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EFAC Australia

Book Reviews

Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians
Second Ed. Revised and Enlarged. 
Kevin Giles,Wipf and Stock, 2017

I sometimes lament the scarcity of good theology in the field of pastoral studies, but I am pleased to say this book is an exception. The  book's purpose is to evaluate the emergence, development and shape of leadership and ministry in the first and second centuries. From a contemporary and practical perspective, he is exploring the question: is the way our church is governed God ordained? In particular Giles evaluates the ministry patterns of the major denominations against those of the Bible. He questions the assumption that what we do and experience today is what the first century church did and experienced. Not because he believes there is a prescriptive pattern to be found, but rather to call into question the claims of these denominations accurately to reflect the patterns of the early church.'

He concludes firstly, there is diversity and development in church order in the first century and beyond; secondly, the patterns that emerge were driven by ‘the need of the hour’; and thirdly, there is little correlation between church in the first century and church in the contemporary context. The book examines ministry and leadership in Jesus and in Paul; noting Jesus is far less concerned to institute leadership positions in his church than he is about defining the nature of leadership in his community, defined by costly service and not authority and control. The bulk of the book examines the biblical and patristic teaching on the major church offices: bishops, deacons, elders, apostles, prophets and teachers.  

One of his most significant contributions is to carefully delineate the types of elders that existed in the Jewish diaspora of the Hellenistic period: the elders who had responsibility for the entire Jewish community of a city and the elders of each local community who were not office bears in any synagogue. So, in Alexandria and Antioch the Jewish community in its totality was governed by a council of elders, presided over by a ruler, while the synagogues were overseen by a ‘synagogue ruler’. Giles demonstrates  this same pattern was evident in the more mature early church. Initially, house churches were led by the wealthy home owner, who had both the large house and the social status necessary to have the credibility to lead. But as the number of Christians and house churches in a city like Ephesus or Rome grew, the Jewish system was adopted and elders were appointed to oversee the Christians in the whole city, as distinct from those who led the house churches. So, the Ephesian elders who come to Miletus in Acts 20 to meet Paul are the city elders. This has significant implications especially for those who try to emulate a biblical pattern of ministry. Apart from the question of whether such patterns are prescriptive anyway, there are several evolving patterns that were not settled for centuries (so which biblical pattern should we emulate?), and what we see in the Bible is more subtle and nuanced than we might think. 

In this kind of work method is everything. The book may be less than 250 pages, but his work is detailed and thorough. Where identified patterns and trajectories are broken, he offers a detailed argument to account for the anomaly and is judicious in making conclusions. He understands the sociological nature of institutional development, and his use of church history is critical to the success of his endeavour. Understanding how and when we arrived at certain ministry patterns is vital to our ability to evaluate them. Giles’ use of second and third century sources is necessarily limited, but it is certainly sufficient and provides an invaluable perspective and more complete picture. His use of history is not confined to the patristics. He offers some engagement with Reformers, especially around their contribution to our ideas of elders. No one pattern of church leadership is spelt out or prescribed in this book. Giles is reluctant to identify a singular, consistent pattern of ministry in the early church that might be emulated. He recognises the patterns are dynamic and as such are never prescriptive.

Considerable attention is given to the ministry of women, especially in the Pauline Epistles. The particular contribution of this book is the reframing of ministry roles and how they were occupied, which renders much of the contemporary debate anachronistic. Giles shows the way the contemporary debate is framed makes all sorts of unwarranted assumptions about leadership, authority, ordination and pastoral offices such that the answers are not just wrong, but meaningless.  

As someone who teaches in the field of Pastoral Theology I am acutely aware of the dearth of books that address these foundational questions. Not only are there very few, but  of these, very few do so with the kind of biblical scholarship of Giles who is not merely descriptive, but analytical and critical. . He will greatly assist our reading of the New Testament by alerting us to the many missed nuances, helping us see a more sophisticated picture of the life of the earliest Christian communities. In our own context, where much is disputed and many claim to have the biblical model, Giles has provided a rich resource to inform our thinking and practice.                                 

Tim Foster, Vic

 

Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians

Second Ed. Revised and Enlarged.

Kevin Giles,Wipf and Stock, 2017

 

I

sometimes lament the scarcity of good theology in the field of pastoral studies, but I am pleased to say this book is an exception. The  book's purpose is to evaluate the emergence, development and shape of leadership and ministry in the first and second centuries. From a contemporary and practical perspective, he is exploring the question: is the way our church is governed God ordained? In particular Giles evaluates the ministry patterns of the major denominations against those of the Bible. He questions the assumption that what we do and experience today is what the first century church did and experienced. Not because he believes there is a prescriptive pattern to be found, but rather to call into question the claims of these denominations accurately to reflect the patterns of the early church.'

He concludes firstly, there is diversity and development in church order in the first century and beyond; secondly, the patterns that emerge were driven by ‘the need of the hour’; and thirdly, there is little correlation between church in the first century and church in the contemporary context. The book examines ministry and leadership in Jesus and in Paul; noting Jesus is far less concerned to institute leadership positions in his church than he is about defining the nature of leadership in his community, defined by costly service and not authority and control. The bulk of the book examines the biblical and patristic teaching on the major church offices: bishops, deacons, elders, apostles, prophets and teachers. 

One of his most significant contributions is to carefully delineate the types of elders that existed in the Jewish diaspora of the Hellenistic period: the elders who had responsibility for the entire Jewish community of a city and the elders of each local community who were not office bears in any synagogue. So, in Alexandria and Antioch the Jewish community in its totality was governed by a council of elders, presided over by a ruler, while the synagogues were overseen by a ‘synagogue ruler’. Giles demonstrates  this same pattern was evident in the more mature early church. Initially, house churches were led by the wealthy home owner, who had both the large house and the social status necessary to have the credibility to lead. But as the number of Christians and house churches in a city like Ephesus or Rome grew, the Jewish system was adopted and elders were appointed to oversee the Christians in the whole city, as distinct from those who led the house churches. So, the Ephesian elders who come to Miletus in Acts 20 to meet Paul are the city elders. This has significant implications especially for those who try to emulate a biblical pattern of ministry. Apart from the question of whether such patterns are prescriptive anyway, there are several evolving patterns that were not settled for centuries (so which biblical pattern should we emulate?), and what we see in the Bible is more subtle and nuanced than we might think.

In this kind of work method is everything. The book may be less than 250 pages, but his work is detailed and thorough. Where identified patterns and trajectories are broken, he offers a detailed argument to account for the anomaly and is judicious in making conclusions. He understands the sociological nature of institutional development, and his use of church history is critical to the success of his endeavour. Understanding how and when we arrived at certain ministry patterns is vital to our ability to evaluate them. Giles’ use of second and third century sources is necessarily limited, but it is certainly sufficient and provides an invaluable perspective and more complete picture. His use of history is not confined to the patristics. He offers some engagement with Reformers, especially around their contribution to our ideas of elders. No one pattern of church leadership is spelt out or prescribed in this book. Giles is reluctant to identify a singular, consistent pattern of ministry in the early church that might be emulated. He recognises the patterns are dynamic and as such are never prescriptive.

Considerable attention is given to the ministry of women, especially in the Pauline Epistles. The particular contribution of this book is the reframing of ministry roles and how they were occupied, which renders much of the contemporary debate anachronistic. Giles shows the way the contemporary debate is framed makes all sorts of unwarranted assumptions about leadership, authority, ordination and pastoral offices such that the answers are not just wrong, but meaningless. 

As someone who teaches in the field of Pastoral Theology I am acutely aware of the dearth of books that address these foundational questions. Not only are there very few, but  of these, very few do so with the kind of biblical scholarship of Giles who is not merely descriptive, but analytical and critical. . He will greatly assist our reading of the New Testament by alerting us to the many missed nuances, helping us see a more sophisticated picture of the life of the earliest Christian communities. In our own context, where much is disputed and many claim to have the biblical model, Giles has provided a rich resource to inform our thinking and practice.                                  Tim Foster, Vic

Reformation Anglicanism:
A Vision for Today's Global Communion.
Edited by Ashley Null and John W. Yates III, Crossway, 2017

Michael Nazir-Ali’s excellent opening chapter, ‘How the Anglican Communion Began and Where It Is Going’ is worth the price of this worthy book. Starting with the Roman occupiers Nazir-Ali traces the spread of the gospel at first through Celtic Christians and later by the Roman mission. There were differences, and clashes until the Roman church got the upper hand. Ali comments, ‘In short, the Roman missional strategy was to stress founding structures capable of shaping a message, whereas the Celtic way was to proclaim a message with the power to create a community.’ He continues with terrific thumbnail sketches of the Reformers (who wanted to evangelise whole nations), the Evangelical revival, the spread of the gospel through missionary societies (a big section), and the various issues in church state relations. Anglican ecclesiology and unity are discussed and finally a proposal about the way forward. He says, ‘Once again, it is very likely that the renewal of Anglicanism will come about not through the reform of structures (necessary as that is) or through institutional means but through movements, raised up by God.'

Ashley Null provides an overview of the Reformation in his chapter, ‘The Power of Unconditional Love in the Anglican Reformation’. He traces its beginnings back 200 years and locates its power in the new desire to read and listen to the Scriptures, which led people to believe the promise of justification by faith and so to experience the love of God. The chapter gives a good picture of what Null calls a six-act drama: the pre-Reformation Scriptural meditation reform; an underground evangelical movement in the 1520s and early 1530s; an independent Church of England under Henry VIII from 1534 to 1547; a fully Protestant church guided by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer under Edward VI (1547–1553); the restoration of the Roman Catholic Church under Mary (1553–1558); and the restoration of Cranmer’s Protestant church under Elizabeth (1558–1603). Like the first chapter this is a masterful summary of a complex picture.

The next four chapters pick up the four big themes of the reformation: sola Scriptura (John W. Yates III), sola gratia (Ashley Null), sola fide (Michael Jensen), and soli Deo gloria (Ben Kwashi). Each of these is full of interest and insight, and is made more interesting because of the use of original sources and quotes. They are not dry expositions of doctrine but a kind of devotional historical theology embedded in real world issues of the time.
In the final chapter Ashley Null and John W. Yates III offer ‘A Manifesto for Reformation Anglicanism’. The foundations are in the nature of Anglicanism: it is apostolic, catholic, reformational, mission-focussed, episcopal, liturgical, transformative, and relevant. All very good. But my reading of it was that it was written from inside the reformed walls. Many of us live outside the walls in an Anglican church which ignores or denies these Reformation themes and practices. Although the keys are there for a new reformation of a captive Church, some further application to that context would have been good.
Dale Appleby, WA

What Christians Ought to Believe:
An introduction to Christian doctrine through the Apostles’ Creed.
Michael F. Bird, Zondervan, 2016

As a self-confessed fan of the Apostles’ Creed, I was excited to see that Michael Bird had written this book. After reading it I am now even more excited about the book and recommend it to both fans of the Creed and those who are perhaps a little less enthusiastic in their desire to use the Creed in their churches.

What Christians Ought to Believe is remarkably readable, profoundly relevant to our time, and deeply theological as well as practical in terms of a life of Christian faith. Even if your church isn’t an Apostles’ Creed reciting type of church, the contents of this book will inform your mind, encourage your heart and strengthen your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bird uses the Apostles’ Creed to structure this book, which is really a primer on the theological basics all Christians would find it useful to reflect on and know. Most chapters of the book cover one or two lines of the Creed, which is broken up into appropriate bite (or chapter) sized chunks. However before he gets to the Creed, Bird whets our appetite with three preliminary chapters. Chapter 1 gives a brief and helpful recap of the history of Christian creeds; Chapter 2 discusses the biblical canon and church creeds, how they go together and why we need the creeds; and Chapter 3 is a fascinating reflection on the first two words of the Apostles’ Creed: ‘I believe’. What does it really mean to have Christian faith, how do faith and obedience relate to each other, and what are we to do with doubts are big questions that are covered briefly but helpfully in this chapter. From here, Bird launches into the substance of the Apostles’ Creed, which is covered in the remaining eleven chapters of this book.

Perhaps surprisingly for a book about Christian doctrine, this book is written in a chatty and anecdotal style, which I found made it both engaging and relevant. As Chapter 3 addresses the question of ‘What is faith?’, we’re pointed to Kenny Rogers’ and George Michael’s use of the words ‘faith’ and ‘believe.’ The beginning of Chapter 7 recounts a late-night comedy show’s take on the virgin birth. And when thinking about the return of Jesus, the ‘end of the Christian story’, Bird compares this with the end of The Return of the Jedi and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Bird’s anecdotes and illustrations are apt and make for enjoyable reading.

This book shows a refreshing willingness to ask the hard questions about Christian faith and about the Creed. These hard questions are addressed and honestly discussed rather than swept under the carpet. When we say we believe in ‘God, the Father almighty’, is this not just hopelessly patriarchal? As mentioned, the difficulty of the virgin birth is admitted before constructive discussion. During this discussion Bird reveals his view that ‘no one should be yelled down for asking honest questions raised by reading the biblical texts’ (p102), which is a refreshingly non-defensive approach to the Bible, Christian faith and the Creed. Bird also opens chapter 6 with the intriguing statement that ‘There is sadly a major deficiency in the Apostles’ Creed’. I’ll leave you to discover this deficiency for yourself, but this chapter doesn’t despair and ditch the Creed, but rather concludes with this lovely sentence:

‘The most confronting issue about Christian faith is not any single idea—as if “Christianity” can be reduced to an “idea”; rather the most challenging aspect is a person: Jesus’ (p. 96).

Bird displays an ability to unveil the beauty of many deep theological truths in this book, as well as a commitment to sharing the practical implications of how the theological truths summarised in the Apostles’ Creed make a difference in our everyday lives of Christian faith. From reflecting on the implications of a declaration that ‘Jesus is Lord’, to thinking about the practical consequences of Jesus’ ascension, to wondering why the return of Jesus really matters to us, Bird challenges not just what we believe as followers of Jesus but how we live as his people each day.
This book has been a delight to read. I’ve learnt new things, been encouraged with a deeper understanding of old truths and been challenged by the profoundly practical implications of the central truths of the Christian faith.
Natalie Rosner, Vic

Phenomenal Sydney:
Anglicans in a Time of Change, 1945-2013.
Marcia Cameron. Wipf & Stock 2016.

One of the things friends and enemies alike agree about Sydney Diocese is it is different. What is it that makes Sydney so Sydney? Marcia Cameron explores this partly by analysis and partly by telling stories of this most recent period in the life of Sydney.

Her opening chapter is a good outline of the background and the main issues to be raised in the book. Four main characteristics of Sydney are a commitment to the centrality of the Bible; a militant faith; equipping clergy well; and a shying away from conforming to the current model of “Anglican” in the wider Australian church. Plus a few others.

This first chapter should be contrasted with the final one where Cameron refers to Wei-Han Kuan’s PhD thesis that four vital contributions are required for evangelical continuity in a diocese: healthy evangelical parishes; healthy evangelical societies; a healthy evangelical training college; and a supportive diocesan bishop. All four of which Sydney has had in recent years.

Chapter Two is a helpful overview of the years between 1788 and 1945 and makes it clear that evangelicals didn’t always rule. Chapter Three outlines some of the big issues in Archbishop Mowll’s time including the transformation of the CENEF centre, the Red Book case, and the CESA. This chapter introduces a major sub-theme of the book – the ministry of women. When I first read the book I found this very interesting since it provided a lot of detail about things that happened after I left the diocese (and my fellow student Jacinth Myles got a good press). On a second reading it became clearer that this is a major theme of the book. Readers may be divided as to whether this makes the book better or worse. Sydney is often portrayed, by outsiders at least, as anti-women. Cameron is obviously sympathetic to the cause and does provide a lot of detail about the progress of both the debates and the actual ministry of women in Sydney diocese.

The discussion of the Constitution of the national church is good, partly because of the various interviews with key players and the use of the archives of the Australian Church Record (a significant source for the book). Cameron regards the debates over the constitution to be essentially about identity. This is a helpful insight. She says, “The threat to who we are makes Sydney defensive and also forces us to experiment.” (64) This is an important bit of history and I would have liked to have been told a bit more about it.

The Gough years are portrayed as a mixed bag of some good – the Billy Graham Crusades, election of women to synod, the Archbishop’s Commission; and not so good – the tensions between the Archbishop and some of the younger leaders such as Knox, Robinson and Loane. Cameron also deals well with the alleged reasons for Gough’s resignation.

The Loane episcopacy outlines some of the debates – homosexuality (briefly) and women’s ministry (nearly seven pages). In this and other chapters some attention is given to parishes – in this case St Barnabas and the ministries of Paul and Anita Barnett. Prayer Book revision was a big issue in Loane’s time and Cameron gives a helpful overview of it, as well as his time as Primate.

John Chapman is introduced in this chapter – but only gets a few mentions – mostly in relation to his work with others such as Barnett and Philip Jensen. This for me is a major omission. I think there is a case for considering Chapman to have had a more significant influence than even Philip Jensen in the diocese. Perhaps it indicates a lack of source material – or a difference of judgment between the author and the reviewer.

The Robinson years were dominated by the debates about the ordination of women. As we might expect by this stage in the book, Cameron gives a thorough report on the progress of the debates and events. I think this section is a very helpful contribution to the history and understanding of the issue. Lay Presidency, homosexuality and the consecration of a CESA bishop also occupied Robinson’s attention. Cameron has some sympathy for the Archbishop whom she describes as an irenic scholar. She admires the unity (without agreeing with it I think) with which the diocesan leadership and Moore College stood together on the question of women’s ordination, but is also sympathetic to those who had different views – some of whom moved out to other places.

Cameron identifies Harry Goodhew’s time as less than happy. More about women’s ordination, the Pymble matter, the Anglican Counselling Centre controversy, lay and diaconal presidency, new prayer book revision, the rise of REPA are all discussed. And a long section on Philip Jensen’s ministry morphs into women’s ministry and the appointment of an Archdeacon for the Promotion of Women’s ministry, MOW and Equal but Different. The “Sydney Heresy” gets some good analysis.

The Jensen episcopacy is too recent according to the author to bear too much analysis but some sketches are made to do with the Priscilla and Aquila Centre and GAFCON. Cameron concludes with the comment that it is missionary and evangelistic action arising from the centrality of the Bible that sets Sydney apart; as well as its wealth, size, and positions on women’s ministry, lay presidency, church planting, homosexual behaviour and so on.
Overall the book is very interesting and gains from the use of a wide variety of sources including lots of interviews. However neither the four characteristics of Sydney outlined in the opening chapter or Kuan’s four identifiers of evangelical continuity are used as a structural or thematic grid for the book. Neither is Kuan’s summary used as a way of drawing the threads together. The book is mostly about the archbishops, the issues they faced and what they did, and the development (or not) of women’s ministry.

Dale Appleby, WA

Strange Days:
Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval.
Mark Sayers, Moody Publishers, 2017

In Strange Days, Mark Sayers starts with a personal story that captures the uncertainty and fear of our modern world. After smoothly flying to Europe over various conflict hotspots he finds out:

‘Another Malaysian Airlines jet has gone down—shot down, I’d later learn, over a conflict zone. The plane had been traveling opposite of mine, at roughly the same time, filled with fellow Australians and other nationalities. Torn from the sky. That thin skin, that fragile membrane of security peeled away. I shake my head. The world is going mad.’

It’s a compelling opening. Despite all the benefits of technology and travel, life appears chaotic and insecure. What are Christians to make of this age of terrorism and political dysfunction? How should we respond to the flood of social media and radical changes of globalization? Strange Days aims to help Christians think about this world in flux. Sayers writes:

‘My goal is to grasp our cultural moment, to help you understand its landscape. There is a pattern to the chaos, and what is more, there is a door out, into the holy expanse that is life in the Spirit.’

The book does this in 3 parts. Parts 1 and 2 consider the Biblical and historical patterns of chaos. Part 3 then explores the Christian response to this time of upheaval: the ‘Life in the Spirit’ of the book’s subtitle.

Is this book brilliant or flawed? I found it hard to decide. Sayers’ dense writing, so arresting in the introduction, became wearying as the book went on and I wished for a more plain style, even if it took more words. Some sentences offered profound insight into our culture and context, but it seemed that every sentence was written as if I should consider it profound, until I couldn’t tell if it was anymore. The book interprets the upheaval of our times as a striving for a sense of place, but I found myself questioning whether this interpretive lens was correct. Surely it is unlikely that the chaos of our world can be neatly slotted into a single overarching narrative?

Unfortunately, that narrative is assumed more than argued for. The book gives only sixteen pages to Part 1, which means the biblical data that the rest of the book builds upon is poorly sketched. Was Cain’s building of a city in Genesis 4:16-17 really ‘an attempt to carve out meaning and legacy apart from God’? Perhaps, but the point isn’t adequately explained. Much of the use of the Bible felt deductive rather than inductive. As a result, I found myself unconvinced that the categories of place, sacrifice and purity really provided the right lens through which to see our tumultuous world.

There are both strengths and weaknesses in Sayers’ historical analysis. The reflection on the fall of the Berlin wall and the rise of the age of optimism is excellent. It helped me understand more about the origins of globalization and the achievement culture we now live in. However, his depiction of online environments as ‘non-places’ is disappointing. Along with communal, commercial spaces like cafes and airports, he presents them negatively: ‘There is no shared identity there, no story in the soil, no legends of a people or group.’ And yet, many in today’s world feel otherwise and genuinely find a home and relationships there. Are there not some aspects of the online world that are redeemable and good for the believer? I wanted Strange Days to dig deeper into questions like this.

In the end, Strange Days would have been better if it had been longer. A longer book would have allowed for more detailed exegesis of critical Bible passages, more sustained and convincing arguments, a simpler writing style and allowed greater scope for unpacking complexity rather than forcing evidence to fit particular categories. Nevertheless, Sayers’ final landing point is tremendous. In the midst of the confusion of our age, he directs Christians towards deep discipleship that looks to the word of God, prioritizes the fellowship of the church, rejects the influence of the world and so stands as salt and light, holding out the joy-giving gospel of Jesus.

Jeff Hunt, WA

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