Review of the New Conspirators

This is an expanded version of my review that first appeared on As of Yet Untitled. Available here with exclusive additional quotes from the book!

To put it simply, Tom Sine’s The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Timeis an encyclopedia of the new movement in the Evangelical church in Australia, Canada, Britain and the United States.

I received a review copy of The New Conspirators: just before leaving for Vietnam a month and a half ago. I carried the book with me through 3 long train journeys, fully intending to read it on each one. Then, quite unexpectedly I found myself with a large amount of time in a clinic room while my traveling companion recovered from a collapse due to altitude sickness.

We were in the mountain village of Sapa (see photos). A fog hung over the region the whole day, broken occasionally by rain. Indigenous people were the main clients of the medical facility and their colorful woven clothing gave the place a distinctly exotic feel. I found the setting infused my reading of The New Conpirators with a certain immediacy. His chapter on “Coming Home” stood out to me in particular.

As an introduction to the emerging, missional and mosaic (multicultural) church and New Monasticism the book covers a huge amount of ground. Each church, initiative or organization is described in two to three paragraphs, with an occasional story warranting a few paragraphs more.

Sine is very thorough. My recent knowledge in this field is focused in the UK and he covers most of the groups I worked with from the Post-Christendom Series to the SPEAK Network. In other cases he goes into very concrete details such as when describing the church who sold it’s building to buy affordable housing and create a community for mixed income folks in a low income neighborhood.

Sine doesn’t stop with church movements, he also mentions a few government programs such as Bolsa Familia, a program of the Brazilian government that offers stipends to families in exchange for vaccinations for children and regular health check ups.

One of the frustrating aspects of this approach is that it doesn’t leave room for any discussion of failures, mistakes or criticisms of the movement. Describing a few initiatives that failed could be a great way for budding new conspirators to learn from their mistakes.

Beyond the journalism of reporting on all these different initiatives, Sine also provides an overview of the new conspirator’s theology and analysis of our society. He draws a clear connection between a narrow view of church and complicity with globalized consumerism:

I will show in this conversation and the next that many of us have unwittingly embraced a narrow, spiritualized eschatology that is so other worldy that it has almost no influence on shaping our notions of what constitutes the good life and better future in the here and now. As a consequence too many of us have allowed the storytellers of the global mall to define our sense of what is important and of value. (p. 73)

Sine goes on to point out that many churches spend very little time discussing any connection between Christianity and “cultural stuff” of day to day life. He says, “My concern is that the imagery of ‘individual soul escape’ disconnects eschatology from daily life and the urgent challenges that fill God’s world.”

His alternatives to this deficiency will be familiar to those who have read Anabaptist and/or justice oriented Christian writrers:

  • The teachings of Jesus are a radical challenge to the “global mall” that is emerging as globalization’s vision for the world.
  • Helping the poor is a central part of the gospel and not just a tactic for conversion.
  • We should learn from early church practices like radical hospitality.
  • Corporations are “colonizing our imaginations”
  • The “good life” isn’t everything.
  • Helping the poor is mission, not just a “strategic prelude to evangelism”
  • Bruce Cockburn’s lyrics are insightful and prophetic.

Again his analysis and theology draw on quite a wide range of Western sources from Canadian Naomi Klein to British theologian N. T. Wright. At least when it comes to Western authors, Sine has read about as widely as he’s traveled, though he could do well to include a few more majority world theologians and writers.

Mennonites should be paying attention. Many of these new conspirators are reading Yoder and inspired by Anabaptism. In some cases they over idealize us. I’ve had the painful task of breaking the news to more than a few of them that the majority of Mennos voted for Bush in 2004. Some of them, like the New Monasticism community of Missio Dei in Minnesota, have gone ahead and joined Mennonite Church USA.

Unfortunately, Sine seems to be part of the school of thought that believes the only path to unity among evangelicals is completely avoiding any mention of sexuality, let alone homosexuality. This seems a bit short-sighted given that sexuality and LGBTQ issues are unlikely to go away, especially among the younger generation.

Overall, I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in a catching up on some of the hopeful trends among young, North American Evangelicals.

Note for YAR contributers: The publishers of The New Conspirators, Intervarsity Press have offered to send YAR contributors free books from their catalog for review here on the blog. If you’re interested, you can start by taking a look at their new releases or upcoming books. If you see a book you’d like to review email me with the title and your mailing address.