A Church Called Tov
by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer
REVIEWED BY REV. KAREN WINSEMIUS
My name is Karen. Chances are that you know someone called Karen.
But over the last few years, Karens have had a bit of a raw deal. Because Karen is no longer just a name. Karen is
particular person. There is ‘Karen who wants to speak to the manager’. Bunnings Karen. Karen from Brighton (It should be noted that that particular Karen moved to Queensland). Karen is a bossy, entitled woman. She wants everything to go her own way, even if it puts others out. How did one name come to represent so much? And what do all the rest of us Karens do?
The cultural phenomenon that is ‘Karen’ is fascinating, and I’m sure someone will write a PhD in years to come on why our generation feel the need to associate certain characteristics with particular names. In the meantime, as I have been reading ‘A Church Called Tov’ by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer, I couldn’t help but ponder certain similarities about the challenges the church faces, albeit on a much larger scale. As I and other Karen’s seek to reclaim their name as standing for good, so must the church.
McKnight and Barringer seek to pull apart and investigate this Goodness Challenge in their book. They explore the Hebrew word Tov, meaning ‘good’ or ‘goodness’, found in the scriptures, pointing back to the goodness of God as the primary example, highlighting the many examples of Tov promises, and offering hope as we look forward to redemption. Tov is not a one-time act, but an ongoing, sustaining, beautiful characteristic of God, and one that we as Christians should emulate, both individually and as the church.
However, the church hasn’t and doesn’t always get Tov right. McKnight and Barringer take time to acknowledge the pain that so many of us have experienced in the church. They are honest in their naming of the hardship, dysfunction, abuse and toxic relationships that have been allowed to fester and wound so many. This dysfunction has torn apart relationships, and broken apart churches. It has even led to people walking away from Jesus, assuming that the abuse they have experienced is what Jesus must be like as well. McKnight and Barringer offer words of insight into how these unhealthy church cultures form, and helpfully give many practical tips and advice on what signs to look for that a church culture might be unhealthy. But they don’t stay in a place of dysfunction, or despair. They move to a place of Tov, of nurturing habits of goodness, and encouraging churches to put these into practice. McKnight and Barringer identify seven key elements of a Tov culture:
- Nurture Empathy (and resist a narcissist’s culture)
- Nurture Grace (and resist a fear culture)
- Put People First (and resist institutional creep)
- Tell the Truth (and resist false narratives)
- Nurture Justice (and resist the loyalty culture)
- Nurture Service (and resist the celebrity culture)
- Nurture Christlikeness (and resist the leader culture)
We can’t do all of this in our own strength, and yet we’re reminded in 1 Peter 2:9 that, ‘you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ We are called to be God’s people, to serve as ambassadors for Jesus in the world and as members of one body, the church. On our own, this is overwhelming, but with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we can work out this calling, living out a Tov life in our own lives and in the churches we worship in.
What I enjoyed most about ‘A Church Called Tov’ is how encouraging it is. It points us forward, gives us hope; that the church can develop a healthy Tov culture. Both in its theology and its practice, ‘A Church Called Tov’, gives us the big picture and the next step to get there.
Let us be a Tov people, practicing goodness each day. And when you next see your friend Karen, give her a high five of encouragement – she is also working on redeeming her own name for good too!
Rev Karen Winsemius is Assistant Minister at Oaktree Anglican, Caulfield, Melbourne