BOOK REVIEWS · Ecclesiology · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards · Leadership

THE NATURE AND END OF EXCOMMUNICATION – Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingThe Nature and End of Excommunication is a timely and practical sermon.  For many churches in our generation simply refuse to exercise church discipline on the unrepentant.  This act of passivity is not only cause for grave concern; it is a violation of Scripture.

Edwards utilizes 1 Cor. 5:11 as his text:

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Cor. 5:11, ESV)

DoctrineThose members of the visible Christian church who are visibly wicked, ought not be tolerate in the church, but should be excommunicated.

Edwards explains and articulates three main headings which support the doctrine.

1. The Nature of Excommunication

Edwards wastes no time explaining the essence of excommunication: “It is a punishment executed in the name and according to the will of Christ, whereby a person who hath heretofore enjoyed the privileges of a member of the visible church of Christ, is cast out of the church and delivered unto Satan” (c.f. 2 Cor. 2:6).

Ultimately, church discipline is meant for the good of the person in question and seeks their repentance and restoration to the body of Christ.  Edwards, adds, “Excommunication itself is to be performed as an act of benevolence.  We should seek their good by it; and it is to be used as a means of their eternal salvation.”

2. The Proper Subjects of Excommunication

Those who walk through the process of excommunication are the “visibly wicked.”  Two things mark such a person:

  • By gross sin 
  • By remaining impenitent in their sin

3. The End of Excommunication

Three specific ends are delineated by Edwards:

  • That the church may be kept pure, and the ordinances of God not be defiled.
  • That others may be deterred from wickedness.
  • That the persons themselves may be reclaimed, and that their souls may be saved.

Application

5 points of application are set forth by the preacher from Northampton:

  1. That you tolerate visible wickedness in your members, you will greatly dishonor God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the religion which you profess, the church in general, and yourselves in particular.
  2. Your own good loudly calls you to the same thing.  From what hath been already said, you see how liable you, as individuals, will be to catch the contagion, which is easily communicated by reason of the natural depravity, in a degree at least, remaining in the best of men.
  3. The good of those who are without should be another motive.
  4. Benevolence towards your offending brethren themselves, calls upon you to maintain discipline in all its parts.
  5. But the absolute authority of Christ ought to be sufficient in this case, if there were no other motive.

These powerful reminders should beckon every church to seriously consider the high calling of operating in a God-glorifying way.  Edwards wonders out loud, “Now, how can you be the true disciples of Christ, if you live in the neglect of these plain positive commands?”  He concludes, “If you strictly follow the rules of discipline instituted by Christ, you have reason to hope for his blessing; for he is wont to bless his own institutions, and to smile upon the means of grace which he hath appointed.”

In this short sermon, Edwards demonstrated the necessity of carrying out church discipline on unrepentant church members.  How very far are so many churches from this biblical model?  How long will it take to come in alignment with the teaching of Scripture?

BOOK REVIEWS · Ecclesiology · Leadership · Theology

THE PASTOR AS PUBLIC THEOLOGIAN – Kevin VanHoozer and Owen Strachan (2015)

pastorAfter serving in pastoral ministry for nearly twenty-five years, I can testify that the most discouraging moments occurred when the people of God failed to look favorably on theology.  R.C. Sproul rightly laments, “We live in the most anti-intellectual period in all of church history.”  Frankly, many pastors have the battle scars to prove it.  I know I do.

Kevin VanHoozer and Owen Strachan serve up a timely antidote to this troubling, anti-theology age we find ourselves in.  The Pastor as Public Theologian presents a fresh vision; a vision for “reclaiming the vocation of the pastor-theologian.”  But the authors have a larger vision that unfolds throughout the book.  Their vision extends to local congregations.  They too need to reclaim the vision and vocation of the pastor theologian.

Part one explores biblical theology and historical theology.  Part two explores systematic theology and practical theology.  Each chapter is drenched in biblical wisdom with an eye on kingdom priorities.

This book stands in the same stream as David Well’s excellent works, No Place For Truth, God in the Wasteland, and The Courage to Be Protestant – to name a few.  The great strengths lie not only in setting forth a description of the problems in the church but in the prescription for moving forward.  Such a move entails  pastors who are theologically motivated and theologically driven.  These pastors offer up theologically rich sermons which equip, edify, and send the people of God to the nations.

The Pastor as Public Theologian is a sweeping book.  It is, in many ways an epic accomplishment. Indeed, VanHoozer and Strachan achieve their goal in setting forth the biblical case for recovering the biblical portrait of the pastor-theologian.

The Pastor as Public Theologian is a profoundly encouraging book.  Pastors who are serious about their call should read and devour this excellent material.  Some pastors will find themselves repenting for embracing a secularized model of the pastorate.  Others will be re-energized to boldly proclaim the truth for God’s glory and the good of God’s people

Highly recommended!

4.5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · CHRISTIAN LIFE · Ecclesiology

STORM – Jim Cymbala (2014)

Jim Cymbala has a warning for the church.  The warning is an urgent plea.  The stormwarning is for every Christian.  Cymbala is afraid that the influence of the church is on the decline in America.  Biblical competency is at an all-time low.  Pastors are leaving the ministry.  Young people are jettisoning the Christian faith.  Trinkets are peddled but theology is minimized.  Pragmatism is celebrated but prayer is downplayed.  These are themes that the author develops in his latest work, Storm: Hearing Jesus For the Times We Live In.

Cymbala offers a prescription for these perilous times.  His solution is a return to prayer and a reliance on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  The author writes with certain degree of boldness which may offend some.  Certainly, church growth proponents will be repelled by Storm.  But the essential message stands – “Everyone knows that a church must have a strong pulpit and strong preaching … But all this is utterly impossible without the enablement of the Holy Spirit.”

Storm is filled with stories of God’s grace and practical help for struggling pastors who serve in struggling churches.

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review. 

BOOK REVIEWS · Ecclesiology · Leadership

Center Church – Tim Keller (2012)

kellerI have been reading books about the church for almost thirty years now.  Most of the best material is being churned out by Mark Dever and the boys at 9Marks.  Tim Keller’s, Center Church is a welcome guest in the growing list of books on ecclesiology.

Keller sets out to communicate one central message which is summed up in the subtitle: Doing Balanced Gospel-Centered Ministry in the City.  Center Church is encyclopedic in nature.  It covers every subject conceivable and is a helpful tool in every pastors prospective tool chest.

The discussion about gospel contextualization (chapter 7) is deeply encouraging and highly instructive.  The author notes, “Contextualization is not – as is often argued – ‘giving people what they want to hear.’  Rather, it is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them..”

Keller warns against the temptation to use contextualization as a clever means of compromise (which I find many pastors doing).  He adds, “The call to contextualize the gospel has been – and still often is – used as a cover for religious syncretism.  This means not adapting the gospel to a particular culture, but rather surrendering the gospel entirely and morphing Christianity into a different religion by over-adapting it to an alien worldview.”

Center Church is filled with helpful instruction on doing gospel ministry in the city.  It is a long read but worth plodding through for the treasures along the way.

Highly recommended for pastors who love the gospel!

BOOK REVIEWS · Ecclesiology · Leadership

I AM A CHURCH MEMBER – Thom S. Rainer (2013)

I remember reading a book in Seminary entitled, The Death of the Church.  Frankly, any notion of the final demise of the church runs counter to the promise 1433679736_lmade by our Lord in Matthew 16:18 namely – the gates of hell shall not prevail.”  And while the church is, in the final analysis, an indestructible organism, it does appear to be waning in America, especially among the so-called Millennial generation.  Thom S. Rainer offers thoughtful and timely advice for the church in his latest work, I Am a Church Member. 

Rainer’s work gets to the heart of the matter by reminding readers that the notion of church membership is intensely biblical: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27, ESV).  Six commitments undergird this biblical imperative:

1. I Will be a Functioning Church Member

2. I Will Be a Unifying Church Member

3. I Will Not Let My Church Be About My Preferences and Desires

4. I Will Pray for My Church Leaders

5. I Will Lead My Family to Be Healthy Church Members

6. I Will Treasure Church Membership as a Gift

Each commitment is grounded in Scripture and conveyed in gracious and meaningful ways.  The author challenges readers but never comes across in a legalistic or demeaning way.  He hits the biblical balance with great wisdom and skill.

I Am a Church Member is helpful for both parishioners and pastors alike.  It is a solid boost of encouragement to Christ followers in a day that is characterized by apathy and laziness.

4 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Ecclesiology · Leadership

FOR THE CITY – Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter (2011)

0310330076_bFor the City by Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter is a book for pastors, church planters and Christ-followers who want to make a difference in their respective cities.  The heartbeat of the authors is to instill a passion for proclaiming the gospel faithfully and living the gospel in authentic, transparent, gospel-centered communities.

There is much to commend here but I especially appreciate the fiercely anti-pragmatic approach which is grounded in gospel-centered ministry.  The authors present four approaches to the city.  The first three are popular but do not reflect the burden of the New Testament.

Church IN the City

This first approach reflect churches that are merely in the city, geographically.  While they strive to get people to church to hear the gospel, there is very little interaction with the city itself.  This approach may be well-intentioned but doesn’t go far enough.

Church AGAINST the City

This approach opposes the city and carries an “us vs. them” mentality.  Examples abound here.  Frankly, these churches are an embarrassment to the evangelical world.

Church OF the City

Here is the opposite extreme.  Instead of blatantly opposing the city, the approach caters to the whims of the city and leans heavily on a postmodern ethos and as a result, loses its saltiness and gospel influence.  Some emergent churches live here.  Horrible!

Church FOR the City

The authors hold the final option as the only option for the New Testament church:  In this approach, “the church speaks the truth of the gospel and is not afraid to uphold a biblical worldview and moral standard.  Such a church proclaims the truths of Scripture with passion, clarity, and boldness.  At the same time, though, this is a church that commits itself to seeking the shalom, the flourishing, of the city.  This means seeking the shalom of the people they live in community with, living sacrificially and using their gifts, time, and money to seek the peace and prosperity of their neighbors.”

While the authors never hint at it, this author wonders out loud whether a stringent premillennialism (and I’m premillennial) has negatively influenced churches that would otherwise exist as a church FOR the city.

For the City is filled with practical help, strong admonitions, and bold challenges.  A timely work from two seasoned church planters.

3.5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Ecclesiology

CHURCH MEMBERSHIP – Jonathan Leeman (2012)

1433532379_l
Jonathan Leeman’s newest installment, Church Membership is his latest contribution to the 9Marks Healthy Church Series.  The author sets out to help readers understand what church membership is – since many appear to be confused or reject the very notion.

Leeman begins by arguing that the church is the highest kingdom authority on earth: “The local church is the authority on earth that Jesus has instituted to officially affirm and give shape to my Christian life and yours.”  So when God’s people gather together, they do so under the kingly authority of Jesus.

Additionally, the author maintains that the church is an embassy :  “A local church is a real-life embassy, set in the present that represents Christ’s future kingdom and his coming universal church.”  Leeman continues, “A church member is a person who has been officially and publicly recognized as a Christian before the nations, as well as someone who shares in the same authority of officially affirming and overseeing other Christians in his or her church.”

And the author presents a principle that really emerges as the theme of the book, namely – “Christians don’t join churches; they submit to them.”  This theme is developed later in the book as Leeman carefully develops the rationale for biblical submission.

Church Membership is a welcome addition to the 9Marks Series.  The arguments are clear and biblical.  The importance of church membership is emphasized in gracious tones that will captivate readers and spur them to action.

3.5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Ecclesiology

CHURCH ZERO: Raising 1st Century Churches Out of the Ashes of the 21st Century Church – Peyton Jones (2013)

1434704939_lHere’s one I almost missed – and I would have missed out big time!  The cover looks emergent – not interested. The promo line reads something like this: “a punk-rock approach to the pressing issue of gaining ground as rapidly as the early church” – not interested.  However, a quick scan in the acknowledgments caught my attention.  One of the author’s heroes is Martyn-Lloyd Jones.  Now I’m interested.  Then I learn that the author is a church planter in the U.K.  Now I’m really interested.  With family roots in the U.K. and  a deep admiration for men like John Bunyan, John Owen, and C.H. Spurgeon, my heart has been saddened for many years to see the decline of the church in the land of my forefathers.  Anyone who has a passion to reach these people for Christ has my attention!

Church Zero: Raising 1st Century Churches Out of the Ashes of the 21st Century Church by Peyton Jones is a warning to the church; it is a warning to stop playing church.  Much like a fired-up football coach on the sidelines, Jones tosses the challenge flag and alerts the church to some dangers he sees; dangers that have plagued the church for quite some time.  One danger is the propensity for pastors to build their own “personal empires.”  Scripture demands something altogether different, namely – the expansion of God’s kingdom.  The author confronts the typical model found in many mega church structures (and I would argue that this same mentality is smoldering in the hearts of many smaller churches as well):

1. Get more people

2. More people = more money

3. More money = more toys

4. More toys – more ways to get people

5. Get more people (rinse and repeat)

Some churches clean up this formula by exchanging “toys” for “tools.”  Now the model is “sanctified” so to speak.  If the formula for success doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps the formula for failure will:

“Fewer people = less money = fewer toys = less ability to get people, which equals less money again.”  Jones rightly argues, “Church can become a pastor’s own personal tower of Babel in which he refuses to spread out and multiply to the glory of God.  Babel teaches us that bigger is not always better.”

Jones essentially argues that we need to stop quibbling over the meaning of the word “apostle” and get busy doing the work of apostles – which means church planting.  He stands alongside Paul the apostle in pleading with churches to do the work of the ministry fully equipped with apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers.

The author maintains, “The pastor-only club is killing the leadership of the church.  Guys are burning out, losing their families, sabotaging their marriages, or simply going back to selling used cars.  It’s time those of you in ministry got your life back.”  So Jones proceeds to unpack the essence and make-up of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers – each of which “pulls on the average believer to do something that he wouldn’t normally be equipped or constrained to do.”  The takeaway is this: People must be mobilized for ministry.  Part of that mobilization involves recognizing the giftedness in people and releasing them to minister to the flock and reach lost people.

Church Zero is earthy and even a bit crude at time – so was Martin Luther.  This book will make some people mad – sometimes John Calvin upset people (sometimes he still upsets people!)  Church Zero will convict – much like Spurgeon sermon.  Some will question the approach and tone of the author.  Some may even assign false motives.  But at the end of the day, when all the chips have been played, readers will be thankful that Peyton Jones wrote this book.  He asks the right questions and gives solid biblical answers.  His heart for church planting is on every page.  My hope is that God will use this book for his purposes and awaken a new breed of church planters who proclaim God’s truth without apology and spark a new reformation in our generation; a reformation that is fueled by revival that is generated exclusively by the Holy Spirit.

Church Zero concludes with these stirring words: “Every church reformation has turned the tide of battle so that the church was charging through the barbed wire on the offensive, instead of hiding in foxholes on the defensive, praying that the shelling would stop … All church reformers shared on thing in common with every man who has ever spilled hid blood on the field of battle; they valued victory for the cause more than their own lives … I believe that the church’s final hour will be its finest hour if it has the stomach for waging war to drive back the gates of hell.”

BOOK REVIEWS · Ecclesiology · Theology

SOJOURNERS AND STRANGERS – Gregg Allison (2012)

1581346611_lDr. Gregg Allison leaves no stone unturned in his newest work, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church.  Allison’s fine piece of work is the latest installment in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series, edited by John Feinberg.

Six majors themes form the skeletal structure of  Sojourners and Strangers.

Part One: Foundational Issues

Allison introduces the subject of ecclesiology and underscores his presuppositions at the outset: “I firmly maintain that the source – the sole source – and the starting point of our theology is Scripture, the Word of God.  He presents the basic idea of the church, which is “the people of God … the communion of the saints … and is composed of particular people: ‘sojourners and strangers.'”

The author presents his methodology for ecclesiology.  Realizing that one’s approach in this area has broad implications, Allison contrasts theological methods that embrace continuity and discontinuity between the testaments.  He stands somewhere in the middle of this debate by describing himself as one who embraces a moderate discontinuity, what some have described as progressive dispensationalism.  His conviction has a bearing on his view that concerns the origin of the church and the relationship between the church, Israel, and the ordinance of baptism.  This hermeneutical criteria is a helpful backdrop that serves the rest of the book well.

Part Two: The Biblical Vision – Characteristics of the Church

Here the author studies the inception of the church and her relationship to Israel and the kingdom of God.  Allison makes his position clear: “Because of the identity of the new covenant partners – God and Christ-followers – I draw the conclusion that the church began at Pentecost and did not exist prior to  that monumental event.”  While writing from a Reformed framework, the “line in the sand is drawn” by distinguishing himself from main stream Covenant theology.  The argument is straightforward: “But these faithful and obedient followers of  Jehovah, these people of God, did not  constitute the church.  Yes, God’s work of redemption began with Adam.  Yes, God’s promise to bless all human beings through a particular nation was made to Abraham.  Yes, God’s covenant with the particular people of Israel was given specific expression on Mount Sinai with Moses.  But the people of God post-Adamic covenant, post-Abrahamic covenant, and post-old/Mosaic covenant – up to the new covenant – did not constitute the church.”

Allison’s hermeutical presuppositions are refreshing to be sure because while on one had he distinguishes himself from the covenantal framework, he also distinguishes himself from classical dispensationalism, i.e. “the church stands in both continuity and discontinuity with the people of God in the past.”  Near as I can tell, he is an agreement with the essence of the proposal but forth by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum in their excellent work, Kingdom Through Covenant.

Additionally, the orientation of the church is established in part two by examining seven characteristics of the church.

1. The Church is Doxological – oriented to the glory of God.

2. The Church is Logocentric – focused on the Word of God.

3. The Church is Pneumadynamic – empowered by the Holy Spirit.

4. The Church is Covenantal – with God and in covenant community with one another.

5. The Church is Confessional – united by a common Christian confession or creed.

6. The Church is Missional – called to proclaim the gospel and advance the kingdom of God.

7. The Church is Spatio-Temporal/Eschatological – a historical reality with a grand future.

Allison explains each characteristic in great detail and suggests practical suggestions for abiding by the biblical model.

Part Three: The Vision Actualized – The Growth of the Church

Part three demonstrates how the vision set forth in the previous section will be fostered and protected.  This vision will be actualized by maintaining the  purity and unity of the church.  Additionally, the commitment to church discipline plays a key role.  Church discipline is defined as “an anticipatory and declarative sign of the divine eschatological judgment, meted out by Jesus Christ through the church against its sinful members and sinful situations.”  Churches who neglect or reject church discipline do great harm to its members and the testimony of God’s people.

Part Four: The Government of the Church

In this critical section, Dr. Allison unpacks the offices of the church.  First, he examines the office of apostle which is “no longer operative” in the author’s view.  He continues to explore the office of elder and deacon, noting the biblical qualifications and responsibilities of each.

The subject of church government is set forth in a clear and understandable way.  Episcopalianism, Presbyterianism, and Congregationalism are explained in their historical context. The author presents his proposal for the governance of congregational churches – a model that is elder-led and congregationally affirmed – which appears to be the biblical model.

Part Five: The Ordinances of the Church

The various views of baptism and the Lord’s supper are presented in light of church history.  Disagreements that the author has with other views are set forth with charity and graciousness.

Part Six: The Ministries of the Church

Finally, Allison overviews the various spiritual gifts, a biblical theology of worship, and various ministries that emerge in the local church context.  The church should be “for the world and against (the sinful corruption) of the world.

Summary

I cannot recommend Gregg Allison’s work highly enough.  His treatment of ecclesiology should be applauded for its depth and breath.  And it should be celebrated for its gracious approach to disputable matters.  Readers will be remiss to find a shred of compromise or capitulation; yet his gentle approach weaves throughout the fabric of the book.  Sojourners and Strangers should be required reading for every Ecclesiology class for Bible College students and Seminarians alike.  This book will not only instruct and educate; it will help stem the tide of errors and mis-steps that have so characterized the last several years of church history, especially the blunders that have come out of the emergent and seeker-sensitive church.  I would also refer readers to his excellent work, Historical Theology for a superb look at the development of Christian theology in church history.

5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Ecclesiology

THE LIFE OF GOD IN THE SOUL OF THE CHURCH – Thabiti Anyabwile (2012)

The Life of God in the Soul of the Church by Thabiti Anyabwile is a refreshing look at the inner life of a healthy functioning New Testament church.  Pastor Anyabwile is lays the foundation in part one by pointing to the reality of our union with Christ.  He discusses the nature and goal of spiritual fellowship and discusses the role of the Trinity  and their respective responsibilities in building the church.

In Part two, the author makes direct application by making an appeal to the “one another’s” of the New Testament.  Each chapter is arranged in a thematic and expositional fashion that aims to glorify God.  The Life of God in the Soul of the Church aims for the heart.  Anyabwile continues to make solid contributions to the local church.