You can’t sell books without some superlative description about how this or that book will literally change lives. One over used descriptive is that a book is “ground breaking.” I suggested recently that I’ve not come across a book in the last 20 years that I would truly describe as “ground breaking.”
Is that harsh? We can all think of books, or if we are not readers, talks, podcasts, conferences that had a profound impact on our lives, that helped us change our thinking on a key matter or deeply affected how we live out our faith. For me, I can look to three significant instances two books and one short question. The books are “The discipline of grace” by Jerry Bridges and “Desiring God” by John Piper. The question was the one that Mike Ovey asked of his students, “Will you let God disagree with you?”
But what do I mean when I say that I can’t think of anything that has been truly ground breaking. Well, we perhaps have to do a bit of work of defining what we mean by the term. I think that Chris Jefferies article here is helpful in getting us to that point.
As Chris observes, the term has farming connotations. We break ground in order to prepare it for sowing. The aim is that there will be a fruitful harvest. So, I would suggest that when we talk about a ground breaking incident in Christian culture, we are talking about something significant that shifts the ground in order to re-orientate the thinking and actions not just of an individual but of thew wider church leading to greater fruitfulness. Historically, we might consider things like the Reformation, the beginning of modern day missions with Carey and the Charismatic Renewal’s emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit as potential examples of things that were ground breaking.
Notice that in those cases, there were observable and significant consequences. I think it’s possible to have something that is potentially ground breaking but doesn’t in fact lead to the expected fruit for what ever reason. For example, I think that books like Total Church by Timmis and Chester along with The Trellis and the Vine were potentially ground breaking as they invited us to rethink how we did church, mission and discipleship but I don’t think they did effect the hoped for change in the end. It seemed that whilst there was talk about moving to missional communities, the flagship examples weren’t that different to conventional churches.
Now as an evangelical Christian, I believe that there isn’t anything truly novel and fresh that isn’t already in Scripture. There have been examples of ground breaking decisions in the church which sadly have taken the church way from God’s will in the Gospel. So, I would add that as well as being refreshing/revitalising and bringing change that for something to be truly ground breaking it needs to be reformational too recovering forgotten or neglected Scriptural truths.
I cannot think of any specific examples that have really done that in recent years and that’s okay, maybe even a good thing. Despite the ubiquitous use of the phrase, I would expect such incidents to be rare. Our primary focus should be on being faithful not novel.