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Kimble, Jeremy M. 40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2017. Pb. 272 pp. $23.99.   Link to Kregel

If recent studies are accurate, both church attendance and church membership in America are in decline. This is true for mainline denominations as well as Evangelical churches. While there are any number of reasons for this decline, an often unaddressed factor is simply that people no longer see church membership as important and many find any talk of church discipline distasteful. American Christians are especially independent and see any intrusion on their private life as a violation, even if this comes their voluntary association with a local church.

40 Questions About Church Membership and DisciplineJeremy Kimble’s contribution to the growing 40 Questions series from Kregel Academic covers the two related topics of church membership and discipline both as an academic issue and a pastoral problem. Each are examined through the lens of a biblical theology, but Kimble devotes large sections of the book to how membership and discipline ought to operate in the local church.

The first four chapters form an introduction defining church, church membership and church discipline. Kimble defines the “universal church” as “the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, and have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit” (21) who then gather locally to “worship, hear the Word of God preached, observe the ordinances, affirm and oversee one another’s membership, exercise discipline when needed, and encourage one another to live faithfully as a Christian” (22). This book is more interested in the local church, so he quickly moves to what membership in a local might look like.

Beginning with Jonathan Leeman’s definition of church membership, Kimble argues membership is a voluntary relationship in which an individual submit themselves to the authority of a local church in order to live out their Christian life. This relationship includes submission to church discipline in order to correct persistent sin. Discipline can be both formative (part of the discipleship process) and corrective of a particular sin. Corrective discipline may include removal from membership and excommunication (36).

The second section of the book covers sixteen questions on church membership divided into three sub-categories (theological, ministry and practical questions). Kimble must deal with the theological problem of grounding modern church membership to the biblical data. In order to do this, he outlines a pattern from covenant relationship of the Old Testament people of God. To be a member of the Covenant people carried rights and responsibilities, which establish a pattern found in the New Testament. Kimble says New Testament church membership is a “formal commitment or covenant between an individual and a local church” (47), citing several passages describing the responsibility we have toward one another in the church. A potential problem for Kimble is many of these texts are universal (love one another in John 13:34-35).

The third section of the book covers another eighteen questions on church discipline divided into the same three categories. After a chapter on Old Testament patterns of disciple, Kimble discusses the two most significant texts for church discipline in the New Testament, Matthew 18:15-18 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. Live several chapters in this book, most of this material is taken from Kimble’s monograph That His Spirit May Be Saved: Church Discipline as a Means to Repentance and Perseverance (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Kimble argues Paul’s command to corporately discipline the young man in 1 Corinthians 5 is based on the Old Testament pattern (citing Lev 24:14, Num 15:35 and Deut 19-10). Because of the style of the Forty Questions series, these chapters are frustratingly brief, although Kimble provides excellent references to other literature in the footnotes for those wishing to pursue the exegesis of these two important texts.

Since Paul quoted the Old Testament in 1 Corinthians 5:13 in the context of dealing with heinous sin in the Christian community, Kimble sees the Old Testament pattern of expelling an unrepentant sinner from the community of Israel as a pattern for church discipline. His motivation is his insistence on one “people of God” on both the Old and New Testament. But there are some potential problems with this use of the Law as a pattern or trajectory for church matters. In Deuteronomy 13:5 or 17:7, the verses Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians 5:13, the unrepentant sinner was not simply excluded from the camp, he was to be executed! Although he fails to mention it in his brief chapter on disciple in Church history, Calvin had the heretic Servetus executed.

Kimble obviously does not think church discipline ought to culminate in execution, but he needs to explain more completely how this method for applying the Jewish Law to Church practice works on an exegetical level. Kimble would not (I assume) use the ritual for determining the guilt of a woman accused of adultery in Numbers 5:11-31 as a “pattern” for dealing with adultery in the church today. He does mention several views on the continuity between the Testaments in his introductory chapters, but this is not a very detailed discussion of how the Law ought to function (or not) in the church. Since the book is designed to only briefly answer particular questions, there is little room for a fully nuanced discussion of how to apply the Law in the contemporary church, so Kimble cannot be faulted for this lack of clarity.

The final two chapters treat the significance of church membership and discipline for both theology and the Christian life. Here Kimble argues both church membership and church discipline are necessary for a more pure church, a spotless bride prepared presented to Christ (262). By voluntarily submitting to the authority of a church body, the believer in Christ is recognizing that their life (both doctrine and behavior) have eternal significance.

A potential problem for any book on these issues is reading the New Testament anachronistically. Church membership as described by Kimble is rather modern, and perhaps could be describes as American Evangelical church membership and discipline. I happen to think he gets most of the details right, but can these details be established from the text of the New Testament? The book of Acts describes the first thirty years of the church, and even when supplemented by the Pauline letters, it hard to develop a clear biblical theology of church membership as it appears in contemporary culture. Nevertheless Kimble avoids pushing too many modern church practices into the world of the New Testament.

NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul calls himself and Apollos “stewards” who have been entrusted with the most important thing imaginable, the “mysteries of God.” Like a fund manager, he is to protect that investment but also see that there is a return on that investment.

But at Gordon Fee points out, God seeks stewards who are faithful, they are not chosen due to their “not eloquence, nor wisdom (nor ‘initiative,’ nor ‘success’—our standard requirements).” Those who have been entrusted with the Gospel are to humbly servant the master and seek his glory and honor alone.  The leaders of the Corinthian church are failing in just this regard, they are seeking their own honor rather than the one who has called them.

Paul and Apollos have been entrusted with the mysteries of God (4:1-2). A steward in this context is a servant entrusted with a task, a commission. Paul uses a slightly different word for servant in 4:1 than in 3:5 (ὑπηρέτης vs. διάκονος), but there is likely no difference in meaning. In both cases the servant is subordinate to a master and serves by doing the will of that master.

InvestmentA steward (οἰκονόμος) is a manager or administrator.  This could be a servant put in charge of a household (Joseph, for example, or the servants in Jesus parable in Luke 16). It can refer to a city official, such as a public treasurer, the word used to describe Erastus in Rom 16:23. An administrator is charged with a task (manage a city’s money, for example). In the LXX, the word translates Hebrew words of civil administrators (1 Kings 4:6, 16:9, Isa 36:3, 22, 37:2, etc., cf., eight occurrences in Josephus with the same sense).

The content of this deposit is the “mysteries of God.” Rather than a huge sum of money to invest and protect, Paul is a servant of God’s revelation. Mystery is typically something that must be revealed to be known, a secret hidden until the time is right. This is not something guess-able, but rather a revelation of something new and previous unknown.

In order to be a successful steward, they must be “found faithful.” If the steward is a money manager for a city, they have to protect the money entrusted to them and invest it in a way that returns a profit. Paul and Apollos are therefore accountable for their management of the mysteries of God. The preaching of the Gospel will naturally expand the body of Christ, and there are some strategies Paul might use to preach the Gospel in ways that are more likely to bear fruit. He goes first to the synagogue, for example, since that is where he will find people who already know the Scripture and may be looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, as well as some God-Fearing Gentiles who are interested in the Jewish God. When he was in Athens, he went to Mars Hill, a place where people enjoy discussing new ideas and debating philosophy. His goal was to go to the location where he would have the best chance getting an audience for the Gospel.

If Paul describes Apollos and himself as servants and stewards, then certainly the leaders of the church at Corinth are servants as well! Verse 6a Paul says that the things he has applied to himself and Apollos are applicable to all Christian leaders at every level, from a nursery worker to the long-time elder to the Lead pastor.

The proper attitude of a Church leader ought to be, “This is God’s church and I am just taking care of this for a while.”

Burge, Gary M. A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 189 pp. Pb; $16.  Link to IVP, includes a short book trailer featuring Burge.

Burge says the modern reader is like “a foreigner in their world and culture,” this book attempts to immerse us in the world of the first century.  In the same vein as Ben Witherington’s A Day in the Life of Corinth or Bruce Longenecker’s The Lost Letters of Pergamum, Burge has created a short story about a centurion named Appius and his scribe and slave Tullus. While stationed in Dura-Europos, Appius is injured in a battle with the Parthians and eventually is in a gladiator arena at Caesarea Maritima. Eventually Appius and Tertullus end up in the small village of Capernaum on the shores of Galilee where the meet Jesus of Nazareth.

BurgeI will not spoil the novel with any more plot summary. The value of this book for Bible students is found in the numerous side-bars with detailed cultural information on such diverse cultural issues such as honor and shame, familia, or cosmetics. Burge describes the various locations mentioned in the book in the sidebars as well. There are small black and white illustrations scattered through the book. These are all informative, but could have been enhanced by added a “for further study” to each topic with reference to a more detailed source. Assuming use in a classroom, students could be encouraged to pick a topic and research it in more detail.

A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion is a great way to get into the world of the New Testament and would be used in a New Testament introduction or a Gospels class, in the same way A Day in the Life of Corinth is appropriate for a book on the Pauline letters. I am occasionally asked for resources on the “background” of the New Testament, this short novel will serve the average Bible reader well by illustrating the Roman world and enriching one’s reading of the Gospels.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

PeltonPelton, Randal E. Preaching with Accuracy. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2015. 170 pp. Pb; $16.   Link to Kregel, read a 25 page excerpt from the book.

This short book of preaching is in many ways a combination of Haddon Robinson’s classic Biblical Preaching and Bryan Chappell’s Christ-Centered Preaching. Pelton recognizes his debt to both books in his introduction. He believes the preacher needs to develop the ability to identify the dominant idea of a preaching portion, but also to allow the language and concepts of the portion to shape the sermon.

The first chapter of the book is a defense of expository preaching. For many preachers, exposition of a text in a sermon is not popular with audiences. Expository sermons will not “grow a church.” It is unfortunately true many congregations lack the biblical background to appreciate an expositional sermon and fewer pastors are attempting to “preach through a book.” I have found that even when a pastor preaches a series on a biblical book, the sermons will still be topical and only vaguely related to the selected text. This book by Pelton will help pastors to pay attention to the main idea of a text a selected text and conform their presentations to the Word of God rather than using scripture as a pretext for the hot topic of the week.

Pelton’s model for preaching begins with selecting an appropriate text to preach. He calls this “cutting the text,” although he is simply demonstrated for the reader how to identify a proper unit of scripture for preaching. Topical preaching tends to err by using a single verse (sometimes out of context) or by jumping to as many verses as possible. Expositional preaching can be ruined by trying to reach too large of a section, forcing the pastor to rush the details or bore the listeners with story-retelling. By paying attention to the genre-based clues in the text itself a pastor ought to be able to limit their expository sermon to an ideal number of verses.

By “cutting the text” properly, the expositor will then be able to identify the “textual big idea” in the portion. Pelton’s fourth chapter demonstrates how to select the broad subject, to narrow the subject to the preaching portion and finally to develop the “big idea” which will govern the content of the sermon. He gives several examples and has a number of “workbook” like exercises to allow the reader to develop their own “big idea” and compare it to his own work.

Randal PeltonOnce a “big idea” for the sermon has been crafted, Pelton describes a method for grounding the “big idea” in the context of Scripture. Obviously the “hero” of every text is God and the main character of every text is Jesus, but creating a Christ-centered sermon will vary from genre to genre. Pelton therefore gives several examples, including a few from the Old Testament, to demonstrate how to ground the “big idea” in the immediate context of the portion of Scripture selected. This contextual approach allows a preacher to select only a short section for the expositional sermon. For example, a preacher can cover the whole of Gen 39, for example, while focusing on only a few verses which demonstrate the “big idea.”

In his final major chapter, Pelton describes what he calls “canonical preaching.” By this he more or less means preaching Christ in every text. This many take the form of what Christians ought to be or do, or how Christ is revealed in a particular text. He is careful to avoid the allegorical “fuller meaning” of medieval preaching which found Jesus in every word of the Old Testament. Pelton firmly believes every text ought to point to Jesus and apply to the Christian and a sermon should be a kind of “theological exegesis” pointing the way to the Cross. This is not unlike Bryan Chapell’s “grace-centered preaching” or Sidney Greidanus’s method for preaching Christ from the Old Testament. While Pelton makes some distinctions between his approach and these other two popular homiletical texts, all three are working similar methods with the goal of preaching every text in the larger context of the whole canon.

If I have any critique of Pelton’s approach, it is this canonical method. On page 118 he has a chart comparing his method to a target, with the textual big idea on the outside, the contextual in the second ring and the canonical interpretation in the center of the bull’s-eye. Until I saw this chart, I would have place the textual big idea in the center and the canonical interpretation on the outside. For me, the idea in the text I have selected is the driving force in my sermon and (perhaps to my shame) I often do not consciously attempt to draw the text to the larger canonical context. Pelton’s book is an encouragement to re-think what is important in a sermon and to center my presentation on the Cross.

NB: Randal Pelton blogs on Preaching at Pelton on Preaching. Thanks to Kregel Books for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Chambers, Andy. Exemplary Life: A Theology of Church Life in Acts. Nashville: B&H, 2012. 292pp. Pb; $29.99.   Link to B&H Academic   Click to read the first chapter of the book.

Andy Chambers is senior vice president for Student Development and professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis. This study of Luke’s summary narratives is clearly evangelical. Chambers approaches Acts from the perspective of Christian faith and offers this study as a way of applying the book of Acts to contemporary church life.

ChambersIn the opening chapter of this monograph, Chambers describes how we “lost Luke’s theology of the church life” as a result of an over-emphasis on historical critical method. He is concerned here with the view Luke created fictional situations to present his view of how the church developed. The long shadow of F. C. Baur has prevented scholars from seeing Luke’s intention to describe the ideal life of the church in the summary narratives in Acts. Literary criticism and narrative theology has corrected this to a certain extent since these methods are focused on Luke’s rhetorical strategies as an author. Chambers will therefore make qualified use of contemporary narrative criticism, although he thinks Luke had specific intentions as the author of the text.

In his second chapter he describe summarization as a rhetorical feature of Acts. The first four of the features of summary narratives are found in a variety of Greco-Roman literature and Acts tends to include similar information. First, the summary narratives tell about church life as opposed to describing them dramatically. Second, summary narratives are unfocused general statements about church life. Third, narrative time accelerates in the summary narratives. Fourth, summary narratives depict an ongoing way of life in the Jerusalem church. One way that Luke describes this ongoing state is switching from an aorist to an imperfect verb in the summary statements. Chambers argues the change in sound of been inflicted verb would be picked up by an oral culture hearing the text read publicly.

In addition to these for standard features, Chambers notices a number of other items found in the Book of Acts. For example, since these statements are brief transitional summaries, they make only general references to time. Luke’s summaries usually follow chiastic ABA pattern and make frequent use of repetition. In addition, the summary statements tend to be culturally neutral. By this Chambers means they are not tied to Jewish practice.

His final and perhaps more controversial observation is that Luke only emphasizes the positive aspects of the Jerusalem congregation in summary narratives. Chambers does not think Luke downplays controversy or division in the early church in the narrative portions of his book, but he does omit this material in the summary statements. It is hard to imagine why Luke would include negative items in a summary statement intended to be an example to later church readers for how to “do church.”

Having clearly described Luke’s summarization strategy, chapters 3-5 of Exemplary Life carefully study each of the three summary narratives in the book of Acts. These summaries, Chambers argues, are Luke’s description of the “exemplary life” of the early church. A chapter is devoted to each summary narrative (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35; 5:12-16) in order to develop a long list of commitments made by the earliest believers. For example, it is well-known the believers in Acts 2:42-47 were committed to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to breaking bread together, and to prayer. But Chambers argues there were other defining features as well, such as fear of the Lord, signs and wonders, sharing in each other’s lives and possessions, daily fellowship (which included the practice of the Lord’s Supper). One important characteristic of the early Jerusalem church was caring for the needs of the community as well as whole city of Jerusalem.

Having created an impressive list of features of the ideal community from the three summary narratives, Chambers then examines four texts in which Luke describes Gentile communities. The goal is to demonstrate these Gentile communities share the same kind of features as the ideal, exemplary community found in the summary narratives. What he is looking for are “enriching echoes” of these summaries in the Samaritan mission (8:1-15 9:31), Antioch (11:19-30, 13:1-3), Ephesus (19-20), and Troas (20:7-12). Presumably these were chosen because the most clearly demonstrate the point Chambers wants to make, the ideal of Jerusalem was replicated in the Gentile churches.

Two minor critiques comes to mind here. First, the Samaritans are not exactly Gentiles, nor are the exactly Jews. A Christian community in Samaria may be implied by 9:31, but I am not sure 8:1-25 can be fairly described as the establishment of Gentile churches in the Pauline sense. Second, Chambers omits Thessalonica and Corinth, even though there are certainly Gentile churches established in both locations. This may simply be a matter of limiting the study to make the material manageable, or perhaps because these two particular Gentile communities would yield negative data not helpful for the ultimate thesis of the book. There is simply not much to work with for Thessalonica, but Luke devotes a nearly as much attention to Corinth as he does Ephesus, and far more than Troas. (To be fair, he frequently cites Acts 18 in his final chapter.)

In chapter 7 Chambers sums up his findings in order to demonstrate Luke offered the Jerusalem Community as an ideal for the later, primarily Gentile church to follow. This is the reason the summary statements are culturally neutral, lacking specific reference to the Jewish boundary markers. The boundary markers were undoubtedly practiced by the Jerusalem community, but since they were no longer relevant to the Gentile churches reading Acts, Luke has omitted them from the summaries.

He begins with a long list of 24 items found in the summary narratives and they uses these to create a biblical theology of “Church Life in Acts.” In the explanation following his list, Chambers shows how these items turn up one or more of the later Gentile churches, indicating Luke’s intention to encourage later readers follow the model of the earliest church. For the most part, this chapter lists non-controversial topics which ought to characterize any healthy church

However, some of the “exemplary features” are not necessarily found in the later texts, even if they are important features of Church Life. Chambers says “an exemplary church deliberately assimilates new believers,” citing the summary narrative in Acts 2:42 (147). But the later texts he cites in Acts do not necessarily support this point. Acts 11:26 only implies ongoing training and discipleship and 13:21 simply notes the proconsul Sergius Paulus believed and was astonished at the teaching of the Lord, but this is far from assimilated into a community committed to the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, prayer and breaking of bread. Of the verses listed, only 20:18-20 (Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders) clearly describes a community like Acts 2:42. Ultimately I think this extremely long list of characteristics of an exemplary church could have been more efficient, combining similar points in order to avoid this kind of problem.

Conclusion. Chambers has done what he set out to achieve. The summary narratives in the early part of Acts do indeed seem to be general enough to provide an example for later churches looking for a model for how to live as Christians. While I am less convinced the later reports in Gentile churches are true echoes of these summaries, in general Chambers makes an excellent argument that Luke’s intention was to provide a model of an ideal church for later generations to emulate. What is more, this point is quite preachable in an evangelical context. It is always difficult to know who to apply the book of Acts, especially the activities of the earliest church. Chambers does not want to apply the specifics, only the general example found in the summary statements. In the end, Chambers would say, this was Luke’s purpose for including such summaries.

NB: B&H did not provide me with this book, but I am sure they would have if I asked for it. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

González, Justo. The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 141 pp. Pb; $14.   Link to Eerdmans, including a short interview with González.

Professor Emerita at Columbia Theological Seminary, Justo González is known for his popular two-volume The Story of Christianity (1984) and three-volume A History of Christian Thought (Abingdon, 1987). In this short meditation on Luke’s Gospel, he offers a historian’s view of the theology of Luke/Acts. There is very little on authorship issues or whether the two books should be read together. Regardless of origin, González assumes the two books are to be read as a unit and his theological observations cover both books. González does not interact with other monographs on Luke’s theology nor is he particularly interested in exegetical details. There are no footnotes or references in these short reflections.

González, The Story Luke TellsIn the first chapter González makes a series of observations about Luke’s interest in history. Luke is the only author shows a particular interest in dating the events he discusses. He does this by placing the story of Jesus in a particular social, political and religious context by mentioning a number of characters by name who are known from history. Luke is also interested in geographic and political data. For example, Luke mentions the bay of Fair Havens on the island of Crete, the type of geographical detail a historian would include. One curious feature of Luke/Acts is that the history is unfinished, not only in terms of chronology but also geography (11). González suggests Luke wrote his history in this way in order to invite both the original and modern readers to continue the ongoing history of God’s work in this world (13).

In his second chapter González introduces the idea of typology frequently found in the Bible. By typology, he means patterns which repeat throughout the history. He first shows that God’s redeeming action in Jesus is a typology drawn from God’s redeeming action leading Israel out of Egypt. In Luke, Jesus is the Passover lamb; just as the blood of the lamb was used to redeem Egypt in the past now, the blood of the first born of God will redeem all people in Jesus. González’s second example is Luke’s development of an Adam/Jesus typology. While this is usually considered a Pauline idea, Luke connects Jesus and Adam in his genealogy and temptation. For González, these sorts of typological connections are not intended as foreshadowing, but to argue Jesus is the culmination of the plan of God. González says the fulfillment typology in Jesus is not necessarily the end since the church participates in the ongoing expansion of Christianity. We often forget Acts “is not only the history of the expansion of Christianity through the work of Paul and others; it is the beginning of the process through which Jesus Christ announces and claims his Lordship over all history and humankind” (27).

In the third chapter, Gonzalez traces what he calls the “great reversal.” He has in mind here the common biblical motif of the lesser being elevated above the greater (i.e., the younger son is given the blessing, the least likely son becomes the king, etc.) This great reversal is both religious and social (32). In Luke, those who had expect to enter into the kingdom usually are on the outside. In contrast, it is a Gentile or a woman who finds forgiveness in Jesus. For González this is the main idea of the Great Feast in Luke 14. The social aspect of this great reversal is seen in the story of Lazarus (Luke 16) where a poor man is elevated while a rich man finds himself in Hades. This theme of the poor entering into the kingdom appears repeatedly in the third Gospel. González points to the beatitudes, which are much more focused on riches and poverty in Luke’s Gospel than in Matthew’s. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus proclaims the year of “the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4), referring to the year of Jubilee, a time when the poor have their debts forgiven. In the Book of Acts, the great reversal includes people who were on the fringes of what it means to be a Jew, such as women, Samaritans, and Gentile God-fearers. González also detects the motive of a great reversal in the appointment of deacons in Acts 6 since they are drawn from the Hellenistic Jews.

One feature often observed about Luke’s Gospel is his interest in the female disciples of Jesus. Women are witnesses to who Jesus is from the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel. In his fourth chapter González surveys all of the women were featured in Luke in both Luke and Acts. Like many who studied this feature of Luke’s Gospel, González points out later church writers may have suppressed Luke’s interest in female disciples. He explains how the Western text of Luke’s Gospel reverses the order of the names Priscilla and Aquila. Gonzalez detects the work of a copyist who preferred putting the husband first. As a result of this sort of thing “much of what Luke has to say on the matter of gender lays hidden under layers of interpretation that we have received from earlier generations” (59).

In the fifth chapter, González surveys Luke’s view of salvation. While the title “savior” is a very Lukan term, the source of the image is the Old Testament. Terms like “redemption” and “to redeem” only appear in Luke, but the Christian reader often overlooks the Old Testament background of the Redeemer who is the “holy one of Israel” (Isaiah 41:14). But there is more to word savior in the context of the first-century Roman world. Gonzalez asks what the shepherds might have thought about “salvation” in Luke 2:1. For peasants living under the oppressive and exploitive Roman Empire, hearing an announcement of salvation may have brought to mind the end of Roman rule in Judea. Undoubtedly the angels’ announcement included salvation from sin, but that salvation would have looked like a New Exodus to Jewish shepherds. While the shepherds had an incomplete understanding of the angels’ announcement, but we too have an incomplete understanding if we are not aware of the political dimensions of salvation. Another aspect of Luke’s view of salvation often overlooked is the language healing. When Jesus heals, Luke uses the language of salvation. Modern over-emphasis on healing in contemporary Christianity obscures Luke’s theological point. This does not mean God will not heal, but it does mean that while we proclaim the message of salvation of the sins of eternal life “we also have to proclaim the same message in the sense of liberation from every power of evil” (74).

In the sixth chapter examines the frequent use of food and drink in Luke’s Gospel. In Luke 7:34 Jesus’ opponents describes him as a “glutton and drunkard” because he frequently shared meals with sinners. In many cases in Luke, a meal is an opportunity to announce the great reversal. González uses the Sabbath meal at the home of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7) as an example. The Pharisee expected to be saved, but it is the sinful woman who goes away justified (82). There is, however, a great deal more to be said about meals than González is able to cover in this short chapter. Who Jesus eats with is often very important in the Gospel and I expected more historical and sociological commentary on meaning of table fellowship in this chapter. There is also an eschatological aspect to these meals, Jesus is demonstrating who he is by inviting everyone (poor and rich) to participate in his messianic banquet.

Luke’s Gospel begins with four of the most important hymn in Christian tradition. The Book of Acts also includes several stories where early Christians worship. These meetings appear to include food, the reading and instruction from Scripture (González calls this the service of the Word). González has a great deal to say on the Lord’s Supper, pointing out all the Gospels include the Last Supper and all highlight the eschatological dimension of the meal. The last supper “points to the future, to the feast of the wedding of the lamb, to a time when people will come from the east and the west and north and the south and eat in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). We have “sadly often lost that eschatological dimension of the Lord’s supper” (101). González connects the Last Supper to several examples of breaking bread in the Book of Acts. However. I am not convinced all of the references to “breaking bread” refer to Communion in the strictest sense. One such example is the storm in Acts 27. Paul does “take bread,” “give thanks” and he does “break the bread” before they begin to eat. The verbs are found in the Last Supper, but at least in my mind it is unlikely Luke intended this “last supper” on the boat as communion meal. Most of the participants were not Christians. Nevertheless Gonzalez thinks the meal provides hope for those who are traveling with Paul.

The final chapter of this book concerns Luke’s theology of the Holy Spirit. González surveys the passages in Luke’s Gospel which do not have parallels in the other Gospels. In doing so he is highlighting Luke’s particular view of the activity of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is active in Jesus’s birth in early years, the Holy Spirit accompanies Jesus into the desert and when he returns to Galilee Jesus is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. González thinks it is significant that Luke uses the language of the “filling” with respect to the Holy Spirit. This looks back to the Old Testament, using Micah 3:8 for example. While the prophets were “filled with the Spirit of the Lord,” Eph 3:19 also prays that the readers would be “filled with all the fullness of God” (114). In the entire New Testament only Luke uses the word “to fill” to refer a person’s inner emotions: people are filled with rage, filled with villainy and deceit, filled with joy, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Since all these phrases commonly used among Christians today it is clear Luke’s contribution to the Christian doctrine of the Spirit is unparalleled in the New Testament (116).

Conclusion. While this book is not a full-blown theology of Luke/Acts, it is a simulating meditation on the theological contribution of Luke. It would make an excellent supplemental text for a college or seminary Gospels class, but it is accessible to the layman who wants to have an overview of a few of Luke’s major themes. The chapters are short enough the book could be used as in a small group Bible study.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Published on   on Reading Acts.

Walton, Steve, Thomas E. Phillips, Lloyd Keith Pietersen, F. Scott Spencer, eds. Reading Acts Today. FS Loveday C. A. Alexander. LNTS 427; London: T&T Clark, 2011. 232pp. Hb; $130.00; Pb. 39.95 (2013).   Link to T&T Clark

Loveday Alexander is Professor Emerita in Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield where she has been since 1986. Alexander is well known for her monograph Acts in its Ancient Literary Context: A Classicist Looks at Acts of the Apostles (LNTS 298; London: T&T Clark, 2005) as well as an important article on Luke’s preface to the book of Acts. She is honored by a former student Lloyd K. Pietersen in a preface to this festschrift.

Reading ActsThe first set of essays are grouped under the heading “Reading Acts in its Ancient Contexts,” beginning with Richard A. Burridge, “The Genre of Acts-Revisited.” Burridge is well-known for his work on the genre of the Gospels and in this important essay he applies the same methodology to the genre of Acts. He begins by surveying several options for their genre of the Gospel and Acts, including ancient history (Hengel and Dibelius), novel and epic (Pervo), and ancient biography with affinities to a historical monograph (Talbert). It is no surprise that he settles on the genre of bios for Acts, as he did in his What are the Gospels? (Eerdmans, 2004). To demonstrate this conclusion he examines the generic features of the book of Acts and uses a computer analysis of the verbs in the book to show that Paul is the subject of almost a quarter of the total, disciples another nearly 20%. From this analysis he concludes that Luke “he picks his key actors, namely Peter, Stephen, Paul and the other disciples, interpreting what is happening as the activity of God” (15). It appears the book of acts is “closely linked to both ancient biographies and the Gospels and its motive representation, size, structure, and use of literary sources” (23).

In the second essay in the section, Thomas E. Phillips asks, “Why Did Mary Wrap the Newborn Jesus in ‘Swaddling Clothes’? Luke 2.7 and 2.12 in the Context of Luke-Acts and First-Century Literature.” He begins by surveying symbolic “swaddling” in Greek literature beginning as early as the Homeric hymns. There is in fact a remarkably large number of examples of symbolic use of swaddling clothes in Greek myth him drama and poetry before the first century. For Phillips, the swaddling of Jesus is a “culturally appropriate Lucan sign indicating the birth of the divine son” (38). While it is possible this swaddling symbolism could be read as an anti-imperial rhetoric, Phillips grounds the use of the image in Luke’s specifically Christian theological agenda: “Luke was probably cloaking his Christian theology in the generic cultural garb of the first century and not countering any specific ancient text or tradition” (42).

In “Luke’s Use of Papias for Narrating the Death of Judas,” Dennis R. MacDonald develops something of a surprising argument for the origin of Luke’s Gospel. First, he assumes a date of 60-65 for the sayings of Jesus (which he calls Q+). Second, he thinks Mark knew Q and Matthew used both Q+ and Mark. Third, he dates Papias to about 110 and argues Luke used all four of these documents in 115-120. This Q+/Papias Hypothesis could be used to determine the contents of Q: “simply by comparing Matthew and Luke and expunging Markan contamination” (44). In order to test this hypothesis MacDonald studies the death of Judas in Matthews gospel, fragments of Papias found in Eusebius, and finally Acts 1:16-26. From this analysis, he claims “Luke not only knew Papias’ version of Judas’ death, he apparently knew Mathew’s as well!” (55). This intriguing hypothesis rests on a number of assumptions, not the least of which is a complicated Q theory. The source document known as Q has come under fire in recent years, perhaps limiting the usefulness for this proposal. I find it interesting that Mac Donald argues for a very late date of Luke yet accepts the traditional date for Papias. It seems the evidence for the date of Papias is taken at face value while external evidence for the date of Luke is not. If Luke is written in the 80s, a much more common view, then this hypothesis falls apart.

Scott Spencer’s contribution to the volume (“Scared to Death: The Rhetoric of Fear in the ‘Tragedy’ of Ananias and Sapphira”) pays close attention to the emotional impact of the strange death recorded in Acts chapter 5. After a few comments on Aristotle’s view of fear, Spencer suggest several objects of the sphere including God or the Holy Spirit, God’s apostle Peter, God’s adversary Satan, humanity’s ultimate foe Death, or loss of honor (shame or disgrace). As Spencer observes fewer does not concern the now dead couple but “the great fear gripping the whole church.” Ananias and Sapphira were the first to die in the Christian community but they were also the first to lie. He suggests perhaps Adam and Eve are the model for the story. Ultimately, the church “lives in the fear of the Lord” but also in the “comfort of the Holy Spirit” and it continues to grow in numbers.

Barry Matlock asks “Does the Road to Damascus Run through the Letters of Paul?” Matlock confesses he is a Pauline scholar attempting to study the biographical details of Paul’s life in the book of Acts. He recognizes some of the historical problems one encounters comparing calls version of his conversion with the book of acts. In addition he briefly wonders about whether to call Paul’s experience a conversion, a call, or even a transformation. He concludes all these terms are useful and he will use both conversion and call to “indicate Paul’s dramatic reversal and his sense of being appointed to a special task” (85). After surveying and analyzing Paul’s own reports of his conversion in the epistles, Matlock considers the New Perspective on Paul’s conversion. His main dialogue partner here is James Dunn, although he leans towards Francis Watson’s recent proposal that Paul’s mission to the Gentiles develop out of a failed mission to Israel. Matt luck in finding several points of comparison between Luke’s version of his conversion and Paul’s story from his epistles. Both have a sense of dramatic reversal after a time of deadly violence. Paul’s assertion of independence in Galatians is a point of contention. In Galatians Paul clearly claims to be independent of Jerusalem yet there is more cooperation in Acts.

The second section of the book, “Reading Themes in Acts,” begins with Joel B. Green’s essay, “Luke-Acts, or Luke and Acts? A Reaffirmation of Narrative Unity.”  Since the publication of Parsons and Pervo’s Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts in 1993 there has been a great deal of discussion over the designation Luke/Acts as a literary unit. For most of the twentieth century the scholarly consensus has been the two books were intended to be read together as a unit and there are theological themes running through both books. Green summarizes the canonical approach suggested by Robert Wall. Second, Green offers a summary of Kavin Rowe’s use of reception history. Third he examines Patricia Walters’ recent monograph The Assumed Authorial Unity of Luke and Acts (2009). Walters argues that the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were written by two different people. To support this she examines the seams and summaries in both Luke and Acts, concluding there is enough stylistic difference in these seams and summaries to suggest “with a high degree of probability” the books come from two different authors (109). Green critiques this suggestion on a number of levels, the most important is the small sample size Walters used for her comparison. Since only 31 verses (and four partial verses) were used for her stylistic analysis, the conclusion must remain tentative at best (111). On the other hand, Green argues the author of Acts was consciously finishing the story begin in Luke. To support this, he compares Luke 24 and Acts 1:1-14. For Luke, Green states, there is only one story to tell: “God’s gracious activity on behalf of Israel” (117). Acts 1:1-14 is transitional, alluding to Luke 24 as well as Luke 1-2. The book of Acts is therefore a continuation of Jesus’ life and ministry in the Church.

In “Luke’s Jerusalem Perspective,” James Dunn argues Luke based his presentation of Paul’s life from the version of the relationship of Paul and Jerusalem which he heard from Jerusalem itself. It is a well-known problem that the details of Paul’s life differ slightly in Acts when compared to Paul’s letters. Dunn agrees that Paul is the great hero of the second half of the book and the book may very well be Luke’s apologia for Paul, but Luke sought seems to have wanted to “rub off the jagged edges of Paul’s relationship with Jerusalem” in order to present the church has more unified and perhaps actually was (120-1). Order to make his case, Dunn first examines the resurrection appearances of Christ. These appearances are limited to the 40 days after the resurrection, meaning Paul himself would not meet the qualifications to be an apostle from Acts 1. With only one exception, Luke does not use the title apostle for Paul, despite Paul’s insistence he was appointed an apostle by the resurrected Jesus. From Jerusalem’s perspective, Paul would not be “one of the twelve.” The second piece of evidence is Luke’s presentation of two journeys to Jerusalem after Saul’s conversion. Dunn calls this “the most out rages disagreement between Paul and Luke” and he suggests the famine visit was undertaken by Barnabas alone (127). The third thread Dunn picks up is the relationship of the Jerusalem meeting and the apostolic decree (Acts 15) to the book of Galatians 2. He argues (as he has elsewhere) Galatians 2 and Acts 15 referred to the same meeting. Here Dunn suggests Luke tells the story from the perspective of the Jerusalem leadership (129). In Galatians to Paul’s reporting the meeting from his own perspective. Another well-known problem is Luke’s almost complete omission of Paul’s collection. Considering how important the collection is in Paul’s letters it is strange to find it completely omitted from the book of Acts. Dunn concludes Luke’s purpose is to present the beginnings of Christianity as he “essentially harmonious” (130).

In “Philological and Performative Perspectives on Pentecost,” Heidi J. Hornik & Mikeal C. Parsons examine Acts the perspective of performance rather than philology (meaning of words, syntax, etc.). While philology focuses in solely on the text, a performance study focuses on “the aftereffects of the text on a variety of readers” (138). In order to do this, the authors survey several pieces of art showing the descent of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 in order to demonstrate how later readers enacted the text for themselves.

I. Howard Marshall argues Acts 20:28 is Luke’s equivalent to Mark 10:45 in his “The Place of Acts 20.28 in Luke’s Theology of the Cross.” Marshall argues Mark 10:45 was the “victim of Luke’s decision to drop the whole of Mark 10:35-45” (170). Marshall is reacting to Bart Erhman’s Orthodox Corruption, a recent popular work that Luke consciously eliminated Atonement Theology when Luke edited Mark’s gospel. Marshal finds this an unconvincing reinterpretation of the text (156) and he attempts to show Acts 20:28 serves as a kind of equivalent to the Atonement Theology found in Mark 10:45. Since Luke omitted the discussion of purity and the healing of the Gentile from Mark, the saying in Mark 10:45 had no context (159). Marshall shows that the phrase “through his own blood” in Acts 20:28 should be understood as representing an Atonement theology analogous to Mark 10:45.

In his “The Resurrection and its Witnesses in the Book of Acts,” Daniel Marguerat argues “witnessing to the resurrection” in Acts is not simply a repetition of the events following Jesus’ death. Witnessing to the resurrection is to read “history theologically,” or more precisely, Christologically (175). Witness is also “an announcement of the restoration of human beings” as well as a guarantee of the universality of salvation. Finally, “witnessing” must involve telling the story of one’s own life (183).

The final essay in the collection is by one of the volume’s editors, Steve Walton. He is concerned with an often overlooked theme in the book of Acts: “A Spirituality of Acts?”  People engage with God in the book of Acts primarily through divine initiative. God reveals himself to humans through angelic beings, the Holy Spirit, and dreams and visions. Another avenue of this divine initiation of spirituality the interpretation of Scripture and the light of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit (193). Even the name of Jesus functions as a divine agent in healings signs and wonders, forgiveness of sin, even deliverance for demonic powers. While there is a human response to this divine initiative, Walton points out it is usually a slow, partial response to God (194). People do not often know what is going on when God clearly reveals himself. For example, in chapter 8 the Samaritans fail to fully understand Philip and in Acts 11 the community fails to understand fully the significance of Peter’s Gentile mission. This is a realistic portrayal of “the slowness of religious people to change” (194). Other responses to God include attention to the teaching of the apostles, fellowship around the breaking of bread and prayer.

Conclusion. This collection of essays would be considered valuable simply because it includes important articles by Burridge, Dunn, Marshall and Green. Yet virtually every chapter is a valuable contribution to the study of the book of Acts and a fitting tribute to the dedicatee, Loveday Alexander.

NB: Thanks to Bloomsbury for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Merkle, Benjamin L. and Thomas R. Schreiner, eds. Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2015. 320 pp. Pb. $18.99   Link to Kregel  Link to 31-page sample

Shepherding God’s Flock is a collection of essays by Baptist scholars on the topic of biblical leadership, primarily focused on elders in the local church. For the most part this is a very traditional conservative and Baptist view of church leadership. Do not let the conservative, pastoral appearance fool you. The essays in this collection are intentionally academic and are good examples of biblical and historical theology applied to the problem of modern church leadership. This is the second book I have read published by Kregel Academic which could have been published in their Academic line. (The other book was Joe Hellerman, Embracing Shared Ministry.)

ShepherdingIn an introductory chapter, James M. Hamilton Jr. examines the evidence Second Temple Period in order to determine if the Christian church borrowed leadership structures from the Old Testament or synagogue. While it is unlikely early church borrowed the idea of elder from the Old Testament, it seems obvious the organization of the synagogue had an influence on early Christian congregations. The problem for Hamilton is a lack of information on the organization of synagogues in the Second Temple Period. As he says, the office of elder is certainly analogous to the elders of a synagogue, but there are also serious differences. I think there is more to be said on how early congregations were formed but I am not sure there is much data shedding light on the period. Hamilton’s chapter is handicapped by its brevity. This is not his fault of course, but the topic of first century synagogues merits additional study.

Chapters 2-4 cover the New Testament data on church leadership. First, Andreas J. Köstenberger contributes an essay on “Shepherds and Shepherding in the Gospels.” By surveying the four Gospels Köstenberger develops several observations which inform pastoral leadership in the twenty-first century. After surveying the texts on shepherding in the Gospels, he concludes that it is critical keep the idea of shepherding Christocentric. The Gospels present Jesus as the Good Shepherd and Jesus gives his disciples a mandate to “feed my sheep.” Köstenberger uses the restoration of Peter in John 21:15-19 as a model for every Christian community. Biblical leaders must be involved in training new shepherds, and the ultimate model for shepherd leadership is Jesus.

Second, Benjamin L. Merkle traces “The Pattern of Leadership in Acts and Paul’s Letters to Churches.” Merlke’s dissertation was on elders and overseers in the early church (Peter Lang, 2003). This essay examines elders in the book of Acts as well as the non-pastoral Pauline letters. He first surveys the references to elders in the book of Acts (primarily ch. 14, 20), although he does briefly discuss the authority of the Jerusalem elders found throughout the book. He also includes the deacons (Acts 6) in his discussion even though they are not called elders. One problem for a study like this is that the non-Pastoral letters do not mention elders. Merkle therefore draws together evidence from the church letters where leaders are described (Gal 6:6; 1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Cor 16:15-16; Rom16:1-2; Phil 1:1, etc.).  Most of these refer to teachers in the local churches, so it is not a stretch to refer to a teacher as an “elders.”

Third, Thomas R. Schreiner focuses his chapter on the Pastoral Epistles and 1 Peter (“Overseeing and Serving the Church in the Pastoral and General Epistles”). The Pastorals have the most biblical data on elders and church leadership, so Schreiner’s chapter the densest of the collection. In fact, it could have been divided into two chapters, one on Timothy and Titus and another on 1 Peter and the rest of the New Testament. Or the editors could have moved the material on women as elders into another chapter and provided more detail on that more controversial topic. Schreiner briefly discusses whether elders and overseers are the same office before surveying the instructions for appointing elders in 1 Timothy. Much of this chapter is concerned with the qualifications for elders. He observes that the character qualities in 1Timothy are expected of all Christians regardless of their level of leadership in the church.

Most readers will want to know Schreiner’s view on the nettlesome “husband of one wife” in 1 Tim 3:2. It is not surprising he advocates the traditional view that an elder must be male, although he is open to a divorced and remarried man serving as an elder depending on the circumstances and length of time since the divorce (98). Paul main concern, Schreiner argues, is that elders have extremely high moral character. One way of demonstrating both spiritual leadership skills is their control of their home. Schreiner briefly discusses deacons in this chapter argues Paul refers to women deacons as opposed to a male deacon’s wife (111). He does not see this as a contradiction to 1 Tim 2:12 since a deacon does not “exercise authority. He does not deal with 3:12 where “husband of one wife” is repeated for deacons.

Chapters 5-9 trace the historical development of elder leadership. These several chapters trace much of church history despite the fact that there was not a great deal of shepherding in medieval Roman Catholic Church. Michael A. G. Haykin (“The Development and Consolidation of the Papacy”) and Gregg R. Allison (“The Papacy from Leo I to Vatican II”) combined to cover church history and explain how the Papacy developed and eventually departed from a biblical model of church leadership. Each concludes with a brief attempt to tie this material to the overall theme of the book. Despite these being extremely interesting chapters to read I did not see them is strictly necessary in a book attempting to describe biblical leadership in the New Testament and beyond.

More on topic is Nathan A. Finn’s “The Rule of Elders: The Presbyterian Angle on Church Leadership.” Finn compares the Presbyterian leadership model with the Baptist congregationalism. The difference is primarily in the Presbyterian view of two types of elders. This is a very friendly chapter and even the critique Finn offers is not a stinging rebuke by any means. In a similar vein, Jason G. Duesing looks at “A Cousin of Catholicism: The Anglican Understanding of Church Leadership.” Like the chapters on Roman Catholicism, this essay is an overview of the history of the Church of English. While very interesting and engaging, it is not directly related to elder leadership churches today.

In the final essay in the historical section of the book, Shawn D. Wright studies “Baptists and a Plurality of Elders.” For me, this was a very interesting chapter because I less unaware of the internal debate among Baptists over plurality of elders. Like all Baptists, Wright is clear the Bible should determine how churches are organized and he is of the opinion a plurality of elders congregational model is the most biblical. Surveying the historical data, Wright shows many of the earliest Baptists in England held to plurality of elders, although this position was later often abandoned. There are at least five factors which influenced Baptists to not maintain plurality as a model for their churches. First as congregationalists, many Baptist churches doubted whether a plural elder system could be reconciled with congregational authority. Second, Baptist sometimes had unusual ways of reading the texts supporting plurality of elders. Third, Baptist confessions never mandated the plurality elders and were often intentionally ambiguous on the issue. Fourth, several prominent Baptist leaders opposed plurality of elders or at least downplayed the importance of elder leadership. Last, many Baptist congregations simply lacked of qualified men who could serve as elders. Wright examine each of these factors and surveys several responses to them from later Baptist thinkers. He concludes by observing the return to plurality of elders in recent years, a trend witnessed by this collection of essays.

Two chapters round out the collection by applying this biblical and historical data to present church leadership. First, Bruce A. Ware develops “A Theology of Church Leadership.” To some extent this essay repeats some of the material from Schreiner’s chapter. Ware emphasizes the New Testament clearly teaches Christ is the Chief Shepherd of the church (1 Peter 5) as well as the Builder of the Church (Matthew 16) and Lord over the Church (Eph 1:20). For Ware, the three Greek and six English terms used for leaders in the New Testament all refer to the office of elder. As might be expected he argues the office of elder in the New Testament is restricted to men (295) and he has a very conservative view in 1 Tim 2:12. Applying this to a modern situation, if a woman teaches a Sunday School class for both men and women, Ware believes this would violate 1 Tim 2:12. He also describes the role of deacons in the New Testament and concludes 1 Tim 3:11 allows for women to be deacons despite “husband of one wife” appearing for both elders and deacons. This seemingly contradiction is left unexplained.

In the final chapter of the collection Andrew M. Davis describes “What It Means Practically to Shepherd God’s Flock.” Davis is the only contributor to this collection who is a senior pastor and his essay offers pastoral advice based on the biblical model of eldership. It is not necessary to summarize all twelve of his “practical elements of Christian leadership” here. Like the other authors in this volume, he is adamant the organization of the church should be based on the New Testament. While it is possible a leader may learn something from popular (secular) leadership books, the ultimate authority must be the Scriptures. For Davis this means a plurality of elders in a congregational system, men who are committed to bringing God glory by leading people in personal sanctification and making disciples.

Conclusion. For the most part there is nothing new or shocking in this book. Since the authors identify themselves as Baptists and nearly all teach in Baptist seminaries, the general argument of the book will please people who are within that tradition, and possibly enrage others, especially on the “women in ministry” issue. The historical chapters take up a large percentage of the book and are very valuable, but I think the space would have been better used engaging both sides of the women-as-elders debate. In addition, all the essays advocate for a plurality of elders. While I happen to think this is the best position, I would have enjoyed reading a counterpoint from a Baptist writer who rejects plurality. All the writers are more or less in agreement on plurality of elders and (it appears) women in ministry, a dissenting opinion would have been a helpful addition.

While well-documented and scholarly, the essays are all written on a non-academic level. The book should be read by church leaders who are interested in what the New Testament has to say about elders and deacons.

 

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

AnaniasLuke gives an ideal example: Joseph the Levite, also known as Barnabas (4:36) Barnabas is a significant figure in the book of Acts, introduced here as a member of the community at Jerusalem. Barnabas sold some property and turns the proceeds over to the apostles. This stands in contrast to Ananias in the next paragraph, who claims to do the same thing but is not telling the truth. Ananias also participated in communal living, but not fully (5:1-2) Taking the end of chapter four together with the beginning of chapter 5, it looks as though Barnabas and Ananias are intentionally place in contrast with each other.

Since the sale of property is voluntary, there is no reason for Ananias to lie about the price of the property – what is his motivation? Possibly he is simply motivated by greed, he did not want to give as much as the price of the property but when others gave the whole amount, he claimed a larger amount that he actually gave. Since Peter describes him as “filled with Satan” many scholars see him as parallel to Judas, another man who was filled with Satan, whose sin also include money (eventually) used to buy some land.

Ananias “held back” some of the money from the sale. The word Luke uses here (νοσφίζω) refers to financial fraud, such as embezzlement or “a type of skimming operation” (BDAG). The word is used for people who hold back some of their crops which are to be used for the public good (Diodorus Scourus, 5, 34, 3). A more surprising use of this word is in LXX Joshua 7:1, 19-26 to describe the sin of Aachen. In that text, Aachen holds back some property which was supposed to be devoted to the Lord. His theft is therefore described as stealing from the Lord.

Peter confronts Ananias and his judgment is immediate (5:3-6) Peter tells Ananias that Satan has filled his heart. How is this possible, if the Jerusalem community is was filled with the Holy Spirit? Was Ananias possessed, or does this language simply describe temptation? This must be parallel to the experience of Judas, who was the only other person in the gospels described as “filled by Satan.” Peter makes it clear that Ananias’ sin is against the Holy Spirit – his lie is not told to the apostles or the apostolic community, but to the Holy Spirit. His wife Sapphira also lies, and is likewise judged (5:7-11) Luke tells us about three hours have passed since Ananias died before Sapphira came to Peter. We know that Ananias acted with the full support of his wife. Just as the apostolic community is of “one mind and heart,” so too this couple was of one mind in heart.

The community in Jerusalem was like a new Israel. Like the original Israel, there is no room for the double-minded. Ananias is a negative example of someone not fully committed to the new community. Barnabas is fully committed, and will be a significant player in the missionary efforts of the earliest church.

The problem is how we “apply” this story to a present day church situation. I doubt very many churches use this text to prod people to “catch up” on their tithe or faith promise, but what reasons do we have for ignoring that aspect of the story? Usually we have to add a great deal to the story in order to make the story more applicable. Go watch this well done video on YouTube. The application is fine, but is this application what Luke intended?

Does God “strike people down” who lie/steal from the Church? (At least in my experience this does not happen, some televangelists would be in big trouble!)

What principle might we draw from the story?

Bessenecker Scott A. Overturning Tables: Freeing Missions from the Christian-Industrial Complex. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 176 pp. Pb; $16.99.   Link to IVP

In Overturning Tables, Scott Bessenecker offers bold suggestions for new ministry models applicable to both traditional missions as well as western church ministry. The problem is what he calls the Christian Industrial Complex, where the Gospel has become the product and the unsaved the consumer. Strategies for reaching the lost are barely distinguishable from methods for selling products to consumers. As Bessenecker says, “one can barely distinguish a conference design for Protestant pastors, church leaders or mission agency executives from a commercial convention for those dealing with data management, telecommunications or selling shower curtain rings” (23). He argues the American mission movement has become enslaved to a corporate attitude, with an emphasis on privatization and individualism. He believes this corporate addiction is a rejection of the values of the Kingdom of God. While his immediate interest is “world missions,” his observations can be applied to local churches, especially as they grow larger and adopt corporate management systems to cope with millions of dollars in infrastructure.

Overturning TablesThe first several chapters of this book are a brief history of missions. Bessenecker argues the roots of the Protestant missionary movement are intimately connected with the rise of capitalism. Some of the early missionaries were viewed by their Missions boards in the same way a business might look at opening a new market. This Christian Industrial Complex guided decisions about where to open new fields and how the gospel would be presented in these new fields.

In contrast to this capitalist oriented missions movement the author describes early Christian missionaries he served in fields living alongside the poor. George Leile, for example, went to Jamaica and found several churches in the late 1700s. He was more or less uneducated and untrained, but was an effective preacher, responsible for converting over 500 slaves to Christianity. Based on this and other examples throughout the book, Bessenecker argues this model of doing missions is more scriptural then the capitalistic corporate model used in most missions. He sees unintended results from the rise of capitalism and the Protestant work ethic as a result of the Reformation. He tries hard to guard against the charge of anti-capitalism, although I am not sure he is successful. There are indeed real problems with applying western capitalistic methods for doing missions in majority world countries.

In order to remedy the situation, Bessenecker suggests re-examining the structure of mission boards, avoiding corporate organizational models. He also suggests the model found in Acts is far more biblical and ought to be adapted for modern Missions projects. For example, there are many missionaries who live in communities alongside those they are trying to reach. Often this is a missionary from another majority world country reaching into places a Westerner could not.

A serious problem for Western missionaries is the perception of wealth as missionaries move into the majority world. Compared to most of the world, the West is fantastically rich and the potential of getting money Western missions organizations is tempting. But money is not always the answer when establishing missions, Bessenecker argues, since the prosperity gospel has caused a host of serious problems in places like Nigeria. Bessenecker calls this a “syncretic, American expression of God’s kingdom on earth.” It is a fact it costs a great deal of money to put a missionary on the field so many missions organizations must function like corporations in order to deal with the very real problems of money. Instead he suggests the West ought to support majority world missionaries who are going to other majority world fields. He gives several examples of this in his fourth chapter. Is it really possible to do “missions without money”?  Once again he sounds anti-capitalist by describing redistribution of wealth and turning over the purse-strings to the excluded elements of the church.

Prosperity GospelIn chapter 5 the other challenges a common view that the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is primarily about a private exchange, sold through persuasion, making churches distributors something like stores marketing of the product. This Western, capitalist view clouds the Gospel. He bemoans the church leader pastor as a CEO as if they were presiding over a corporation. “Mission cannot be practice package as a product. He cannot be reduced to a privatized exchange. It is not a ‘mission of individual prosperity; but of communal shalom” (110). He finds the language of Christian organizations distracting from mission. Well there’s nothing inherently evil about terms CEO employee brand or market, they really destroy our efforts to preach the gospel. I would suggest this is similar to Joseph Hellermen’s When the Church was a Family (Westminster, 2009). When we use corporate language to describe relationships within the church, we run the risk of polluting the Gospel with Western corporate goals (growth and wealth). These are necessarily bad, but they were not the goals of Jesus in his ministry nor Paul in his foundational church planting.

Bessenecker is very attracted to groups like the old order Mennonites or Quakers who do ministry “like a family.” In chapter 5 he describes what it would look like for ministries to move from individualism to collectivism. Again, most western capitalist Christians cringe at the word “collectivism.” Unlike the West, most of the world value some form of collectivism highly valuing families and communities as a way of existing.  This sort of model of mission work will lead to both plurality and diversity in leadership. The Western corporate model values the “Type-A” leader: a person who is aggressive, no-nonsense, decision-maker, someone who values direct confrontation. That sort of a leader is required in a major corporation. But according Bessenecker, the “Type-A” leader is detrimental to a mission in a culture which values family. A better model is a leader who seeks consensus and community diversity.

In chapter 6 the author uses the book of Acts as a model for how to do ministry today. He examines the appointment of deacons in chapter 6 as a way of empowering the margins of the early church. In my view, Bessenecker overstates his case by using the deacons as a model for cultural diversity. The difference between Hellenists and Hebraists in Acts 6 is not as great as he makes it out to be. In addition I find his comments on Antioch Christianity troublesome. He says “Christianity sheds its Jewish wineskin and become something unrecognizable as Judaism” (146). That does not seem to me to be what is In Antioch at all, as the book of Galatians makes clear. I really don’t think “the sketchy Gentile church in Antioch” is a proper description for what is happening in Acts 11. Bessenecker is however correct that the margins of the church need to be recognized and treated with respect. He is also correct that in order to reach people in majority world countries the West needs to empower the majority world countries in order to reach their own people.

Chapter 7 briefly deals with the problem of independent churches on the mission field in endowing local churches may be a way of breaking dependence on the west. In fact in chapter 8 the author describes this is moving from “growth to flourishing” churches. A serious problem with this however is using western criteria for growth to measure growth and maturity world contexts. A growing church looks different in Southern California than it might in Central Africa. He concludes the chapter by arguing the Western church needs to break from their “addiction to growth (177). In order to do this, Western churches ought to focus primarily on their own spiritual growth and recognize there are times of “spiritual dormancy” in a ministry. These downtimes are not negative at all but can be used to enhance growth in the future.

Conclusion. This is a challenging book since it does offer a model of doing missions that is clearly different than the popular Western model based on capitalism. Most American mega-churches exist because they have copied a corporate model of “moving product” rather than preaching the Gospel of the Grace of God for all people. Bessenecker is to be applauded for this challenge to the church. If you are involved in ministry, either missions or local church work, this book is an essential, challenging read.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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My book Jesus the Bridegroom is now available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle


Christian Theology

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