Restoring Ecclesiology

A particular emphasis upon the nature and structure of the church has been central to the Baptist vision.  In other words, ecclesiology is in many ways the chief contribution and distinctive of the Baptists.  Sadly, you would not learn that by observing many Baptist congregations.  Baptist ecclesiology has been eclipsed by pragmatism and undermined by neglect.

A helpful analysis of what must be recovered comes as Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, edited by Thomas White, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcolm B. Yarnell, III [Kregel].  The book contains chapters on the major issues that must be addressed if integrity in Baptist congregational life is to be recovered — including regenerate church membership, believers baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church discipline.  Contributors represent a stellar group of Baptist scholars, including, among others, Mark Dever on church membership, Danny Akin on baptism, and Gregory Wills on church discipline.

From the chapter by Gregory A. Wills on church discipline:

Southern Baptists experienced three tectonic shifts that reshaped Baptist identity and rendered church discipline implausible for both conservatives and progressives.  First, they lost confidence that Christ commanded a specific ecclesiology and based church practices on pragmatic concerns, on human standards of effectiveness.  Second, they adopted a new view of Baptist identity that led them to redefine ecclesiology and theology according to human experience, which among other things recast God in humanitarian terms and weakened their sense of the fear of God.  Third, they took guardianship of the social order, which secularized the churches and eroded their commitment to separation from the world.

These commitments so altered Baptist piety that, all things considered, church discipline seemed ill suited to advance the aims of the contemporary church.  It seemed ineffective for church growth and irrelevant for ministry in modern society.  Southern Baptist pastors finally chose relevance over obedience and quieted their consciences over the loss.

Creation, Evil, and a Man Named Job

The Book of Job remains an enigma for many Christians. Beyond this, it has been misused as a text for protest atheism and as a pretext for much theological mischief. Robert S. Fyall offers a virtually unprecedented approach to Job in Now My Eyes Have Seen You: Images of Creation and Evil in the Book of Job [Apollos/InterVarsity Press].

Fyall does what so many other commentators and students of Job fail to do — he combines careful exegesis with faithful theology. Fyall is a professor of Old Testament at the University of Durham and a Church of Scotland minister. He looks closely at the literary imagery within the text of Job and offers keen insights.

Now My Eyes Have Seen You is released in the “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series edited by D. A. Carson. The entire series is worthy of careful attention. I have found very few satisfactory books on Job. This one moves quickly into the top ranks.

Fyall writes:

Reading and studying Job can be an alarming and unpredictable experience. Many apparent certainties disappear and familiar landmarks seem few and far between. Yet to glimpse even a little of this book’s awesome picture of God’s providence, expressed in glorious and richly resonant language, is to undergo both a chastening and healing experience. To listen to this book is to listen to the Master’s voice.

What Happened to African-American Theology?

The history of African-American theology raises one key question — What happened? Thabiti M. Anyabwile, now senior pastor of the First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman Islands, answers this question in The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity [InterVarsity Press]. Anyabwile traces a road from biblical orthodoxy to theological liberalism in the mainstream of African-American theology.

Here are two paragraphs that tell the story very well, and in a very moving way:

Rather than denounce the Bible as fraudulent along with its white adherents, the slaves recognized that learning to read the Bible and to possess its contents for themselves was real spiritual power, whose potency was made all the more alluring by efforts to prohibit its access. So, slaves vowed to learn to read before they died so that they could read the Bible. They took advantage of every clandestine opportunity to secure lessons from favorable masters or their children, often risking legally sanctioned retribution, severe beatings and death.

By the end of slavery’s reign in America, African American doctrines of revelation were beginning to widen and make room for sources of revelation other then the Scriptures, including God continuing to reveal himself through supernatural means and interventions. This expansion of the doctrine of revelation would weaken the centrality of the Scriptures in the practice and thought of African American Christianity.

The Decline of African American Theology is a really important book — and for all evangelical Christians.

Readers will also want to know of Thabiti Anyabwile’s other book, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors [Crossway].

Thabiti Anyabwile was my guest on Monday’s edition of The Albert Mohler Program [listen here].

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