RiseVibes: The Suburban Captivity of the Church By Tim Foster


One of the signs of a really good non-fiction book must be how often you turn down the corners of the pages because that page contained something worth reviewing. While reading “The Suburban Captivity of the Church” I did that so many times because there were oodles of noteworthy thoughts

The idea behind this book came from Tim Foster’s experience of moving from working in a suburban church to pastoring in an inner city context. So at its heart this is a book about mission in Australia which provides details about three classic people groups; suburbanites (middle class), urbanites (inner city types) and battlers (working class).

Tim Foster argues convincingly that the reason the Christian church in Australia has only really been (modestly) successful in growing suburban churches while it struggles so much with outreaching to battlers and urbanites is because the gospel being portrayed is usually captive to middle class thinking. The church has failed to contextualize the gospel so that battlers and urbanites would properly see, hear and experience it.

Foster pushes his readers to question what really is the gospel? And are we sharing an individualistic gospel that inadvertently promotes a consumer mindset.  He reminds us that the gospel is more than just how to get to heaven but how we enter into Jesus’ invitation to join his kingdom.

Foster contrasts what he calls the ‘punitive’ gospel with a ‘telic’ gospel which is focused on God recovering his purposes for the world. In this humans are not only agents in sin but also victims of sin. A number of Foster’s thoughts are clearly shaped by NT Wright (which in my book is a good thing) but he gives these thoughts a new and very practical meaning within the Australian context.

He reminds us that the gospel gives us not only a new individual identity but also a new way of being together and that this is at the heart of God’s plan. So church doesn’t just bolster faith or gather like-minded people; it is where we begin to experience and express the new way of relationships that Jesus desires.

Foster’s historical and sociological lessons about how the three groups examined were formed are deeply fascinating and memorable. His ability to provide touch stones of inroads for the gospel for each group is of massive practical worth. Finally, the way Foster finishes each chapter with a simple gospel outline that provides a wonderful example, demonstrating what he means for us to contextualize the timeless message of Jesus for that group.

‘The Suburban Captivity of the Church’ is a wonderful gift to the Australian church; if ever there was a time when we needed to better understand how to articulate the gospel to people, it is now. This book provides thought provoking tools on how to improve our ability to share the message of Jesus in a culturally relevant way with the people that surround us.

‘The Suburban Captivity of the Church’ is published by Acorn Press. It is available in paperback or as an ebook from Koorong (online and instore) or order from Acorn Press direct at acornpress.net.au.

Reviewer: Scott Berry