Dr Peter Roennfeldt has launched three new books in the past few months, each addressing specific issues affecting the church, including the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the life and mission of the church. He talked with Bookshelf about his many writing projects.
Why is church as we have known unlikely to return to “normal” even when the pandemic is less of a factor?
Because of its devastating health, economic and social impacts, it is unlikely our world or church will ever return to what was seen as “normal” pre-COVID. Societies have changed, the social consciousness of many has been sharpened during these COVID times, with a new awareness of justice, inclusivity, fairness and equality. We are now in a new mission environment, and it seems to me to be unwise—and maybe naïve—to suggest that “once we are past this pandemic, we will get on with church life and mission!” This is now the world we live in, and it is likely to only become more complex.
What are the opportunities that you see for us in reformulating church?
While we rushed to get online to watch church worship programming, it seemed few believers had been equipped to worship where they were, let alone engage in the other primary purposes of church: to be of service in their communities, make disciples, cultivate fellowship, and grow in obedient discipleship. We have been given the opportunity to rethink church, and to go back to pre-Constantine times—to explore again Jesus’ and the apostles’ views of church. I am not suggesting returning to some “glory time” in the past, but Jesus is the founder and foundation of the church—and the New Testament suggests frames that many today would find to be relevant for what we often speak of as “end times.”
Three new books—If You Are Thirsty, Enjoy the Living Word and Your Church Has Changed—in six months. Why?
Each of these books responded to serious needs I see in the church. I have preached and taught about the Holy Spirit as a person, and His baptism and filling, literally hundreds of times—and have wanted to write about Him for decades. Enjoy the Living Word came in response to an urgent request, and Your Church Has Changed is a product of discussion papers and hundreds of hours of Zoom conferences for church networks, mission agencies, pastors’ meetings and denominational entities in many countries.
Is there a tension between emphasising the present-day personal experience of the Holy Spirit and the study of the ancient book of the Bible?
Rather than tension, I see continuity. Unfortunately, many are nervous about the Holy Spirit, but He is the Person of the Godhead who makes us alive to spiritual things, draws us to Jesus, converts us and empowers us for life and witness. Through His presence, Jesus and the Father come to live within us. The ancient book—the Bible—inspired by the Holy Spirit, informs our relationship with Him. He is not confined by our interpretations of the ancient Scriptures, but His leading always finds precedent in Scripture—and in particular in the life of Jesus, in the events of Calvary and Pentecost.
If someone has read your books over the past few years, what do you hope they would take away from that cumulative thinking?
First, I would hope that those who read will experience the transforming impact of the two historic realities of our faith: Calvary and the resurrection of Jesus, and Pentecost and Jesus’ presence by His Spirit. Second, I want all readers to see that Jesus invites all of us to engage in His mission and that His model of sharing faith is simple, reproducible, anyone-can-do-it. All are to enjoy the rewards and enrichment of engaging in God’s mission—it is not only the task of a professional. Most who have read If You Can Eat—or engaged in workshops on the theme—have said, “I have never shared faith, but I can do this!
Your Church Has Changed and other books by Peter Roennfeldt are available from Adventist bookshops in Australia and New Zealand, or online.