.  But by taking us with him on the journey, Roxburgh invites us to change as well, so that we might come to know more clearly and deeply that “our God is a missional God and we are God’s missional people.”  

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Philip J. Reed has served congregations in Minnesota, Kansas, Illinois and Michigan. Currently, he is Pastor/Head of Staff of Grosse Ile Presbyterian Church, Grosse Ile, Mi.