This review originally appeared in the Churchman Journal, and was published in 2014.
With a Reformed Baptist background, an Anglican wife and postgraduate education, and a Vineyard present, I approached this multi-perspective volume with interest. The editors have done thoughtful Christians a real service with this irenic and generous conversation in book form. The unity of evangelicalism, for once, is clear, and denominational differences are centre-stage, expounded by contributors of a high calibre.
Rather than reading like six advertisements for different denominations, each chapter responds to the challenge of Christopher Morgan’s opening ‘Toward a Theology of the Unity of the Church’, and Anthony Chute’s helpful ‘One Lord, One Faith, but Many Expressions’. These two initial chapters set the stage for a discussion ranging through Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal and Presbyterian scenes. I would have liked to see a congregational/non-denominational view represented, but by definition a spokesperson would have been hard to find.
The meat of this book, then, is the most interesting part. The tone of most of it is summed up well by Timothy George, who offers the Baptist perspective, as he writes of delivering a talk titled “The Confessions of a Catholic-Friendly Reformed Baptist with a Hankering after Lutheranism and a Strong Affinity for the Book of Common Prayer”. There is a common thread regarding evangelical identity running through the six positions, but the differences and reasons for those differences are presented clearly and graciously throughout.
Why We Belong closes with a fascinating chapter on denominationalism, echoing the book as a whole, demonstrating a genuine but evangelical awareness of Church history. This essay is rightly titled ‘Denominationalism: Historical Developments, Contemporary Challenges, and Global Opportunities’, concluding with a call to Gospel-focused and mission-shaped unity, for ‘the eternal glory of our great God’. This, then, is both a helpful book for those seeking to understand denominational differences, and model of gracious unity, shaped by a common understanding of the Gospel and its call.
Another great review of this book can be found on the 9Marks website: “In today’s Christian world, there seem to be two streams of thought regarding denominations. There’s the card-carrying “denominationalist,” for whom it seems the scope of Christianity is coextensive with his own denomination, and for whom a conversion from, for example, Methodist to Southern Baptist is on par with a conversion from Islam or Mormonism. On the other hand, there’s the “mere Christian,” for whom denominations represent the worst of Satan’s ploys, undermining the very unity which Christ purchased by his blood, and who count it a sin to list anything more specific than “Christian” under Facebook’s “Religious Views” heading. I’m exaggerating slightly, but you catch my drift… Why We Belong offers a middle path.“