The Thriving Church: A Review of Inalienable

October 13, 2022
Author: Eric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, Matthew Soerens
Publisher: IVP
Publishing Date: May 31, 2022
Pages: 240 (Paperback)
ISBN: 978-1514003046

Over the last few months I have visited a number of different churches around Iowa. In nearly each one, someone has said something about how the church is dying. Unfortunately, they fail to clarify that when they say “church”, they are referring to the white American (evangelical) church. In Europe the situation is similar; although worship at traditional denominations can be hard to find, global churches made up of immigrants or new converts from around the world are, in fact, thriving. 

The book Inalienable is an attempt by insiders to de-center the experience of the white, American, evangelical church and identify what global and marginalized churches have to say about the essential and undeniable truths of God. The book is written for those who are curious about perspectives outside of their own small corner of God’s Kingdom and are ready to begin the journey towards a broader view of the Church.

“… for those who are curious about perspectives outside of their own small corner of God’s Kingdom and are ready to begin the journey towards a broader view of the Church.”

Rather than providing an in-depth research project on any one aspect of the challenges they see, Costanzo, Yang, and Soerens offer an overview of what their experiences have shown to be the primary issues affecting the white evangelical church. They cover four topics: the kingdom of God, the image of God, the word of God, and the mission of God. For each topic, they build a brief argument for their point from Scripture and their own experiences and then suggest how marginalized churches can offer a new way forward. The book weaves together studies of Scripture passages, personal anecdotes, and statistics from American culture. Reading the end notes for each chapter is key to digging into what lies beneath the surface glance the writers give to various topics. For instance, in the process of Costanzo telling the story of his multi-ethnic church, he references a number of books for becoming such a church and offers four important markers of a healthy, diverse congregation.

Just as our interactions with other individuals can help us see where our own beliefs or behaviors are not in line with God’s goodness, so our interactions with other cultures can help us recognize when the “air we breathe” as a society is not devoted to the Lord. Costanzo, Yang, and Soerens identify a number of significant idols of the evangelical church and the brokenness facing that church today. Although sins such as individualism or consumerism will not be news to most readers, my own experience of living outside American culture has shown me how the roots of consumerism are intricately entangled with how I see life, relationships, and even faith. I have needed the strong counterexamples of other cultures to help me recognize these entanglements. In Inalienable, the authors try to draw from global theologians and leaders—Vinoth Ramachandra and C. René Padilla being two examples—to provide American leaders with these needed insights.

Years ago, a speaker at a missions conference told me, “our job is to introduce people to Jesus, not to create nice, suburban, democratic citizens.” The final section of Inalienable addresses head-on this tendency of the white, American, evangelical church to “export” American culture and political ideals as the only way to follow Jesus. Because our faith expression is always situated in culture, humility to listen and seeking collaboration are vital to any involvement in mission. The authors argue that we must start with the assumption that we need to be led—a particular challenge for American Christians.

“Because our faith expression is always situated in culture, humility to listen and seeking collaboration are vital to any involvement in mission.”

By far, the most powerful aspects of the book are the action steps at the end of each chapter, such as intentionally placing oneself under the spiritual leadership of someone from a different background, or purposefully cleaning up social media pages. These concrete and practical steps will provide movement towards true and lasting change, that other quick reads summarizing some of the key issues facing the white American church today cannot hope to do.

Inalienable is best read by someone who wants to better understand where to start in opening or changing their perspective, or who already desires change but does not know where to start a new reading list. In either case, Inalienable must be seen as a first step, an introduction, and not a stand-alone book. If you were at a party and your friend introduced you to a new and interesting guest, you should not and would not spend the next thirty minutes listening to your friend talk about the person standing next to them. You would take the introduction as an opening to learn from your new acquaintance. The purpose of this book is to introduce you to new acquaintances. If you stop with the book, you’ve failed to really read it. Instead, read through the notes at the end of the book and make a list of new authors to read or listen to.

As self-identified American evangelical insiders, the authors do a good job of demonstrating the humility they are calling for and prophetically challenging the church where they find themselves situated in. But to read a book about marginalized Kingdom voices and not continuing to read those voices themselves is to do a grave injustice. Read this book, make a list of who you will read next, and then pass the book on to a friend to do likewise.

About the Author
  • April Crull is Director of Communitas España, an organisation that engages local culture to build faith communities. The complexity of multi-cultural living, from theory to practice, brings her joy.

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