Book Review: The Kingdom Unleashed, by Jerry Trousdale and Glenn Sunshine
Jerry Trousdale and Glenn Sunshine, The Kingdom Unleashed: How Jesus’ 1st Century Kingdom Values are Transforming Thousands of Cultures and Awakening His Church. DMM Library, 2018. 400 pages.
Jerry Trousdale and Glenn Sunshine’s new book The Kingdom Unleashed has much to commend it, including its focus on whole-hearted obedience to Christ (42, 44, 46, 48). Still, for all the truths it presents, it embodies and even typifies a dangerous current in missiological thinking with destructive implications for the doctrine of the church.
DISCIPLE MAKING MOVEMENTS
The book’s foreword states that nothing is holding back “the power of God” from unleashing the “kingdom of God” other than the church’s disobedience. Or stated positively, “Obedience to the will of God ushers in the Kingdom of God” (12). Specifically, this happens through “movements:” rapidly-multiplying “Disciple Making Movements” (DMMs) such as Church Planting Movements (CPMs), T4T, and Four Fields (21, 27).
At the core of these “movements” is a vision of church planting that is capable of “rapid multiplication” primarily because it does not require people to be converted to become part of the church or even part of its leadership. According to the authors, the strength of such churches or disciple-making groups is that they allow people to begin a process of “gradual conversion” as they “experience” life under the Word of God. Unlike “institutionalized churches” in the “Global North,” which the authors call “Elephant Churches” because they are too large and complex to rapidly replicate, these smaller “rabbit churches” have the potential to become rapidly multiplying movements (141).
These groups are called “Discovery Groups” (323–329) and they functionally replace local churches as part of the DMM missions strategy (119). They begin as “Discover Bible Studies” (see 96–100), which simply refers to “a group of lost people, gathered by a person of peace [a seeker with a strategic social network], to discover and obey God’s Word, and to begin living out the core elements of a Christian community in a context where it has a high probability of becoming a church” (323). In other words, unconverted persons are being intentionally gathered to form the “core elements” of a “Christian” community (323).
These groups are led by a group facilitator who begins with questions such as “What is something you are thankful for?” and “What challenges are you experiencing right now?” in order to lay the foundations for prayer (324). They then share a Bible verse and ask the group “What do we learn about God?” and “What do we learn about the human race from this verse?” but leave off any reference to the gospel. Instead, they turn immediately to “How will your life change if you put this passage into practice?” (325). In other words, the exercise is largely moralistic and—at least as described in this book—entirely lacking the good news of Jesus Christ.
Nonetheless, the authors portray these gatherings as possessing “most of the biblical elements that you would find in a healthy church, but you’re seeing it in a group of people who have yet to learn about the redemption offered through the blood of Christ” (326). Indeed, the authors state approvingly that in these groups, “you begin to see the DNA of healthy churches in the lives of people who have not yet even come to an understanding of their need for salvation” (327).
REDEFINING THE CHURCH AND LOSING THE GOSPEL
What is happening here is nothing less than a radical redefinition of the local church as a covenant community of believers. In The Kingdom Unleashed, the authors explicitly contrast their definition of a church over and against the historic Protestant understanding of the church as “a community of believers where the Gospel is preached, orthodoxy maintained, and baptism and the Lord’s Supper are celebrated” (380). Instead, they offer their own definition of the local church: “The church is a community of Christ Followers that worships God, discovers and obeys God’s Word, experiences the biblical ‘one anothers,’ and whose members form new groups of obedient disciples that grow into new churches” (380).
First, notice that the community of “believers” has been replaced by the community of “Christ Followers.” What is the difference? A Christ “follower” has not necessarily been converted. They are still growing in their understanding of God’s Word and may not even be fully acquainted with the gospel yet.
Second, “the gospel” has been replaced by “God’s Word.” Whereas Protestants have always affirmed that a true church consists of the right preaching of the gospel and the right administration of the sacraments, Trousdale and Sunshine feel the liberty to dispense with the explicit proclamation of the gospel for the sake of “rapidly multiplying movements.”
Third, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper are absent from this new definition of the local church. Protestants have historically understood the right administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper to be the second mark of a true church. But the sacraments have no part in Trousdale and Sunshine’s definition of a true church.
REVIVAL AND REVIVALISM
Undergirding the entirety of The Kingdom Unleashed is the dangerous assumption that fast is good and faster is better. Anything that might slow rapidly-multiplying movements should be discarded (130). The sole goal is for the movement to be “scalable and replicable by indigenous believers” (132). In one sense, Trousdale and Sunshine’s program is Finneyism applied to missiology. As Iain Murray accurately describes, this approach is “revivalism” rather than true “revival.”
Revival is the extraordinary outpouring of God’s Spirit through ordinary means; revivalism is the attempt to distill a specific methodology or set of “techniques” in order to secure a revival, as if a specific result can be guaranteed. What Trousdale and Sunshine, along with the entire DMM and CPM camp, are suggesting in this book is no different. Even while explicitly condemning the Prosperity Gospel as heretical (115–116), The Kingdom Unleashed advocates a form of spiritual “prosperity” by promising zealous Christians instant results for obedience to a formula.
Indeed, the insistence on rapid multiplication as the sign of true faithfulness shows up throughout the book through the constant barrage of numbers and metrics—showcasing baptismal numbers, professions of faith, and numbers of groups. Lacking entirely from this assessment is any kind of appreciation for patient, committed ministry. While it may be true that churches in the “Global North” need the evangelistic zeal and prayerfulness of the “South,” what church leaders in the “Global South” need most is a sound ecclesiology. And if that’s what they are looking for in The Kingdom Unleashed, then they will find themselves sorely misled.
 Iain H. Murray, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858 (Banner of Truth, 1994), xviii.