Reviews: July 2012

The last couple of months were a bit fraught, trying to get myself to a stage where I could write four intelligent(ish!) pages about my research proposal.  I achieved that in the end – well, the interviewers approved it anyway, so it’s looking good for now, until I have to actually write more than those four pages! – but as a result, I prioritised book reviews rather low on the ‘to do’ list.  More to the point, I didn’t write any, hence the last month of radio silence!  But now I am trying to make up for it…

Gordon MacDonald, Going Deep

I really like books by Gordon MacDonald, almost without fail.  This one was no exception, tackling as it does a topic close to my heart.  It recounts the story of a church which became serious about disciple-making, a church which decided to release its pastor (MacDonald) and his wife to a deliberate and all-out effort to develop what they chose to call ‘deep people’.  Yet the book differs from many of MacDonald’s other offerings, being written as a reconstruction of conversations and messages which happened between him and others over a period of some two years.  It is for this reason that Going Deep is not my favourite of his books; at times it felt a little stilted and even, very rarely, awkward.

But do not hold this against the book!  Its passion for the church’s primary mandate, its sheer practicality and its depth all more than compensate any weakness of form.  It has inspired me to hear of others who are engaged in such work and, furthermore, encouraged me to explore relaunching a similar disciple-making initiative which I implemented with a team some years back.  So I think this book has done its work and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who loves the church and wants to get serious about making disciples!

I received a free copy of this book from BookSneeze in return for a fair review.

Roger Patterson, The Theology of the Second Chair

This book is the companion volume to Bonem and Patterson’s Leading from the Second Chair.  Its subtitle is about twice the length of the main bit of the title, its binding a bland yellow-beige and its author proudly proclaims his DMin qualification on the front cover.  Inside, the text is double-spaced with a plethora of footnotes and you find a ‘definition of terms’ only three pages in.  Without doubt, this has to be the author’s DMin thesis and, coming in at about 86 pages, it is probably the thesis in its relatively unedited length.

Yes, I know, it almost certainly says something about me that I chose to read this companion volume first!  But I wanted to get to the nitty-gritty quickly, to understand what is the thesis and how sustainable it is.  In short, those answers are (i) some leaders’ roles are second-chair, that is, to support the first-chair leader and (ii) not very, in my opinion.

I was really disappointed because I suspect that the main popular-level book is probably quite interesting and contains some useful insights for those who have a second-chair/executive pastor type of role in their church.  But the theological defence was neither very theological nor a great defence in my opinion.  It draws principles from Scripture in a way which would have got me lynched in any exegesis or expository preaching classes, and works through character studies of Aaron, Joshua, Timothy and Titus, with a brief excursus into Elisha to show how second-chairs can sometimes become first chair leaders.

The biggest and most unsustained detour was the attempt to justify second-chair leadership from the suggestion that, because in the Trinity the Father is the source of ultimate authority and the Son and the Spirit are the source of subordination, so this can be applied to lead leaders and subordinate leaders in the church.  There is then, sadly, not much more theological explanation concerning how or why some leaders are like the Father and others like the Son/Spirit and how we can apply something which is true of deity directly to humanity!

There also seems to be a heavy weighting on OT examples of such leadership in Israel, although these, of course, are not necessarily directly applicable to the church without some explanation as to how/why; the NT examples feel more forced and don’t give voice to the breadth of leadership models which can be found there.

In short, I couldn’t help feeling that Patterson came into this thesis-writing exercise with a case to make and he has sought to make it, perhaps sometimes to the detriment of a consideration of the full sweep of Scripture and to the appropriateness of his methodology.  If you have the time, you might gain something from reading the book and engaging with his writing for yourself but, otherwise, I suspect the popular-level book might be more helpful given its focus on helping second-chairs to fulfil the role well rather than trying to justify the existence of second chair leadership.

ed. David Male, Pioneers 4 Life: Explorations in theology and wisdom for pioneering leaders

This book includes article-length offerings from various authors, interwoven with stories from pioneering leaders engaged in grass-roots level church and evangelism.  The articles are generally well-written and informative; they include an assessment of the contemporary scene by Graham Cray, insights from Paul and Acts by John Drane and Richard Bauckham respectively, as well as contributions from Mike Moynagh and George Lings.  However, it was the selection of stories from practitioners which most caught my imagination!  Details about some very exciting pioneer work are recorded here and these would be an encouragement to many others who are working at the coal-face of such ministry or contemplating a call to do so.

If you are interested in pioneer ministry, this book will be worth your while, both for its Biblical and theological thinking as well as its stories.  It also includes a helpful list of web-based resources for pioneers which would help you explore this topic further.

Mick Brooks, Faith Hope Love and Everything In Between

Faith Hope Love and Everything In Between is all about guiding the reader into a deeper experience of discipleship.  However, what it doesn’t tell you clearly is who it’s really aimed at.  I would suggest that it would be best for those who have been Christians for less than a year as the material it covers is very basic.  My main criticism is that it doesn’t really seem to have much of a structure or overall focus holding it together, other than ‘life’ and there is nothing about the book, in my opinion, which makes it stand out from other titles on the market.  For these reasons, I didn’t like it.  However, it might be a useful resource to use in basic discipleship with new Christians, perhaps for reading and discussing a chapter at a time, and it does have a great commendation from no less than R.T. Kendall!

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