A Church Called Tov – Laura Barringer & Scot McKnight

A Church Called Tov Scot McKnight Laura Barringer
A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight, Laura Barringer
Also by this author: Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew, The Second Testament: A New Translation
Published by Tyndale on October 6, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Leadership
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What is the way forward for the church?Tragically, in recent years, Christians have gotten used to revelations of abuses of many kinds in our most respected churches--from Willow Creek to Harvest, from Southern Baptist pastors to Sovereign Grace churches. Respected author and theologian Scot McKnight and former Willow Creek member Laura Barringer wrote this book to paint a pathway forward for the church.
We need a better way. The sad truth is that churches of all shapes and sizes are susceptible to abuses of power, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse. Abuses occur most frequently when Christians neglect to create a culture that resists abuse and promotes healing, safety, and spiritual growth.
How do we keep these devastating events from repeating themselves? We need a map to get us from where we are today to where we ought to be as the body of Christ. That map is in a mysterious and beautiful little Hebrew word in Scripture that we translate "good," the word tov.
In this book, McKnight and Barringer explore the concept of tov--unpacking its richness and how it can help Christians and churches rise up to fulfill their true calling as imitators of Jesus.

Tov (טוֹב): to be pleasing or good. Tov is a Hebrew word that absolutely explodes with meaning. While the word tov isn’t employed much within the book, the concepts contained in tov are explored thoroughly. That’s something you need to understand before you pick up this book. It makes me wonder if there were any discussions at Tyndale about the title. Will people understand? Will it be an eye-catcher or a turn-off? How much will be have to explain? Won’t “A Church That’s Good” have the same meaning?

The answers: Not initially, eye-catching, just a bit but not too much, and no, no it won’t. This isn’t a book about Hebrew word study or taking your church through ancient rabbinical procedures. It’s about creating tov—a word that means goodness and pleasantness, but so much more. Tov takes us back to Creation, where God said that what he made was good. It is restoration and redemption; it is recognition of the church as a place where what God made good can be made good again.

A Church Called Tov is not just about creating a good church, it helps us define good as God defines it. The first third of the book deals with the development of church culture. All throughout, it relies on the of coauthor Laura Barringer’s experience of toxicity and abuse at Willow Creek Church. I found it absolutely intriguing how deep the book went into painting the systemic culture of abuse at Willow Creek. Barringer’s lived experience within a church that had been famed for its church culture really brings the issue into our everyday reality.

I do wish that the authors had been able spend some of their focus on other churches or organizations. Not necessarily because I want them to be outed for their sins, but because there needs to be an understanding that this is a global Church problem and, within the global church, particularly a problem within the commodified, businesslike structure of many evangelical megachurches. This isn’t a memoir of surviving Willow Creek or a singular experience of toxicity. If it was, there wouldn’t be as much a need for this book.

A Church Called Tov shows that there is a cultural problem within the church that results in patterns of abuse, repeated again and again in different localities, traditions, and contexts. We cannot simply change church practice, we must change church culture. To that end, Barringer and Scot McKnight offer seven elements:

  1. Nurture Empathy
  2. Nurture Grace
  3. Nurture a People-First Culture
  4. Nurture Truth
  5. Nurture Justice
  6. Nurture Service
  7. Nurture Christlikeness

These elements go beyond simply righting the wrongs of Willow Creek in covering up sexual abuse. They go right toward the heart of the Gospel in creating communities where every person is valued and recognized and honored and loved. I particularly appreciated the recognition of the church’s need to recognize and nurture women within the church and will use that as my example of how A Church Called Tov is structured.

Within the chapter on empathy, McKnight and Barringer focus on the need to uplift traditionally marginalized groups: women, elderly, poor, immigrants, minorities, etc. Because of their efforts to contrast a tov-centered church with Willow Creek, they focus on how a church treats women, noting that, since women comprise more than 50% of the typical church body, it is a natural place to begin.

McKnight and Barringer write that a church committed to developing a culture of tov will present a cultural narrative that upholds the value of women. The names and stories of women in Scripture and church history will be taught openly and as a primary focus. Understanding the work of women in the church’s history—global and local—will help drive the nurturing of women in the church’s present. Their advice is both sweeping in theory and intensely practical, down to intentionally promoting the contributions of women during services and on the church website.

Every chapter follows this structure: The presentation of the “typical” way of doing things; the theological foundation of change; the general structure of change; the specific, practical items of change. In that manner, it is very epistolary in nature. Using Willow Creek as a “sample church” of sorts, McKnight and Barringer offer a structure for reforming toxic church culture in a way that applies to all churches at all times.

This is a needed book. It’s disheartening that it’s needed, but it’s so needed. A Church Called Tov helps the church be what it is supposed to be, what it needs to be, if it is truly to be a reflection of God’s Kingdom.