October 2016


new-believers-guide-to-the-christian-life-by-alex-earlyIn describing her new found faith in Christ, Rosaria Butterfield described her conversion as a crisis of worldview. Everything she thought she knew and believed about the herself and the world was destroyed, and it was painful. It was like heart surgery without the anesthesia. When you come to faith in Christ you come to learn that you do not shape your identity, God does in Christ. Your identity in Christ shapes who you are as a Christian.

Often times, in the early stages of discipleship with new believer’s, well meaning seasoned Christian’s jump right to the do’s and don’ts of the Christian life. Going to church, reading your Bible, praying, giving money to your church, etc. While those are all true and right activities for the Christian, they need to be grounded in the new identity believer’s have in Christ. These Christian activities that stem from faith in Christ need to be rooted in one’s identity in Christ himself.

Seeing the need for a resource to help new believer’s begin to understand their new identity in Christ, author, speaker, and pastor Alex Early has written a new book The New Believer’s Guide to the Christian Life: What Will Change, What Won’t, and Why It Matters (Bethany House, 2016). The driving force behind this book is Alex’s desire to help new believer’s see how the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which they now believe, shapes who they are as a Christian and gives the grounding for all of the Christian practices that are to follow.

In many ways, what Alex is doing is nothing more than what the apostle Paul did in many of his letters in the New Testament. He gave doctrine before duty. Orthodoxy before orthopraxy. While we need to show new believer’s right Christian practice, we need to do so within the context of who God is and who they are in Christ.

One of the things that is most helpful in Alex’s writing is his openness about the struggles of the Christian life. Yes, we are dead to sin but we still struggle with it. Yes, our debt of sin is paid for on the cross but we will still act like it wasn’t. No, we can’t add anything to our salvation and justification but we still act as if we can. The more honest we are with new believer’s about the real struggles of the Christian life early on, the better equipped they will be to handle them down the road. The gospel is not a quick fix to my life. It is change over the long haul and Alex gets that.

This book isn’t just about the who of being a Christian but the doing as well. Alex addresses important identity practices like baptism, church membership, life within the church, and money. These are all identity shaping practices. Their practice says something about who I am as a believer, especially baptism and church membership. Because he discussed baptism and church membership, I think he should have discussed the Lord’s Supper as an identity shaping practice.

So if you are a new believer in Christ or know someone who is, then I recommend The New Believer’s Guide to the Christian Life. Its message is crucial to a believer’s understanding of their identity in Christ. Even as a seasoned believer I found several parts helpful and challenging.

I received this book for free from Bethany House for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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 designed-to-lead-by-geiger-and-peck“The primary purpose for our leadership mandate is to make known the glory of God by leading others to flourish in God’s design.” (62)

Is there a connection between discipleship and leadership? Where do leaders come from? Are all disciples leaders? What role does the Church play in leadership development? In an effort to answer these questions and more that Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck have written Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development (B&H, 2016).

For decades there have been books written, seminars and conferences dedicated to, and entire models made and revolutionized around the idea of leadership development. Places outside the Church have largely been the producers and shapers of leadership development as we know it. And this is exactly the problem according to Geiger and Peck. “The Church is uniquely set apart to develop and deploy leaders for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel.” (2) “Because the core of sustaining and transforming leadership is the Church,” they say, “no organization should outpace the Church in developing leaders.” (7) But that is exactly what is happening, argue the authors, and addressing how to bring the Church at the forefront of leadership development is the purpose for this book.

Something Old

In one sense there is nothing new that Geiger and Peck are proposing. In fact, it is a sad commentary on the current state of too many churches that this book even needs to be written. What they are calling churches to do is what Scripture has been calling churches to do since the first century. They take their biblical cues from 2 Timothy 2:2, “….entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” and Ephesians 4:11-13 which is Paul’s instructions for the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to use their God-given gifts “for the training of the saints in the work of the ministry.” This is no-brainer stuff, right? It should be but it isn’t.

What has happened to ministry in general, and leadership specifically, it that many churches operate on the following approach:

pastors→minister→people.

This is where the pastors do the majority of the ministry in the church while most of the rest of the congregation is a recipient of the pastors ministry/gifts but are not joining them in ministering to others as well with their gifts. So, only the pastor can visit the sick in the church.

What Ephesians 4:11-13 teaches is the following:

pastors→prepare→people→minister→each other.

In this (biblical) ministry model the primary purpose of those with the gifts mentioned in Eph. 4:11-13 is to equip the laity to do “the work of the ministry.” Some gifts are given as ministry-equipping gifts. So now, everyone is doing ministry and the ministry of some is to equip others to do ministry to others.  This is the every member a minister mindset. The failure to follow this simple model “results in an unhealthy church,” state the authors, and “a lack of conviction for equipping results in an immature body of believers.” (35) The result of following the biblical paradigm is not just faithfulness to God’s intention for the churches use of its Spirit given and driven gifts but a church that “is a community of gifted people, not merely a community of people with a gifted pastor.” (50)

Something New

While the Biblical rationale and foundation for this ministry mindset is not new, the authors present (1) their own vision for how the biblical model is carried out in churches and (2) solid theology of ministry woven throughout it.

The grid through which Geiger and Peck envision enacting Eph. 4:11-13 ministry is threefold:

  1. Conviction – As “a God-initiated passion that fuels a leader and [a] church,” conviction is the inner belief that God (1) knows best how the church ought to do ministry and (2) that He has told us how to do it. It must be part of our thinking and philosophy of ministry from the top of the leadership chain down to the saints who are being equipped for the work of the ministry. Churches must have the conviction that God designed mankind from the beginning to bear His image through leadership of the world (57) and that “to be part of a local church is to be part of a leadership community.” (79)  If churches, both the shepherds and sheep, are not convinced of this basis for ministry then it will never get off the ground.
  2. Culture – In order for the convictions of a church to begin to become a reality they must shape the culture of the church. This culture “is formed through the actual beliefs and resulting expressions for a local church about creation, the identity of the local church, and how the local church interacts in the world.” (103) This is where a churches philosophy of ministry on paper becomes a part of the minds of its people. This is where a church moves from actual beliefs, to articulated beliefs and then forms artifacts which are the visible and tangible expressions of the aforementioned beliefs (127). Church culture is hard to change. Its artifacts are the hardest but they will never change until the actual beliefs change followed by the articulated beliefs.
  3. Constructs – “If a value is strongly embedded in the culture [of a church], a system is in place to ensure the value is lived out and not merely words on a vision document.” (184) In order for the convictions of a church culture to become a reality there must be constructs (or systems) in place to make them a living reality and give them long term stability. What you do is an expression of what you believe. The construct God has designed for the church to make leaders is discipleship. Leaders must be identified for ministry, trained for ministry, given ministry opportunity, and coached along the way. They must be shaped in their heads, hearts, and hands if they are to grow and do likewise for the next generation.

Conviction, culture, and constructs are the three C’s to living out Eph. 4:11-13 and leadership development through discipleship. Something new serving as the vehicle for something old. Geiger and Peck close with this apt challenge:

For the faith to continually advance in your context, your conviction must be continually stirred, your culture continually cultivated, and your constructs continually implemented. (216)

Designed to Lead provides a biblical, theological, and practical explanation for how to develop leaders through discipleship. There are no gimmicks or overnight promises of change. Leadership training is for the long haul of faithful steady plodding and this book will provide the guidance churches need to make lasting disciple leaders for generations to come. If you loved Marshall and Payne’s The Trellis and the Vine then you will equally love this book. They both need to be read together and complement each other.

I received this book for free from B&H for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

ephesians-by-benjamin-merkleThe Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series (EGGNT) has recently added the next installment on Ephesians by Benjamin L. Merkle. Merkle is a professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC and is the editor of their journal Southeastern Theological Review.

Series Summary

The commentary is solely based on the Greek of the New Testament primarily using the fifth edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament. The book divides Ephesians into pericopes by its Greek text, block diagrams, exegetes phrase-by-phrase, and gives a rationale for the translation given along with some detailed discussion of pertinent issues within each pericope. A good grasp of New Testament Greek is required to benefit from this book as well as an ability to understand the grammatical abbreviations used in the book.

As a guide, the reader is presented with a number of helps in their own study of the Greek text. The purpose of the book is not to do all of the work for the reader, but, rather, to “provide all the necessary information for understanding the Greek text.” Having a lot of the time consuming work done for you helps the reader to focus more on interpreting the information and developing the sermon. By breaking the book up into pericopes the reader already has a good idea as to how to lay out their sermons. There are suggested homoletical outlines (often giving more than one) as well as suggested further reading based on the subject matter of each verse or group of verses examined. When more than one suggestion is offered by commentators Merkle presents them along with his reasons for which one seems to fit the text best.

Ephesians Summary

Since this is not a full blown commentary there is little discussion on the typical introductory material you would find in commentaries. Merkle presents the arguments for and against Pauline authorship, the various dates proposed for the writing of the epistle, arguments for and against the superscription “to the Ephesians” as a destination marker, a rationale for the occasion and purpose of the letter (six of them to be exact), and finally a proposed outline of the book followed by a list of recommend commentaries. In light of the recent discussion concerning Peter O’Brien’s commentaries, readers will be interested to know that Merkle regards his Pillar commentary on Ephesians to be “the best overall commentary that is both academically informed and broadly accessible.” (9) There are varying opinions about the merits of accusing O’Brien of plagiarism. I am not yet convinced the accusations are warranted so I do not feel it should be a mark against Merkle’s work that he relies upon and highly recommends O’Brien’s book.

A good example of how Merkle, and the series in general, treats certain highly theological texts is Ephesians 2:8, “For on the basis of grace you are saved by faith.” (authors translation) You will immediately notice the differences in Merkel’s translation depending on which translation you have memorized (like the ESV). There are three translation issues in this verse but I will just examine two of them. τῇ γáρ χάριτί is usually translated as “by grace” which sees it as a dative of means. Merkle argues that it should be translated as a dative of cause and thus read “because of grace” or “on the basis of grace.” This in turn impacts how Merkle translates διà πίστεως as a dative of cause and thus “by grace”. Merkle notes, “A dat. of cause indicates the why or basis of something whereas a dat. of means indicates the how or method by which something is performed.” (61) This leads him to see that “the ref. to faith clearly refers to the faith of the believer and not Christ’s faithfulness.” (61)

As with the other books in this series, I highly recommend Merkle’s book on Ephesians for any serious student, pastor, and theologian/scholar looking for an accessible and helpful guide to the Greek text of Ephesians.

The other books in the series are as follows:

John by Murray J. Harris

2 Corinthians by Don Garlington

Philippians by Joseph H. Hellerman

Colossians and Philemon by Murray J. Harris

James by Chris A. Vlachos

1 Peter by Greg W. Forbes

I received this book for free from B&H for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”