Detail from “Countercultural” cover

Gil Rendle makes a compelling argument about the importance of the institutional church in his new book “Countercultural: Subversive Resistance and the Neighborhood Congregation.” But according to Rendle, American congregations first need to rethink their agenda — because the current agenda was constructed in the post-World War II era, a time in which growth seemed inevitable and unlimited. The agenda for most congregations was to fit into the larger social, political and economic culture. Congregations, both Jewish and Christian, were central to the fabric of American life.

Rendle makes the claim that fitting into the culture is not what congregations are called to do. He believes congregations are countercultural by design. The local church exists outside the dominant political and economic structures. Therefore, it is not indebted to these structures. Instead, the church offers a new paradigm through which we can imagine a new way of life and ultimately a new world.

“Countercultural” is a book for our times. It is tempting for congregations to be lured into the public discourse about a variety of topics and to engage those topics on the culture’s terms. This book defends the value of the church’s perspective in a world that no longer thinks the church is relevant. But instead of thinking about how your church can mount a global social media campaign to increase your impact, Rendle recommends we look at our potential in our neighborhood.

For Rendle, a neighborhood is not an abstraction. He means a “real space” with “real people.” The word “community” is not specific enough. Neighborhoods are made up of streets, houses, schools and businesses. This means pastors must become leaders on a local level. At a time when influence is measured by our digital connections, becoming a local leader is certainly countercultural.


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Before you go…

If you are looking for a fresh take on what it means for the church to be the church, I urge you to consider “Countercultural.” If you believe the institutional church is a gift and you want a framework to help you share this good news with others, you will appreciate how this book summons the church to “speak again about what it knows and what it seeks to be.” The book aptly describes the gods of the modern age, but it does not leave you feeling cynical or pessimistic. Rather, this is a hope-filled call to find new ways of being faithfully subversive within our immediate neighborhoods. This sounds like a message that the church needs to hear.

You can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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