Review: Progressive Covenentalism

There are books that you can read quickly and then there are books that you must plod through as they are prove to paradigm shifting. For myself Progressive Covenantalism edited by Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E Parker was the latter.

This book with ten contributors each addressing a particular aspect of biblical theology relating to how the New and Old Covenants relate to each other has helped me think through issues I have had question about since writing a paper on covenant theology’s understanding of the people of God for Dr. Wellum. I knew prior to that paper that my understanding of Scripture did not mesh with dispensationalism’s  emphasis upon discontinuity between New and Old Covenant. The various contributors in this work flesh out a theological via media between dispensationalism and covenant theology.

As a pastor chapters 6-8 are the most important contributions in this book to the local church. In some circles strict Sabbath observance in becoming more popular and Dr. Schreiner clearly and convincingly demonstrates that this Old Testament understanding and practice of the the Sabbath is not what is required of believers under the New Covenant. Cowan’s work on the warning passages found in Hebrews interacts with the covenant theology interpretation of the passages and shows the importance of those passages for believers.

This book calls for careful reading and reflection as what we believe about the  continuity and discontinuity of the Old and New Testaments will have a major impact on our beliefs about the gospel and the church.

Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher for providing this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html

Don’t Fire Your Church Members

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In writing Don’t Fire Your Church Members Jonathan Leeman has provided a needed exploration and defense of biblical congregationalism. From my experience in seminary and in pastoring a local church I have seen a wide range of mistaken concepts of congregationalism, and seen congregationalism rejected in favor of an elder or pastor ruled church structure.

Leeman makes a foundational statement that should truly transform how people look at the local church and their involvement in his introduction. Leeman states, “The church is its members. Membership is an office. And members never step out of that office because they are the church, and because theirs is the work of representing Jesus and projecting his gospel in each other’s lives every day (2).” In the first two chapters of the book Leeman provides what is in essence the biblical theology of congregationalism and the ways that authority is invested in individuals as found in Scripture. Chapters 3 and 4 address the issue of the concept of the keys of the kingdom and how they are entrusted to the local congregation as evidenced in Scripture. Chapter 5 addresses how pastoral authority is invested and balanced in biblical congregationalism Leeman addresses the areas that are entrusted to pastoral leadership, while also acknowledging there are some areas that are not fully clear and would depend upon the church itself such as expenditures. Chapter 6 addresses how autonomous local churches can and should work together demonstrating their interdependence and their common faith, Lord, and mission. The final chapter provides the structures needed for for healthy biblical congregationalism to flourish.

I cannot commend this book enough to those preparing for minister or who are currently serving in ministry. From my experience it seems there is a growing reluctance among pastors of my generation to fully embrace biblical congregationalism. I have heard fellow seminarians argue that when Jesus makes the congregation the final authority for church discipline that Jesus really meant the elders/pastors of the church. Many Baptist churches are in terrible situations because they very truths explored in this book have been ignored by local church leaders. This book has helped me to take more seriously the nature of church membership as an office that requires carrying out certain responsibilities.

Disclosure: I received this book free from from the publisher for providing this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html

Review of Baptist Foundations

It’s been a good year for Baptists. In Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age edited Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman pastor’s a church leaders have been provided material that will help them think through issues of church structure and practice in a biblical manner.

This book is comprised of five parts covering congregationalism, ordinances, church membership and discipline, officers in the church, and the unity of the local church and cooperation with other local churches. Each of the contributors to the volume have extensive backgrounds in writing on the issues of Baptist polity. While many book on the church published are geared toward a more pragmatic than biblical understanding of the church, each of the authors has sought to conform their understanding of Baptist polity to the Bible. Pastorally I found Shawn Wright’s chapter on Baptism very helpful for me especially as he addresses the issue of baptizing children addressing the possible risks of either baptizing or withholding baptism. Thomas White’s chapter has also helped me to think through in more detail issues surrounding church discipline, which is something sadly lacking in many churches I have known.

The editors and contributors had a challenge in writing this because in reality there isn’t a lot of current consensus among Baptists in how a Baptist church is to be structured. What the authors have done is to first look to the Bible as the authority for how the church is to be structured and run and then demonstrated historically how Baptists have demonstrated these biblical distinctives. There is much to commend this book especially in light of the confusion surrounding basic elements of church structure found in Baptist life today.

If you are a leader in your church read this book, allow these authors to help you think through these issue for the good of your church and for God’s glory.

Disclosure: I  received this book free from B&H Academic for providing this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Review: The Baptist Story

Many works on Baptist history are simply too large to be accessible or enjoyable to most readers. Anthony Chute, Nathan Finn, and Michael Haykin have accomplished a herculean task in their efforts on The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement in writing a concise and accessible work on Baptist history.

Researching and writing history can be a hazardous task. Any doubt about that is dispersed by a look at the life work of William Whitsitt which proved to be terminal to his role as president of SBTS. I say that because this book won’t please all Baptists. If you prefer Martyr’s Mirror to Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s you might find yourself frustrated at the title of this book alone, but you still will benefit from it.

The authors divide Baptist history into each section, with each contributor writing the section most suited to their strengths. Haykin writes section one covering the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries an area that he has written extensively on in the past. Chute covers the nineteenth century an area which he is well suited to cover given his previous works on Jesse Mercer which can be found here and here. Finn covers the twentieth through the twenty first century.

The authors in addressing Baptist history and the events that shaped it do seek to address it as a global movement. This is seen in more areas than merely addressing Baptist mission work. Careful attention is given to the work of Baptists in Ireland in Haykin’s section, the birth and growth of Baptist work on the Continent in Chute’s section, and more globally in Finn’s section.

As pastor I found this book greatly encouraging as a reminder that many of the issues we as Baptists face in our churches have been addressed successfully by past generations. Haykin’s section will remove any thought that the so-called worship wars are a new development. Chute’s work on Southern Baptists post-Civil War reminds the reader of the resiliency of the Baptist cause to adversity. We are reminded by Finn of the price Baptists continue to pay for obedience to Christ, such as missionaries Larry and Jean Elliott who laid down their lives for the cause of Christ in making His gospel known in Iraq.

Throughout the book the authors show Baptists at their best and worst. There is no attempt to revise history to make Baptists look any better or worse than they were and are. I know that this book will find its place on many syllabi, especially given the fact that each of the contributors teaches Baptist history, but I hope this book goes further and finds its way to the hands of many church members.

Baptists need to be reminded of who we are, where we come from, and what our commitments have been and still are and this book does a wonderful job of doing that.

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic for review purposes. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.