Book Review – Church in the Present Tense

It has been some time since I last blogged on the emerging church, but this book caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First, the Kindle edition is free on, and second, it contained a couple of essays by Scot McKnight, whose blog I follow. It is a collection of two essays each by four authors who are sympathetic to the “emerging church” movement to various degrees.

Kevin Corcoran provides the introduction, giving a brief overview of the history and values held by the emerging church, before providing the opening chapter in which he argues that “commitment to ecumenical creedal formulations and to concrete Christian beliefs is in no way incompatible with or inimical to epistemic humility or other distinctive features of postmodernity prized by emerging Christians, such as the deep conviction that our grasp of reality is always partial, incomplete and provisional.” So he argues against the need to accept “anti-realism”. So far so good.

Corcoran’s second essay deals with eschatology, highlighting the strongly “kingdom now” approach of emerging – the kingdom has been inaugurated, even if it is not fully here yet. “Heaven is here and now” and future life after death is deemphasised. He discusses pluralism (the idea that God may work through people of other religions even though salvation is only through Christ) and univeralism (with hell as a possible intermediate but not final destination). I could only find myself in agreement with parts of this essay. The “kingdom now but not yet” emphasis is a helpful one, but is not unique to the emerging church in any case, with (for example) Vineyard and charismatic groups also emphasising this for many years now.

Peter Rollins provides a rather complex chapter, drawing on Nietzsche and ostensibly Bonhoeffer (“a religionless Christianity”) to describe a way of being Christian that will seem virtually unrecognisable to most evangelicals. For him Gal 3:28 contains an idea that he can press to the point of obliterating all distinctions so there is now “neither orthodox nor heretic, neither gay nor straight, neither Christian nor non-Christian”.

His second essay is more accessible, in which he points out that many of us can maintain a difference between our belief and practice so that it is not experienced as a conflict at all. Again he draws on ideas from Nietzsche and proposes an idea he calls “transformance art” in which we enact the death of God, and then the resurrection of God. It sounds radical but his only concrete example was churches meeting in pubs, coffee shops or art galleries, so it left me confused as to exactly what he was proposing. Unless I have badly misunderstood him, I would say that Peter Rollins represents the extreme end of the emerging movement that is so radical in its deconstruction that it has lost touch with orthodox Christianity.

Jason Clark is another blogger I have followed for some time, and his essays focus on liturgy. The first is on “Consumer Liturgies and their Corrosive Effects on Christian Identity”. This is a gem of a chapter with lots of food for thought.

With its demands on how we organize our lives, consumerism is a jealous god, not allowing our souls and bodies to be located in any other relationships, especially the body of Jesus, his church.

He critiques “blueprint” ecclesiologies (including several missional/emerging ones), and argues instead for “deep church”.

The future of church resides with those who, though critical, are nonetheless devoted to living within it.

His second chapter documents his journey from low church to an appreciation of a more liturgical form of worship, and describes the “flow” program his church has started although sadly there was not quite enough information to get a real feel of what exactly this involves.

Finally, Scot McKnight weighs in with two more theologically oriented essays. The first is on Scripture. He outlines five unhelpful ways in which we tend to approach the Bible, all of which evangelicals are frequently guilty of. He then discusses the limitations of language to truly communicate theological truth, which move him in the direction of the ‘apophatic‘ approach of Eastern Orthodox. I partially agree with him here, but I think he goes too far when he calls the Bible a “dim” witness to the ultimate (presently) unsayable truth of God. The logic is that if the Bible is “dim” then how much our flawed interpretations?

He moves on to describe the Bible as an ongoing series of “midrashes”, or interpretive retellings of the one Story God wants us to know and hear. There is no one fixed and final form of this story. It is the story of Moses and David and Jesus and Paul and James. To make it even just the story of Jesus and force the other stories to fit would do violence to the depth and breadth of the gospel story. The benefit of this approach is that it avoids complaining (for example) that Paul doesn’t speak of the kingdom enough, or that Jesus doesn’t speak of justification enough. We don’t need to force them together, but realise that these two tellings of the story are both needed for a fuller grasp of the big story. I found this an interesting essay, but it certainly raises some unanswered hermeneutical questions.

McKnight’s second contribution is on atonement and he takes Reformed believers to task for making the “gospel” about soteriology. We focus on “penal substitution” and “double imputation” and “propitiation”, and therefore the gospel is about my guilt and how it is solved through the gift of righteousness, and about God’s wrath and how it is solved through the substitution of Jesus. Without outright rejecting these ideas, McKnight suggests that the verses supporting imputation are at least ambiguous, and in any case, a survey of the apostolic teaching in the book of Acts reveals that their presentation of the gospel does not revolve around these concepts. I suspect that the material here summarises McKnight’s book “The King Jesus Gospel“, which I would very much like to read. What drives the sermons in Acts is the OT story finding its solution in Jesus’s story, and they focus very strongly on the resurrection, with the climax being that Jesus is Messiah of Israel and Lord of all. So the “problems” that the apostolic gospel addresses are death and the world’s need for a king, and the “solutions” are the resurrection and the Lordship of Christ. Overall I would agree with McKnight that where we make the “gospel” merely about soteriology, we have truncated the much fuller apostolic message.

In summary, I would say that this collection of essays is interesting in places, and concerning in places. If you have a kindle, it is worth getting even if just to read Jason Clark’s first essay and the two Scot McKnight essays.

Book Review – Church History in Plain Language (Bruce Shelley)

I suspect many Christians feel like I do about church history. I find it fascinating and confusing at the same time, and whilst I know the stories of a few key individuals, I lack a grasp of the big picture. So when I heard someone recommend this book that tells the story of church history from Jesus right through to the present day,  and does so in “plain language”, I ordered myself a copy.

The book is structured into 48 fairly short chapters, which are organized into several time periods (e.g. early church, Christian Roman empire, Medieval, Reformation, etc). It is a good way at summarising a vast amount of potential material. I struggle to think of any glaring omissions (expect of course Terry Virgo ;)), and it includes sections dealing with developments in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, about which many Protestants know very little.

He is balanced in his portrayal of the key players in church history, careful to avoid simplistically sorting them into goodies and baddies, but does provide his own evaluations of movements from time to time. There is not enough space to dig deep into the thought life or biographical details of any of them, but he picks out the most pertinent information and each chapter has a short bibliography with suggested further reading.

I read the second edition, last updated in 1995, to include topics such as megachurches, the “religious right”, globalisation and the aftermath of communism. It seems that there is a third edition available, published in 2008, which came out just after I purchased this. Bruce Shelley died in 2010, so there will be no further updates unless someone else takes on the project.

Overall I would say this is an excellent starting point for someone wanting the big picture of church history. You won’t become an expert on Augustine or Aquinas or Luther or Wesley through reading this, but you will at least know where they fit into the story.  After reading this you will probably want to supplement it with some more in-depth accounts of different periods or individuals. For example, Michael Reeves’ excellent book “The Unquenchable Flame“, while still an overview, focuses in on just the Reformation period.  So at this point I hand over to you. What church history books do you recommend? Let me know in the comments.

Book Review – Jesus and Money (Ben Witherington III)

I have been following Ben Witherington III’s blog for some time, and although he is a prolific author, have not yet read any of his books. So when I noticed that were offering the Kindle edition of this book for free, I jumped at the chance.

The book is titled “Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis”. I don’t know if the publisher came up with this title, because in some ways it is misleading. The book itself covers more than just Jesus’ teaching on money – it actually surveys the entire Bible. And Witherington doesn’t particularly focus on the “financial crisis”, prefering to draw out Biblical teaching on money that is relevant whatever the state of your finances.

In his introduction, Witherington highlights the problem that Christian attitudes to money are rarely any different from the world’s. He is also eager to critique the prosperity gospel, which he believes is a severe distortion of the biblical message.

the self-justifying tendency of modern Christians to hoard wealth and live large have absolutely no basis whatsoever in the NT

The bulk of the book is then devoted to surveying the Biblical teaching on money and wealth. He organizes this into chapters on the OT in general, the Wisdom literature, Jesus’ teaching, James, Luke & Acts, Paul’s writings, and Revelation. It’s not an exhaustive study, but he picks out key representative passages from each portion of the Bible to discuss.

Along the way he is also keen to give instruction in hermeneutics (especially when dealing with Proverbs), and on historical background (especially on the economic situation in the time of Jesus). His chapters on James and Paul’s epistles read like commentaries in places as he goes into detail on some of the exegetical issues. Each chapter concludes with a “so what” section, that begins to explore what the teaching of that portion of the Bible means for us.

Amongst the key principles he touches on are the foundational concept that all things ultimately belong to God – our money is his even if we “earned” it. Tithing is not a New Testament command (he argues that those who insist on it should also refuse to lend money at interest). He is critical of the idea of saving up for a luxurious and idle “retirement”. The idea of “charity” too comes under criticism, since it forgets that Christians who are better off have an absolute obligation to help those who are less fortunate.

Jesus is all in favour of a person being rich – rich towards God that is, and generous towards one’s fellow human beings, especially the poor. What Jesus is not at all keen on is persons who are all about enhancing their own assets, portfolios, standards of living, or retirement accounts, which in one sense is what the rich fool envisioned.

He also raises the issue of reciprocity. Jesus explicitly taught that we should give with no though of return, an idea that seems almost nonsensical to our materialistic mindset. In his chapter on Revelation, he begins to explore the idea of “systemic economic evils”

Christians, like the culture around us, have become blind to the deadening effect of materialism.

Having surveyed the Bible’s teaching, Witherington devotes two chapters to some practical application. The first attempts to summarise a Biblical theology of money, stewardship and giving:

The Christian community must not allow any of its members to be in want.


Never once does Paul talk about a weekly collection for the local congregation. He just assumes that they know since they are brothers and sisters in Christ, they take care of their own.


If the purpose of making money now is so we can live in luxury and idleness later, it is not a biblical motivation

The second concluding chapter gives some practical suggestions on how to “deprogram ourselves from a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption and self-gratification”. These incude:

  • Develop a good sense of the difference between necessities and luxuries
  • Make a commitment to ministerial projects that require a sacrifice
  • If making money is no longer an issue, devote the rest of your life to ministry projects
  • Evaluate your budget, especially discretionary spending funds
  • Decrease the amount of waste in your life (“go green as rapidly as possible”)
  • Stop hanging out with those who live in luxury
  • Stop assuming that therre are no problems with capitalism
  • Declare a jubilee year, forgiving a debt and lending money interest free
  • Tear up credit cards

As can be seen from that list, not all of his suggestions will meet with universal approval from Christians, but I found them refreshingly direct. There is no question in my mind that Jesus’ teaching on money is deeply counter-cultural both in his own day and in ours, so we should expect a biblical theology of money to throw up some ideas we find uncomfortable.

Witherington also includes two appendices. The first deals with 10 myths about money, which are mainly countering verses that have been misinterpreted. The second is Wesley’s famous sermon on money, which I had often heard quoted but never read. His famous maxim of “gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can” makes more sense to me now I understand that the “save” part does not refer to savings accounts, but to reducing your expenditure.

Overall I would say this was a very helpful and provocative book (and great value for money given Amazon’s deal!). Some readers may get bogged down in places, but if you do, just skip to the “so what” section. The historical background material is very valuable for better understanding Jesus’ teaching. The book covers very similar ground to Craig Blomberg’s excellent book “Neither Poverty nor Riches“. Blomberg’s survey is perhaps more complete, but Witherington gives more space to exploring the implications. I found it very helpful to let myself be challenged afresh as to whether my thinking about money is shaped more by my culture than the Word of God.

Book Review – Planet Narnia (Michael Ward)

Planet NarniaI distinctly remember as a young boy, perhaps 8 or 9 years old, having an earnest discussion with my best friend about the way biblical themes were woven into storyline of the Narnia series. These are of course most obvious in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but are to be found in all seven. There is something enthralling about finding a deeper meaning in a story, and I suspect most Christians who read the Narnia series smile to themselves regularly as they sense they are “in on the secret”. Lewis’ portrayal of Christ as “Aslan” has been a profoundly helpful image for many Christians, and remains a favourite sermon illustration for many preachers.

So the suggestion that there might be yet another level of meaning to the books, seems at first to be completely unnecessary. And for that meaning to revolve around the seven planets of medieval cosmology seems quite frankly ridiculous. But that is exactly what Michael Ward claims to have found, and his evidence is compelling.

I first came across his theory in a documentary called The Narnia Code, which was shown on BBC. Then I was able to hear him in person at New Wine giving seminar that summarised his thesis. But it left me wanting to know more about the evidence linking each planet to its corresponding book, so I jumped at the chance to hear his argument in full.

He starts off by giving some important background on Lewis, such as the way he could sometimes be secretive and how he felt that this was important in literature. Lewis felt it important that a good story to have an “atmosphere” – something that didn’t need to be explained or pointed out, but was felt and enjoyed nonetheless by the reader.

He notes the fact that despite its tremendous success, the Narnia series has often been criticised for some odd and out of place elements in the story, that has led some literary critics to suggest that its composition was rushed.

Ward then moves to focus on Lewis’ fascination with the planets, and in particular, medieval cosmology and astrology. He wrote academically about it, he wrote poems about them, and he even incorporated them into other works of fiction, most notably his cosmic trilogy. Whilst he recognised this ancient cosmology to be scientifically untrue, he believed it to have great beauty and a lasting worth. He believed that the heavens declare the glory of God, but that science had made people think of a silent, empty “space”.

The next seven chapters deal one by one with the seven books of the Narnia series, and the planet Ward believes each is associated with. His method is first to look at where the planet in question appears in Lewis’ other writings. Here it will help massively if you have read the cosmic trilogy as much material is drawn from that series, but also Lewis’ poetry features regularly here. These give a feel for the particular characteristics, atmosphere, virtues or vices he felt were associated with each planet. Then Ward goes on to show how each planet asserts its “influence” over the story, by first examining the poiema (how the influence of that planet affects the atmosphere of the story) and then onto the logos (how the influence of that planet affects the message of the story). He also believes that Lewis has portrayed Aslan in ways that relate to the planet in question in each story.

I can only briefly summarise some of the points that strike me as interesting. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is associated with Jupiter (also known as Jove). The influence of this kingly, “jovial” planet is seen in many aspects of the story (and explains the somewhat incongruous appearance of Father Christmas). Ward shows that Lewis associated Jupiter with “winter past and guilt forgiven” – almost a plot summary of the story.

Prince Caspian is associated with Mars. Mars was the god of war, but his influence was neutral in Lewis’ mind – military force can be used in the cause of justice (chivalry) as well as for evil.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is associated with the Sun, or Sol as given away by its title. Both the sun and its associated metal gold are recurring themes throughout the story.

The Silver Chair also gives us a clue in its title, as the metal of the Moon (or Luna) is silver. The moon is associated with lunacy and doubt – clearly to be found in the plotline of the story.

The Horse and His Boy is linked to Mercury, perhaps the hardest of planets to define in terms of its influence. Mercury is “lord of language” and “patron of pilferers”, and the metal is known for the way it divides and reunites. Ward does a convincing job of showing how Lewis incorporates these ideas into the story, with lots of twins and pairs, and even an allusion to the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Magician’s Nephew then is connected with Venus. This is a potential problem for Lewis – how does he as a devout Christian write a children’s story around a goddess of sex? And can he portray Aslan in feminine form? Ward shows how Lewis incorporates themes of love, marriage and fertility into the story and explains why he thinks Lewis did not want to make Aslan a female character in this story.

The Last Battle finally is linked to Saturn. This is also a tricky one for Lewis as Saturn is associated with death and misfortune. And they certainly feature prominently in this story, which has often been criticised for killing off all its major characters. One interesting bit of evidence is that the character “Old Father Time” was in an early unpublished manuscript explicity named by Lewis as Saturn, but he later removed this rather overt clue.

After wading through this evidence, it is hard not to be convinced. Even if you are only persuaded by three or four of the seven, it is impossible to imagine Lewis only partially going through with such an ingenious scheme. Ward suggests that the Narnia series was a deliberate attempt by Lewis to put the argument he made in Miracles into “imaginative” form.

He devotes a chapter to asking some questions of his thesis. Why is the scheme not more perfect? Why did Lewis not reveal the secret? Is the secret best left undiscovered? He offers brief but interesting responses to these questions and potential objections. Finally he rounds the book off with the story of how he came to discover this secret of the Narnia series.

In summary I have to say this is a fascinating book for anyone who has read the Narnia series, and I find his argument convincing. It is not for the faint-hearted though. This was I believe a PhD thesis, and it reads like one. It is quite academic in places, and if the only writings of Lewis you are familiar with are the Narnia series, you may find yourself lost in places. Apparently he has written a more popular level version called the Narnia Code which would be more appropriate for some readers. He has a website dedicated to the book here.

Book Review–Your Jesus is too Safe (Jared Wilson)

I first heard of Jared Wilson through his excellent blog, the Gospel Driven Church which I have followed for a few years now, and so have been looking forward to reading my first book by him. He is an excellent communicator, and, as his blog title implies, brings a gospel-centred approach to all the subjects he addresses.

This is a book about Jesus – a subject that is well deserving of our attention. The blurb and preface led me to expect that this would be a deconstruction of various popular misconceptions of Jesus such as “hippie Jesus, Grammy Award Jesus, Role Model Jesus, Buddy Jesus” etc. But his approach is instead to go to the Scriptures and highlight twelve aspects of who Jesus is.

Each chapter deals with a title or role of Jesus. For example, Jesus the Prophet, Jesus the Shepherd, Jesus the Sacrifice, Jesus the Lord. The book is theologically and biblically rich. With each topic he weaves in some helpful historical and Old Testament background information to help illuminate the already familiar stories of and teachings of Jesus from the gospels.

As might be expected from someone who blogs for the Gospel Coalition, he draws from the likes of John Piper, Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll. But he also brings in insights from NT Wright and Dallas Willard which brings a greater breadth to the overall message of the book.

His sense of humour is infused throughout the book, with plenty of quips and gags which give it a light-hearted feel. It made for an enjoyable read, although it felt a little incongruous in places as he juxtaposes a wise-crack with a profound thought.

This isn’t a book of radically new insights, but its chief value is in focusing us in on the person of Jesus, and allowing his own radical and challenging message and identity to be impressed on us again. It would be helpful for a Christian who finds the gospels to have become over-familiar and uninspiring to see Jesus from some fresh perspectives.

Book Review – Theology with Spirit (Henry Lederle)

Word & Spirit Press were kind enough to send me a copy of Theology with Spirit: The Future of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements in the 21st Century, by Henry I. Lederle to review. Readers of this blog will know that I have an interest in the history of the charismatic movement, and have previously reviewed Andrew Walker’s Restoring the Kingdom and John Fleming’s Bind Us Together.

This book takes a broader perspective, and attempts to trace the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements right through to the present day. Obviously this is a huge task, but Lederle has managed to compress the story down very effectively to highlight the main characters, movements and theological ideas, and it makes for a fascinating read. Of particular interest is the way he seeks to link in the theological developments with the transition from modernity to post-modernity. He sees the initial opposition from cessationists as evidence of a modernist worldview infiltrating the church.

I already knew a bit about the Asuza street revival, but there is much in this book that was new to me. It is interesting to read his analysis of the effect of Pentecostalism on Roman Catholocism, Orthodoxy, along with other “communions”. Especially helpful is his concise explanations of the theology of different key groups such as the Wesleyan holiness movement, the oneness Pentecostals and the Latter Rain movement.

Following on from the roots of Pentecostalism, he moves onto the “second wave”, or denominational charismatic renewal. He includes a helpful analysis of the broad range of views on Spirit baptism, that departed from the initial Pentecostal positions.

Under the heading the “third wave”, he differs slightly from Wagner, and defines the third wave as independent charismatic churches. He considers several groupings, including “Restorationist”, “Dominion”, “Empowered Evangelicals” (e.g. Wimber), before finally moving on to “Word of Faith”.

This is where it gets interesting, since although Lederle has been very even-handed throughout, he does have an affinity with the Word of Faith movement, and was a lecturer for many years at Oral Roberts University. While he accepts the movement has come in for some deserved criticism, he feels it has now self-corrected its exesses, and identifies and defends four theological contributions the movement makes.

The latter part of the book explores the future of Spirit movements, including a review of various new papers published by young charismatic and pentecostal scholars, many from ORU. He also takes some time to explain his own unique take on Spirit baptism (a “dimension” with “events”), which I must confess to not fully understanding (probably need to re-read this a few times).

He concludes the book with the claim that he believes the Word of Faith churches will be at the forefront of the spread of the charismatic movement in the coming years, and interestingly, does not predict much success for the apostolic networks Peter Wagner has identified as being so significant (see my recent review of Dave Devenish’s book on apostles). I have no idea whether he is right, but I am sure he is correct when he identifies several countries in the global south that have been deeply influenced by Word of Faith theology.

He argues that the four Word of Faith disctinctives (1. the Believer’s Inheritance; 2. the Authority of the Believer; 3. Positive Confession; and 4. Prosperity), when articulated correctly, are all perfectly biblical ideas, and when properly understood are not the heresies they are often accused of being. And indeed, his carefully nuanced explanations of these four ideas are not as objectionable as the more bluntly stated versions I am more used to hearing.

In summary, I would say that the first half of this book is superb and will be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in the history of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. He has clearly done his research well and his analysis is very interesting. This part of the book would perhaps have benefitted from footnotes, but there is a good bibliography at the end.

The second part of the book caught me off guard. As someone from the more reformed end of the charismatic spectrum, I have grave concerns about the teaching I hear coming from the Word of Faith movement, and do not have a positive opinion about the “prosperity gospel”. It certainly is possible that some critics have misunderstood or misrepresened them – that has happened to almost every group within the church at some point. If Lederle is right about the future prominence of this movement, then it would perhaps benefit us to be more aware of what they are actually teaching, in order that we can make an accurate and biblical evaluation and critique of their contribution to Christian thought.

Book Review – Chillax (John Piper)

chillaxPastor-theologian John Piper churns out so many books, you might think he is something of a workaholic, but his latest offering reveals the exact opposite philosophy. I was privileged to receive a pre-release copy of Chillax, in which Piper outlines his bold vision for guilt-free living.

Piper contends that too many Christians live under the oppressive burden of expectations that they will pray, read the Bible, evangelise, serve the poor, and attend conferences. Although this may seem spiritual and holy, Piper reveals that such activities are actually a proud act of self-deification. Once you recognise that you are powerless to earn your salvation, why wear yourself out working for God when you could be soaking in a bubble-bath of blessing? What you need is to chill out and relax.

Piper has Jonathan Edwards to thank for the stunning revelation that God just wants us to be happy:

God is most glorified when we are most satisfied. And I am most satisfied when I have a bacon sandwich and a pint of beer. Also, money makes me happy, which is why I wrote my first book, “Desiring Gold”.

Piper explains how he has shaken off the shackles of legalistic righteousness that characterised his youth, where he would spend ages studying Greek and preparing sermons. Now he often devotes whole months at a time to expanding his shell collection, or beating his high score on Grand Theft Auto. He’s even arranged for Joyce Meyer to take over as the new pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, allowing him to focus exclusively on chillaxing.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who feels tired of having to doing stuff, or thinking about things. But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s some endorsements from leading luminaries of the evangelicalosphere:

Tim Challiesdotcom, blogaholic – “This is like the best book evar since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I have repented of blogging and have devoted the rest of my life to watching episodes of Spongebob Squarepants.”

Mark Driscoll, Director of Pugilism at Mars Hill Seattle, “This book hit me like a roundhouse kick to the face. Maybe those lime green cardigan wearing, herbal tea drinkers were right all along.”

Don Carson, theological badass – “A magisterial treatment of Hebrews 4 that will change the face of scholarship for decades to come, if anyone can be bothered to do that stuff any more.”

Rob Bell, Reimagineer – “Finally, John Piper gets it. Everything is spiritual. Especially golf.”

Book Review–Fathering Leaders, Motivating Mission (David Devenish)

One of the distinctives of the newfrontiers family of churches, of which I am a part, is the desire to “restore” the role of the apostle in today’s church. This makes some evangelicals very nervous. For example, John Stott regularly argued against the possibility of modern day apostles in the Bible Speaks Today series, despite presumably not having a problem with bishops and archbishops, given his Anglican connections.

This book can be broken into three main sections. The first attempts to define what is meant by a modern day apostle and make a biblical case for their validity. The second then lays out what the content of “apostolic foundations” should consist of. And the third then goes through several practical aspects of the ministry of an apostle.

He disarms much of the suspicion against modern day apostles by explaining that there are at least three “categories” of apostle in the New Testament, and that modern day apostles are not to be understood as functioning in the same way as the original twelve.

There are no new arguments presented, but the most compelling evidence is that of those in the NT outside the twelve designated as apostles, and Eph 4:11 which strongly implies that Christ gives more apostles after his ascension.

The function of apostles is summed up by the slightly cumbersome title of the book – “Fathering leaders, motivating mission”. That is to say that an apostle has a “fatherly” relationship with the leaders of local churches rather than simply being the next level of management up, or someone invited in as a consultant. But the apostle’s role goes further than just helping local church leaders – the apostle is actively involved in the establishment of new churches.

He devotes a few chapters to outlining key doctrines, such as the grace of God, which are vital for churches to fully understand, and explains how an apostle can help to lay those foundations.

The latter part of the book then deals with some of the practical aspects of apostolic ministry, such as how apostles can input into the appointment of elders, or the discipline of leaders, and how apostolic ministry is to be financed.

He has taken care to ensure that proper safeguards are in place, as another reason many get nervous about the idea of modern day apostles is the potential for overbearing control, or abuse of power. He explains the value of “apostolic teams”, where the apostle travels with other trusted companions for increased accountability.

One benefit of this book is that the author has plenty of experience of what he is talking about, providing fatherly oversight to leaders both in the UK and abroad. It means that there are plenty of helpful stories and examples that illustrate the points he is making. He has some particularly good insights into the issues of planting and overseeing churches in different cultural contexts.

The book ends with some answers to a few questions, and the one question I was wondering whether he had forgotten came right at the end. It is the issue of “apostolic succession”: what about well established churches, or when an apostle dies? Do how do you allocate a new apostle? Or do some churches no longer need to receive apostolic input? His answer is unfortunately a little brief, but he does make the point that leaders in every generation need to be fathered.

He gives an even-handed answer to the question of women apostles – noting the possibility that Junias may have been a female apostle, but indicating his preference for a complementarian position.

Overall I would say David Devenish has served us well by covering this topic so thoroughly and this is a book that deserves to be read by the wider evangelical world, particularly those involved in church planting movements.

Book Review–The Cause Within You (Matthew Barnett)

Earlier this year, we had Matthew Barnett over to speak at our church for a conference. He is the founder of the Dream Center, a church in Los Angeles that does an amazing amount of work with the poor in their city. Our church very much enjoyed his passion and humour as he told his story and attempted to inspire us to do similar things.

To be honest, this is not the type of book I usually read. I think it is fair to say that Matthew Barnett is more of a motivational and inspirational speaker than a noted theologian or Bible expositor. I even find church names like “the Dream Center” to be rather off-putting. But I was sufficiently impressed with some of the points that he made to get a copy of his book.

The book has two main elements to it. First, is simply to tell the story of how the Dream Center got started, including the tale of how he spent a night on the streets to better understand the situation of the homeless, and how they came to purchase a large disused hospital that became the base for a wide variety of ministries. There are many moving stories of people whose lives had been transformed through their contact with the Dream Center.

The second element is to persuade you that you have a “cause” which God intends you to dedicate your life to. The important thing then is to find what our personal God-given cause is and to live it out. Barnett is clear that this “cause” will involve serving others in some way. He also encourages us not to wait to find our “cause”, but to just get started doing what we can.

It would be possible to critique this book as being theologically light-weight. There is little if any connection made with the gospel, there is very little use of Scripture – though there is an appendix of relevant passages at the end, and the idea of finding “my” cause might strike some as being too man-centred. It is also clear that meeting the needs of the poor and needy is very much his clear passion and priority, with other concerns not really addressed (one wonders what discipleship structures they have in place for example).

Having said that, it is clear at least to me that this church has grasped something of God’s heart for the poor, and is showing his love in very real and practical ways that is resulting in genuinely changed lives. I also appreciated his rejection of the definition of “success” in terms of numbers; instead focusing on obedience to God’s call on your life.

Overall it is probably worth checking out if you are looking for some practical and real-world stories of what a church can do to show God’s love to the people in its area. But for a biblical and theological basis for social justice, I’d recommend Tim Keller instead.

Book Review–A Meal With Jesus (Tim Chester)

I got an Amazon Kindle for Christmas so I was eager to try it out. Annoyingly many of the books on my Amazon wishlist don’t have a Kindle edition, or are cheaper to get in paper, but Tim Chester’s “A meal with Jesus” was available at a good price, and after very much enjoying the other books of his I have read, I made it my first Kindle ebook purchase. I had to get the US version, published by re:lit, as the UK edition was strangely unavailable for the Kindle at the time of purchase, but does seem to be there now. I presume the UK edition uses Tesco and the World Cup rather than Walmart and the Superbowl as illustrations.

I wasn’t entirely convinced I would like this book after reading the first chapter. We are told that Jesus did a lot of eating. But don’t we all? Herod also enjoyed a good meal, as did Samwise Gamgee. And living in an age where there was no TV and internet to entertain you in the evenings, it isn’t all that surprising that meals featured prominently in people’s lives.

He starts off by looking at Luke 7:34 – “the Son of Man came eating and drinking”, which he describes as a “statement of method”. Already I was beginning to wonder whether there was going to be some rather strained exegesis at play here. I have always understood this verse as pointing out the obtuseness of the Pharisees for rejecting both Jesus and John the Baptist despite their opposite approaches to diet. Instead, Tim Chester wants us to understand “eating and drinking” as a kind of special missional strategy employed by Jesus.

But enough nit-picking already, because this is in fact another excellent book from Tim Chester. The book is structured around various stories from the gospel of Luke that recount meals Jesus had. He starts by focusing in on who Jesus chose as his mealtime companions. Jesus was known for eating with “sinners”, and this is where Chester’s claim that “eating and drinking” is integral to Jesus’ method for reaching the lost begins to make sense:

This is why eating and drinking were so important in the mission of Jesus: they were a sign of his friendship with tax collectors and sinners.

The implications for our own mission are obvious. Maybe in our desire to come up with all kinds of culturally relevant mission strategies, we have overlooked the very simple and effective approach of Jesus to both discipleship and mission – he spent time with people over meals.

If you share a meal three or four times a week and you have a passion for Jesus, then you will be building up the Christian community and reaching out in mission.

When you combine a passion for Jesus with shared meals, you create potent gospel opportunities.

Meals bring mission into the ordinary. But that’s where most people are—living in the ordinary.

Don’t start a hospitality ministry in your church: open your home.

But this book is about more than just mission. As he works through the stories of Jesus’ meals, Chester treats us to a fascinating theology of food and eating, something I suspect most of us rarely think about.

Neither eating to live (food as fuel) nor living to eat (food as salvation) is right. We’re to eat to the glory of God and live to the glory of God.

He makes a strong case that shared meals should be integral to the life of the church, with communion being celebrated in the home in the context of a meal. He has a number of interesting ideas and insights about communion, such as seeing it as a “foretaste of the messianic banquet” and suggesting that it functions like the rainbow following Noah’s flood, as a reminder to God of his gospel promises.

The Lord’s Supper is a call to God to act in keeping with his covenant: forgiving us, accepting us, and welcoming us to the Table through the finished work of Christ.

It’s not a particularly long book, and he returns to a number of his key themes he develops in earlier books, particularly the link between suffering and glory. It will provoke you to think about how often you eat with both those in your church and those who are not Christians. It is a good reminder for people like myself who are introverts by nature and don’t naturally seek out company at meal times.