Book Review: By Whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Life

By Whose Authority? Elders In Baptist LifeBy Whose Authority? Elders In Baptist Life by Mark Dever
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This brief book takes up the question of multiple elders in Baptist churches. Dever approaches the answer from Scripture, Baptist history, and practicality. The scriptural arguments section is a survey of the instances of elder(s) in the New Testament. He notes the interchange of elders, overseers, and pastors to describe the same local church office of leadership. Dever also references the use of the plural for this office in reference to a singular church in the New Testament. It is worth noting that the New Testament does not use the singular for the office with either the singular or plural for churches.

Dever quotes from historic Baptist confessions of faith as well as the writings of various Baptists in history that refer to the practice of multiple elders. He may not have put it in quite these terms but I believe Baptists in history have a unique polity from other groups where Baptists have upheld independent, autonomous churches that practice elder-led congregational polity. Not only are Baptists historically distinct in this, but also biblical.

The last section seemed the briefest of the three. Dever succinctly touches on practical aspects of plural leadership. This section wanted a more extensive treatment. The book is probably a good introduction to the subject. It can be read in less than an hour and does touch on major points. Again, it’s concise and not an extended treatment, but helpful.

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Book Review: Preach: Theology Meets Practice

Preach: Theology Meets PracticePreach: Theology Meets Practice by Mark Dever
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seldom does any book stand as a definitive and exhaustive treatment of its subject. Looking for such a book is often a futile effort. Typically, the value of a book will lie in the way it fits into the gaps and contributes to a larger subject. That is why I think this book is so worthy of attention. It is certainly not an exhaustive treatment on preaching, nor a technical how-to in preparing and delivering sermons. It is a good practical discussion on preaching.

This book is particularly helpful in the realm of preaching application. Most preaching seems to be one of two extremes on application. Some preaching tries to be all application all the time and fails to preach the contextual meaning of passage. This results in very man-centered preaching, consoling and cementing people’s natural tendency to think the Bible is primarily about them. Sitting under that sort of preaching over time will not mature a person in the faith, nor it will it increase their knowledge of God through what his word actually reveals about him.

The second extreme is either a sort of spiritual meditation out loud in front of people, or a mere doctrinal lecture that remains abstract and ultimately disconnected from real life. Even when true things are said with this method, it fails as any actual preaching of God’s word. People are not matured in the faith, but are only entertained or intellectually stimulated.

When a preacher gets up to preach, he has two things primarily in front of him–the Bible and people. His job is to explain what the Bible says and means and then apply that to the actual lives of the actual people in front of him. This kind of preaching is founded first on an accurate explanation of the biblical passage and then a processing of its meaning to the real flesh and blood people in the seats. The preacher must first know what the passage means in its original context and then must work through what it means to unbelievers present, new believers present, mature believers present, the local church membership present, men present, women present, etc.

How many times have pastors been frustrated by poor attendance only to get up and preach against miss church and the poor attenders, true to form, are not there? Preachers have to think about who will be there and take care to preach to them. I could say more, but I highly recommend this book. Every preacher ought to read it, and he ought to start right away.

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Book Review: The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel

The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the GospelThe Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel by Mark Dever
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a practical, ground-up look at a healthy church. Elements of church structure and operation may not seem the most interesting concepts to read about, but they are vital to the health of a local church. I highly recommend “9 Marks of a Healthy Church,” and this book is a perfect companion to it. The first communicates the vision and direction and the second helps see how to get there.

Pastors are responsible to care and watch for all the flock they serve. At the very least, this book will help pastors identify holes in their pastoral care and give some practical advice on how to fill them in.

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Book Review: Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus

Church Elders: How to Shepherd God's People Like Jesus (9Marks: Building Healthy Churches)Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus by Jeramie Rinne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’ve never given the subject of elders in a local congregation serious thought, you might be surprised by how many passages in the New Testament speak to it. This book isn’t an exhaustive, doctrinal defense of elders in a local church. It is more practical than that and that might be the key to this brief book’s usefulness. It isn’t usually a doctrinal objection people make to plural eldership, but rather a practical one. Independent Baptist churches largely abandoned the practice in the twentieth century, so many church members have never seen it done.

The greatest difficulty for many is in conceptualizing how multiple elders would work together. Then, because their conception of the purpose and practice of elders is formed from their imaginations, they conclude it isn’t necessary today, or only necessary in an extreme circumstance such as a large membership. Many have the question: What does it look like? This where Jeramie Rinne’s book can serve as good soft introduction to the subject. He tackles the subject from a practical perspective and gives various views into what it looks like.

It could also be a helpful book for men who have some gifting and a desire to serve, but question or wrestle with whether they should be the “main guy.” I think we can unintentionally restrict the room for service in the leadership of a church. Single-elder pastors often burn out under the load one man cannot carry, or a pastor dies or becomes medically unable to continue, and a church often faces a painful transition. Ultimately, we fail to raise up leadership and the health and growth of a local church is stunted.

This is a helpful book for pastors and church members alike.

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Book Review: Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons

Finding Faithful Elders and DeaconsFinding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti M. Anyabwile
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a practical treatment and resource on elders and deacons. Anyabwile’s writing is accessible, plain, and not overbearing. We often do not think of our responsibility in “finding” such men as candidates for elders and deacons. We suppose they will just appear or be brought to us ready to go, even though Paul instructed Timothy differently. How do we go about identifying and preparing men for these vital roles in the congregation? This book is written to answer that question and does so ably and practically.

The book is also useful for those already in these roles. As the author works through the various issues and qualities required of a man in these offices, you will be convicted and challenged. You will recognize places where you fall short, and, if you’re like me, feel it painfully. The practical nature of the book and the advice given helps give a roadmap for identifying weaknesses and moving toward growth and faithfulness.

Pastors, deacons, and church members can all be benefited from reading this book. Men who are wrestling with these offices and calls to service will also be benefited from reading this book.

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