Monday 23 December 2013

Book Review: "The Message of the Church" by Chris Green

The Message of the Church: Assemble the people before me, Chris Green
Nottingham:IVP, 2013.

Perhaps one of the most needed topics for recovery in the Western evangelical church is the doctrine of the church. Therefore, it was with eagerness that I dove into the chapters of this book, filled with a deep personal interest and not just to read this book as a book reviewer. The early chapters 1-3 provide a stimulating backdrop to the enormous significance of the author’s subject. He writes that: “to begin to understand the church we need a well-read Bible and a long timescale” (19). Chapters 2 and 3 give a further biblical theological basis for the church, which expounds from Ephesians, Genesis, Galatians and Colossians.

However, as you get into the book, Chris Green’s own particular brand of the church, which is popular evangelical Anglicanism, becomes increasingly evident and pragmatism seems to trump careful exegesis on specific details. He begins to make dramatic assertions, for example on public worship he writes: “There is no biblical warrant for referring to our time together uniquely as ‘worship’ ” (77). He then makes the contemporary move to propose that “all of life is worship” but this conclusion is not founded on sound exegesis or historical precedent. These ideas which are so common in British evangelicalism deserve a clear refutation, but this review is not the time for that.

Chapter 5 presents a refreshing exposition of the famous words of Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16:13-20. Sadly, much of the remainder of the book includes a range of significant omissions concerning the doctrine of the church. These include: the Christian Sabbath or the Lord’s Day, the place of the Law, the need for reformed confessions, a clear model of eldership instead of the oft quoted concept of leadership or church ministries, the priority of the preaching of pure doctrine, and worship regulated by Scripture. The placing of pure pragmatism before theological principle is encapsulated in the final chapter with the glowing commendation of Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Church”. Green asserts that when he was a pastor he believed that “no other book had the explanatory simplicity of Warren’s” (297). Green’s portrayal of the church in practical terms is quite fluid, and this leaves me questioning many aspects of his presentation.

In sum, there is still much work to be done in recovering a robust doctrine of the church in the West; one which is reformed in its worship, doctrine and church government. It is my hope that future responses could be made to help “fill the gaps” to this kind of incomplete ecclesiology, which is espoused by many of our Anglican evangelical friends.

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