There are legions of books on the techniques of church growth, ways and means to be church friendly, selling the church as a commodity of sorts and the church reduced to, in many ways, an entertainment industry. Such a way of approaching the life of the church tends to demean and distort qualitative Christianity and pander to a shallow and cheap grace quantity. The sheer beauty and grace of Hopeful Realism in Urban Ministry is the way Barry Morris (with a fine foreward by Tim Dickau) offers deeper probes into a more authentic Christianity.
Hopeful Realism has eight compact chapters and Appendix A-B. Each of the evocative chapters draws the curious reader into their enticing orbit in a thoughtful and compelling way: 1) Proposal of Hopeful Realism, 2) Urban Ministry and Theology’s Enduring Themes, 3) Urban Ministry’s Dynamics and Triad Intimations, 4) Hope via Moltmann and Urban Ministry Intimations, 5) Justice via Niebuhr and Urban Ministry Intimations, 6) Prayer via Merton and Urban Ministry Intimations, 7) Longhouse Ministry and Networking and 8) Summary Considerations and Conclusions. Appendix A, in a wise and judicious manner, touches on “The Merton and New Monasticism Check and Balance” and Appendix B offers the practical “Networks‘ Viva Voce Testimonies and Inducing Central Story Line”.
The title of this must read missive makes abundantly clear the portal that must be passed through: this is not a book about naïve and untried idealism or a defeatist cynicism that collapse when the hard issues are pressed deeper and further. This book is, indeed, about “hopeful realism” (not despair or a sentimental optimism) in the midst of the urban fray (and some of the more rougher cultures within the urban context). The fact that Barry draws on such luminaries as Moltmann, Niebuhr and Merton speaks libraries about the way many of the ideas in the book have been tested and faithfully tried for decades.
Hopeful Realism is as much about the theory of hopeful realism within an urban context as it is about practical means of living from and into such a situation. This burnished gold of a book has certainly been refined on the anvil of real life and lived dilemmas that ministry must face in the trenches. In short, this is not merely yet another academic book on how to be a successful church in a city context. The obstinate fact that Barry has lived such a life and this book is his literary child and manifesto of sorts does need to be noted. The life of a minister who has been committed to one place for many years does bear witness to a life of integrity----not flitting like a spiritual butterfly (like many today) from place to place, conference to conference, retreat to retreat, guru to guru. The downtown area of Vancouver has been Barry’s vow of stability centre, family and home. Depth does emerge when stability and commitment to place becomes a spiritual discipline and Hopeful Realism amply illustrates how this is the indubitable case.
It was somewhat heartening to note how Barry mined the theological insights of Moltmann, Niebuhr and Merton, but, as a Canadian, I’d have been delighted if Barry had also given Canadian theologians more prominence. The Canadian colonial way does run deep. Barry does mention the Canadian theologian Douglas Hall in passing, but he does not mention Canada’s most important public theologian-philosopher, George Grant (who did much to shape Hall’s theology). Would it have been possible to raise Grant-Hall to the level of Moltmann, Niebuhr and Merton? It certainly would have, but overcoming a colonial tendency in which non-Canadians are valourized for guidance and a north star to the exclusion of Canadians does involve some soul searching.
I have no doubt that Hopeful Realism will not be a bumper crop seller for those who think mega-church and thin church growth notions. But, for those committed to costly grace and faithfulness to a deeper understanding of Christianity, this book should be one of the central on the shelf books.