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Tangible Kingdom is written by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. Their not Reformed, but they do a great job reintroducing evangelicalism to the role of the Kingdom in evangelism and Christian life. It's a challenging book that will cause most to rethink the way we approach our communities.


Love this book, Jason. We're using it in several small groups and I know other churches that use it as THE first study for ALL small groups. Intense, but I love it.

This review is from: The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Hardcover)

As the previous review pointed out, the strength of `The Tangible Kingdom' is the stories. Halter and Smay include some great anecdotes from their own lives as church planters that illustrate their faith and ministry in the context of modern culture. Their care and love for people is evident. Their real-life examples of being missions-minded, invitational, and outward-reaching are personally challenging to me.

With that said, the book also has a few weak points. They get much of their church history backwards. For instance, they claim "People in the Dark Ages tended to be focused on God. They built their churches in the middle of their towns and lived to survive the day and keep God at the center of their worldview." That might be a good description of the Puritans. However, prior to the Enlightenment, Reformation, and Great Awakening, while `religion' and `superstition' were prevalent, God being the center of community just wasn't the case.

Additionally, they go on to champion the Eastern-mindset as having a radically holistic approach to life - and claim `Christianity is completely, entirely, an Eastern faith.' That's a bold statement. If anything, Christianity, born at the crossroads between East and West has had a significant impact on the West, while having a marginal impact on the East. As a result, the ideals, worldview, and mindset that are reflected in the West, more closely align with the core tenants of Christianity. Those would include the world being separate from God, the world being knowable, the sanctity of human life, life having meaning, and life going somewhere as opposed to life being endlessly circular.

However, the part of the book that most concerned me was their understanding of the gospel. The authors claim the gospel isn't the answer of Jesus to the sin-problem of men and women. Rather, it's "[God's] love and acceptance and vision for every human being... God's love for his created humanity." That description of the gospel too easily marginalizes the passion, crucifixion, and substitutionary death of Jesus. In fact, if the gospel is merely about God's love and acceptance of every human being, then why would Jesus have to die? They go on to claim that the gospel isn't just about God's love, it's about love in general - people adopting children, having block parties, and planting trees... "it's all Kingdom, and it's all good news." While Christians are called to love others, that's not the gospel - that's an outworking of the gospel. The good news in the New Testament isn't a message about us, it's a message about Jesus. The authors go on to claim, we should look for ways to "Witness to this gospel by bringing tangible slices of heaven down to life on Earth, and continue to do this until those we're reaching out to acknowledge that our ways are `good news'." Again, the gospel is not a message about me. It's a message about Jesus, who is more than sufficient for a person has the same problem a non-Christian does. It's called sin, and Jesus provides an incredible answer to it - His life. His good news is about Him, not about me trying to be Him.

In short, I wanted the book to be more about its sub-title, "The Posture and Practices of the Ancient Church Now." I was hoping for an understanding of how the Jesus of then is the same today and how His cross can be known now. Instead, the book focused more on general relationships, inter-personal situations, and caring for people in community. Those are good, but how are they uniquely Christian? How do they differ from the community experienced by people from other faith-traditions? In short, the community in the Tangible Kingdom seemed to be both the beginning and the end.

Diane Dekker "Author of Two Trees of Knowledg...(Kansas) - See all my reviews

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This review is from: The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Hardcover)

I will say right off that if you believe in the absolute truth of scripture, this book is not for you. The main thesis of this book is that there is not only a discrepancy between the Word and Christ, but the Word and Christ are actually in an antithetical relationship. Halter divides the world of Christians into two camps- those who see the person of Jesus through "the literal interpretation of doctrine," and "those who see the Christian message through the person of Jesus." He is among the latter. He states that we need to "realize that truth is important, but according to scripture, truth is not the only thing or the most important thing. The most important thing is whether or not people are attracted to the truth...". The main thrust of this book is to divorce Jesus from his message. Halter states, "Our main contention is that what drew people to Jesus, surprisingly was not his message. It was him. ...His message repelled people. Many people who were drawn to him as a man would leave after he let them in on the message." Halter's solution? "I make it a point to ask people not to be evangelistic. I tell them that I don't want them to try to figure out how to share the gospel with strangers."

Halter is extremely critical of "WestMods," because of their belief in "absolute truth." He claims that Christianity is an Eastern religion and we need to return to believing without proof, believing people we trust. He warns leaders about working with Christians who are biblically literate and who know enough to discern good from evil: "We recommend that, if possible, you read through this book with a group of people--perhaps a mix of Christian folk (jaded, spiritually disoriented, but open). The process probably won't work too well (or maybe at all) with Christians who tend to know too much, talk too much, and judge too much."

How does Halter's theology play out in practice? He filters out mature Christians right from the get-go: "Even in my coffee talk with...visitors, I wait to drop the bomb until I've heard their story. If they're struggling in faith, have no faith or have been hurt in church, then I'm as cordial as Mr. Rogers. But if I discern they have been walking with God a long time, have put in a few thousand hours in church, seem overly religious or more interested in lofty theological debate than in rolling up their sleeves to serve, I get a little more assertive. Before God, I have to protect the missional calling of our church." Quotes from "the talk": "I just want you to know we are not a church...I don't feel any compulsion to feed you spiritually...This mission probably has nothing to offer you." He fills his "church" with "spiritually disoriented" people, but feels no compulsion to feed them spiritually.

To Halter, incarnational living means "participating in the natural activities of the culture around you, with whimsical holiness...Last week I attended an engagement celebration for one of our village was pretty fun to watch our young men navigate the tension of beautiful women, wine and more beautiful women...We all commented on how we "outpartied" the partiers." It also means less focus on family because "over-commitment to extended family" and the "constraints of children" are barriers to incarnational living. If I didn't know better, I'd say Screwtape was the architect behind this "church."

The book gets one star not because I disagree with Halter's theology, but because in his references to scripture, he changes all the details of scripture passages to make them fit his theology. See his version of the woman caught in adultery on page 44.

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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful:

5.0 out of 5 starsRadical ideas about living the Christian Faith in our "post everything" culture., April 16, 2008


Andrew White(Denver, CO) - See all my reviews

This review is from: The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Hardcover)

As a Christian who has been involved in ministry as a participant or leader over the last 15 years, I have to say that this book has some of the most fresh ideas about reaching the world that I have ever heard. The odd thing is they are not "new" ideas, they are firmly rooted in scripture and an understanding of the way believers and nonbelievers lived in community 2000 years ago. Halter and Smay communicate clearly the message that if the church is going to grow and continue to be a vessel for change in people's lives, it is going to have to change the way that it relates to people in our modern culture.

In reponse to the review above, never once did the authors suggest that adopting a child or having a block party was a substitute for Christ's redemptive work on the cross. This book was not written as a gospel presentation. It was written to Christians and Church leaders who already know the gospel, but don't know how to make that gospel matter to people who have never been to a church and never care to.

I would reccomend this book to any Christian, especially one in a leadership role, who is interested in having a deeper impact on the people in their communities.


This book and its message do a great disservice to Christ, his purpose & His church.

I would not recommend this book to anyone, not a single person. The mission of these writers appears to be to discredit the entirety of Christianity and organized religion after Constantine. And what help is this?

But as noted by another, they might have spent more time getting educated instead of simply bashing Theology. Their grasp of church history is shallow and distorted. For instance they state that as concerns the early Christians they "...were spreading like a virus...and spilling out into the streets." This is far from history since we know that the Christians were neither befriended by the Jews or the Romans, and suffered intense persecution by both parties. It was in fact this persecution that caused the spreading of the Gospel message outside of Jerusalem and Israel. Further, you cannot simply throw out doctrine - you can only replace it, as these authors do. They decry church doctrine and words, yet create and use their own peculiar versions of the same. We as Christians are not modern islands of truth, somehow divorced from our history, from the labors of dedicated servants of God who carefully examined and explained Scripture for all of us who followed (these 2 authors included).

These authors in their insistence upon condemning the Church claim that " really isn't easier to start a church with Christians. They are generally more opinionated, more critical..." Put aside that amazing blanket statement, these authors once again forget that the Ecclesia, were very simply "the called-out ones". The early church was made-up of Christians called out of their culture, and called together - these were not atheists gathered together, but Christians. The authors once again place blame upon the Church an insist that "...most of the Church is stuck, and has been for 1700 years." Another grandiose claim that does not get evaluated or described. If anything we might point to this "fact" as demonstrating that the truth that is and has been present in Church, has survived the passing of time. A gross and unfair generalization.

This book show open contempt for the Church as a whole, as a building and all its tradition: placing "sanctuary" in quotes as some questionable relic. Worse though in all this is their improper view of Scripture. Since these authors show their dislike of Christian education "We need to care for the poor & oppressed, the hurting and confused, instead of systematic theology..." it should come as no surprise that they reinterpret Scripture to suit their ideals. These authors miss the point of Jesus and instead claim "...what drew people to Jesus, surprisingly, was not his message. It was him. His face, the softness of his voice, the whimsical look he gave children, how he laughed, and how he lived." Following this characterization of God incarnate, they even suggest that Jesus was "...drawing a smiley face" in the dirt while confronting the Pharisees and woman caught in adultery.

But this is false, blatantly false. I'm sorry if you follow Rick Warren's theology, but Jesus did not come to heal, to comfort and laugh with people. Jesus came to save sinners, to offer them life everlasting. Jesus came to offer an alternative to everlasting Hell, to separation from the all-Holy God. Miracles and cures He could have worked through anyone - but to truly remove the offence of sin against an eternal God, He Himself had to come and offer an eternal sacrifice for sin. That is why He came!
That He did perform miracles and did heal many cannot change his message and purpose. It is sad that these authors would diminish both the Holy requirements of an all-Holy God, and his true purpose, and instead replace this with dreamy speculations about how he looked and laughed.

As a final note of contention against the message of this book, God's truth and the Gospel message has always been relevant. We are no different, nor more special or afflicted with "modern" issues than those destroyed by the Flood. The message is still the same and needs no revision on our part. While we should be attentive to proper delivery, we can never suggest it is not relevant. We are still sinners separated from God, in need of a Savior - who alone gives eternal life.

This book was sitting on my pile of unread books for quite a while until I picked it up recently. It came highly recommended, but I was afraid that it was going to be overly theoretical, "postmodern", introspective, and rather too dull for my tastes. I am happy to say that proved not to be the case, and I found the book both interesting and challenging.

Most churches in the West have become increasingly irrelevant to their surrounding culture, and the book tells the story of Adullam, a network of missional communities located in Denver, Colorado. They have redefined church not as a building, or a congregation of people who meet once a week, but as groups of people who live their Christian faith in their daily lives. A weekly gathering usually still happens, but it is not the focal point of the church.

The authors describe a church of sojourners - temporary, spiritually curious but disoriented God seekers - and missional people - those who are committed to the cause of the gospel. Sojourners can come and go as they like within the inclusive Christian community without judgment or pressure, while the missional people live according to clear rules of life. The book provides a clear and timely challenge to church leaders, but it left me wondering whether the effectiveness of the gospel is limited by how effectively I try to act like Jesus.

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