I have not done as good of a job as I wished I would have of promoting a previous book of my friend John Armstrong, but I will admit — pushing a book called Your Church Is Too Small was hard. Especially since it was decidedly not about church growth or dissing small congregations: it would have been more prosaic, but it should have been called “Your View of the Church Is Too Small: Why Being More Ecumenical and Inclusive is Biblically Faithful and a Vital Part of Your Christian Discipleship and Our Mission in the World.” Or something like that.
I’ve told a bit of John’s story before, so you may recall that he was a pretty conservative, sectarianly Reformed revival preacher who cited great Puritans and fretted about the purity of the evangelical subculture. He was (and remains) a great communicator and fine preacher and he still longs to honor God by exalting Christ and his saving power. But yet, unlike most church leaders, he takes seriously the great prayer of Jesus Himself (John 17) about unity within the Body of Christ. Indeed, no lesser a Reformed, respected evangelical voice than J.I. Packer decisively set John on a path toward this calling (in the second half of his life) to be an agent of missional ecumenism.
His book Costly Love: The Way to True Unity for All the Followers of Jesus came out in 2017 (intentionally published by a Roman Catholic publisher) and explored the sort of Bible-based, gospel-centered, Sprit-given love that is needed if we are going to manifest the sorts of trans-denominational, ecumenical vision that he insists God desires. It is a great book, a rare work on love. I wish it were better known among us and remains a thoughtful, even profound read.
This long awaiting new rumination on discipleship, mission, and Christ’s call to unity, Tear Down These Walls, is largely drawn from and inspired by the less than best-seller status of the very fine Your Church Is Too Small. That is, it is absolutely not a reprint of that earlier work, although some of the material in that book has found its way in fresh reformulation in this new title. If you were one of the few who purchased that earlier great book you will surely love this one that expands that one with lots of new content, lots of new stories, lots of new insight, lots of new passion; it is more than updated but a fully new treatment. If did not read Your Church Is Too Small then you simply must consider Tear Down These Walls. It is a book full of gospel urgency, Biblical wisdom, and visionary in a way that will be sure to bless you. It is something, as you know, that means a lot to us and we are glad for this “best in class” sort of study.
No matter if you are a conservative evangelical, progressive nondenominational, Black or Latine or Asian, mainline Protestant, Anabaptist or Anglican, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox (or even a Mercersberger!) John knows something about your tradition, your insights, your concerns, your foibles. And you need this book, not only to learn about the Biblical mandate to work for unity, but to understand your own place in God’s choir. Of course, he is not striving for some giant One Big Denomination — duh — but he does inspire us to know the other believers in our own towns, to read widely, to draw on the best insights and gifts of Jesus folk unlike our selves, to long for more coherent worship, shaped by a beautiful orthodoxy. Rev. Armstrong is pleasant and wonderfully curious about so much (I happen to know some of the books he reads and, well, talk about what they call a voracious reader!) Such wide reading makes for good writing, and he has a lot on his heart to share.
You will be, as I have been, immediately engaged by Armstrong’s vivid description of Ronald Reagan’s bold and now historic call to Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down these walls” in the early pages of the new book. As you can guess, it becomes a metaphor for the work we must do if Christ’s church is to illustrate some of the unity He calls us to.
As my friend Alexei Laushkin, of Kingdom Mission Society, put it,
Reflecting on a lifetime call for Christian unity, Tear Down These Walls is a must-read for anyone who has a ministry call of healing wounds in the body of Christ. This work invites us into the life-giving relationships made possible by a Christ who calls every part of his church to follow him more closely, and in that process to love their fellow Christians more deeply.