In this book, Tim Dickau tells three stories: the story of Western society's move towards secularism and its captivation to distorted powers; the story of Grandview Church's sustained journey of forming a thicker and more porous shared life in a particular place; and the story of his own recovery from burnout and alcohol abuse after thirty years of pastoral ministry in one place;
While engaging a host of scholars across a variety of academic disciplines in his societal analysis, Dickau engages three primary conversation partners that include Charles Taylor, William Cavanaugh and Willie Jennings. In describing the moves made in Christian theology and practice over the last half millennium, Dickau attempts to help us understand how we have come to our current cultural context. By describing how Grandview church has responded to this context, he attempts to spark our imagination for how the church might participate in the mission of God in fruitful ways in this cultural moment. In particular, Dickau seeks to illuminate how Grandview church sought to hold together elements of the mission of the church that often get pulled apart including evangelism with seeking justice, prophetic action with works of mercy, personal conversion with the pursuit of systemic change, institutional development with grass-roots organisational leadership, formation and discipleship with deeper cultural engagement. By telling his own story of recovery, Tim also seeks to let us in on some of the personal challenges of pastoring in a communal context for the long haul.
Paperback; 15x23 cm; 230 pages
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tim Dickau was the pastor of Grandview church in Vancouver for 30 years. During that time, the church had gone from being ready to dissolve to becoming re-established as a force for good in its neighbourhood. In the last three decades, the church has found creative ways to bear witness to the good news of God’s reconciling and restoring love through community living, welcome of the poor and the stranger, economic development through social enterprises, a 26unit community housing project, proliferation of the arts, prophetic witness and deepening practices of confession and repentance. Tim’s first book, Plunging into the Kingdom Way, describes the process that the church engaged in as they moved towards practices of hospitality, community, justice and confession. Tim has recently embarked on a new venture as the leader of the certificate in missional leadership program with the Center for Missional Leadership at St. Andrews Hall on the University of British Columbia campus. He has also become the director of Citygate in Vancouver where his task will be to help "connect the church with the city for transformation". The organization has a goal to help churches and communities to collaborate with each other to pursue systemic change through creation of housing, food security, and other responses. Tim lives with his wife Mary. Upstairs lives one of their three sons, his wife and grandson. Tim and Mary have lived with over 30 people in their practice of living in a shared home with others.
Tim Dickau has written an important, wide ranging book about what it means to be God’s people in this time of unraveling and ferment. The book maps the terrain in which the Euro-tribal churches find themselves and frames a response far more radical than current calls to renewal, planting, or reforming. Tim is thoroughly aware of the crises confronting these churches and so provides us with the heavy lifting of descriptive analysis we need to grasp our situation. But this book is much more than analysis. If it were only this, we’d be left overwhelmed and discouraged by the heavy realities of this secular age. But here there is hope to be found, the possibility of discerning a refounding imagination for being God’s people. This is a book that points a way forward rooted in older monastic traditions that, as Tim shows, have immense practical implications for our situation.
The first part of the book carefully lays out the important work of Charles Taylor assessment of our secular age and situation it has created for the churches. Along the way, Tim examines many of the ways this secularity has become the primary narrative of our time (the powers) in terms of such things as its ideologies of progress, individualism, consumerism, neo-liberal globalization, racism and so forth. Interwoven with these descriptions, however, he begins to play with the place of Christian hope, of the ways in which the subversive nature of the Gospel plays itself out in the life of ordinary Christians in the every day. Herein lies the book’s power. It is far more than analysis and far more than proposals for change. While these are important elements of the book, its heart is about the power of the Gospel to engage the powers from the perspective of ordinary people in their neighbourhoods. Tim achieves this by enfolding his analysis and proposals into the stories of his own experience in a congregation.
You should pay attention to the important analysis and critical proposals it offers for God’s people becoming participants in the kingdom’s healing of all things in a secular age. Analysis and proposal are critical gifts Tim brings to us in his writing. But I commend this book to you for other reasons as well.
First, this book is the witness of someone who has lived in the context of one congregation for thirty plus years. It is the story of a community’s wrestling with the intersections of the secular age and the subversive Gospel. You are reading the story of someone shaped by long experience on the ground. In these pages you encounter the wisdom of someone who has, in the words of Eugene Peterson, made a long journey in the same direction. Because of this you will not receive advice on fixing our churches as they currently exist nor neat technological solutions to the challenges before the church. You are being invited into a combination of the wisdom and experience of someone who has wrestled with these questions of faithful, rooted witness over a long time with the same people. This is what the monastics called stability.
Second, a corollary to this experience of lived life over time with a people is the rootedness of the book. This is a book about the importance of being and remaining in place. Place is not just a container into which we parachute to “plant a church”, it is the sacred ground within which we thrive. The discoveries Tim has made over time are a function of his own commitment to his local neighbourhood – to the place where he was planted. The congregation with whom he dwelt wasn’t a project but the hard-lived reality of doing everyday life together. Because of this, Tim is able to write powerfully about the effects of the secular upon us as Christian communities and the power of the Gospel to form an alternative narrative.
Third, this is why the book, through all its analysis and reflections, above all else, embodies hope. One is not picking up one more book telling us that if we just do X (pick your method and model) you will fix your church and make it work again. That is not the source of the hope that undergirds this book. Rather, it is a hope in the reality, the real presence, of God’s Spirit making all things new right in the local. In Tim’s reading of a dire situation, the Spirit is fermenting a different future right in the local. I read this book with a deep sense of the hope that has formed Tim over these years borne in God’s presence through practices that take us back into the formative traditions of the church and continue to be gifted to us through the new monastic traditions. At the same time, the hope undergirding this book is not one of just happy stories that play well in sermons. Tim is careful to describe this journey in terms of pain and cost, his own coming to terms with his brokenness. The Cross looms large through this book. Tim is real about the costs of this transformation. One confronts the hard, grounded reality of our humanness in this book.
Fourth, Tim is offering us a bigger picture of God’s purposes than the church. His stories are not what I would call congregation-centered. They are not driven by the narrative of “if we just get church right, we’ll be well again”. The bigger picture of how we are God’s people in this secular age has to do with being in, being with and being for the neighbourhood where we dwell.
Fifth, through this grounding in the local and everyday over a long time, Tim comes to his reading of critical thinkers in our time. People like Charles Taylor, Terry Eagleton, Willie Jennings and a host of others populate this book. But what makes the book helpful and practical is how Tim brings these thinkers into the conversation not from the desk of an academic but the role of local pastor who, every day, is asking how it all lands among the people with whom he lives. As you engage with these thinkers, let Tim be a pastor to you and invite you into these important ideas for the sake of kingdom life where you dwell.
Finally, this book is filled with practical help on how the traditions of monasticism can become the pathway into discerning the shape of God’s people in this secular age. I think Tim is absolutely right in his assessment that it will be in our rediscovery of these practices and ways of being a people that begins the refounding of local communities of God’s people as the hermeneutic of the Gospel.
Alan J Roxburgh (April, 2021)
There is no one alive from whom I would rather learn about ministry in the local church than Tim Dickau. He is the best combination of the biblical scholarship of an N.T. Wright, the creative institution- building of John Perkins, and the Anabaptist grit of the new monastics. This book’s engagement with such luminaries as Charles Taylor and Willie James Jennings is a feast. Tim is Canadian so he won’t brag. Let me tell you: this book is a must-read for pastors.
Vancouver School of Theology
Rarely does an author so effectively draw together threads of cultural and historical analysis, rich personal and pastoral experience, and community examples and wisdom into a single work. This challenging, engaging, and accessible book is written with deep humility and hope-filled insight. I highly recommend it!
Christine D. Pohl
Professor Emerita, Asbury Theological Seminary
Tim Dickau’s Forming Christian Communities in a Secular Age is a must-read book for churches who want to live faithfully in the twenty-first century. Not only does he help readers navigate some of the most important social thinkers who help us understand the times in which we live, he also gives us imagination and guidance on how we might live faithfully together in our churches today.
C. Christopher Smith, Founding Editor of The Englewood
Review of Books, and author of How the Body of Christ Talks
The church in the West today faces dual dangers of shrinking into irrelevance or waving defiant flags of self-destructive division. This book calls for leaders to listen with humility to what the Spirit is saying to the church through the culture. Speaking with clarity and conviction, the author challenges us to consider what the church needs today to thrive in our place as a transformative community. Rather than programs and simple repetitive solutions, at this crucial juncture in western culture the church needs clear thinking and contemporary engagement that is theologically reflective and practically applied. The church needs this book.
President and Dean of Theology, Acadia Divinity College
“There are many and various voices advocating for the church’s revitalization of its inner life and its mission in the world. But this book is a must read. It provides a sustained analysis of contemporary society, a vision of church as an embodied community in the neighborhood sustained by a sacramental life in Christ through the Spirit, and engaged in a mission to the world that touches all the domains of life, including probing the nature of the ‘fallen powers.’ And there is more - the book pulsates with a probing humility that makes it winsome and invitational.”
Emeritus Professor Regent College, Vancouver.
People are always asking me for resources that might help them strategize in and with their communities about how to bring about lasting and meaningful change. Dickau offers us a weapon for righteousness or more precisely a weapon of humility that will help Christians see rightly their world and their work in it. This is a book for pastors, churches large and small, and for all Christians who believe that faithful witness to the gospel must be a witness in place and a witness of place.
Willie James Jennings
Associate Professor of Theology and Africana Studies, Yale Divinity School, Author of After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging
I was profoundly shaped by my time at Grandview. What Tim articulates here is humbly grounded in decades of work, prayer, and study in one place—the Grandview-Woodlands community in Vancouver—but his insights are a clarifying and empowering call for all The Church across North America. A powerful, rich, brilliant book.
Canadian Juno award winner. Host of HBO’s Hip Hop Evolution and former host of CBC’s Q.
This book shows how the disintegration of the church in a secular context presents the opportunity to reimagine the church and give hope to those wandering through a divided and despairing world. Tim Dickau deftly bridges the scholarly and the pastoral to display a realized vision of a congregation sharing the hardships and dreams of a neighborhood. The practical examples of liturgy, peace work, and alternative economic practices show what humility and openness to God’s Spirit can allow to happen.
Professor of Catholic Studies at DePaul University and author of Field Hospital: The Church’s Engagement with a Wounded World.
Tim Dickau’s book grew out of decades pastoring a church along “pathways of fidelity to God’s kingdom within our secular culture” The book weaves together three strands: his own story of burnout and recovery; stories from Grandview Church in Vancouver as that community sought to be a Christian community; and Dickau’s wide-ranging study, in many disciplines, seeking to understand our present context. He provides that rare book: a description of things done alongside the reasons we are called to do them now.
He offers a welcome glimpse of church coming to life.
Dean of Seminary, Ambrose University
With warmth and wisdom, Tim Dickau invites us on a transformative journey narrating the steps of how we find ourselves today in a post-Christendom landscape. As both a missional practitioner and scholar, Dickau offers the reader a thoughtful and encouraging exploration of Christian witness in our secular age. Rather than simply giving up or giving into the powers that challenge the gospel, this book demonstrates how small communities of Christian faith can lean boldly into the future God is bringing, with sanctified hope rather than naive optimism. Dickau’s grounded and gracious reflections on discipleship leave the reader better equipped to express love of God and neighbor in a world searching for meaning within an immanent frame.
Ross Lockhart, Dean of St. Andrew’s Hall, Vancouver and Founder of The Centre for Missional Leadership.