Friday, March 21, 2014
book review: 58 to 0
John Zens and Graham Wood have collected an eclectic mix of 27 articles on leadership within the church, 12 of them bearing Zens' name. The basic premise is that the emphasis in the New Testament is on body life (one another's) and not on hierarchical leadership. So how has the church wandered so far from this? Zens (and others) takes issue with the solo pastor model, suggesting that there is no analog for this in scripture. What has happened, Zens suggests, is that for much of its history, the church has merely reflected the leadership models of society (business and government) instead of the ministry of service as exemplified by Jesus and confirmed in the early church. Many of the authors also suggest that this tendency towards authoritarian leadership has diverted attention away from the Church's one true leader, Jesus.
This book has a lot going for it. The editors have compiled a good sample of writings on the topic of church leadership from a variety of perspectives including church history, literature, language usage, tradition, common church practice, and Greek word studies. There is also an impressive list of over 200 sources on the final pages if one is interested in further study. In general the articles provoke one to question how we have come to our present practices of church leadership, especially the reliance on the single office of pastor/priest/bishop. The articles that I found especially thought-provoking were ones by Zens and Frank Viola which dig deeper into the use of words such as "head," "authority," and "office" in the New Testament and one by Judy Schindler which traces the origin of hierarchy (one bishop rule) in church history. I also smiled a lot while reading Darryl M. Erkel's piece on honorific titles. Here is a quote which I found particularly amusing: "...it is just as foolish and unnecessary to speak of 'Pastor Bob' as it is to speak of one who possesses the gift or function of hospitality as 'Hospitality Harry'; or one who has the gift of mercy as 'Mercy Mary'; or one who has the gift of giving as 'Giving George.'" (p. 86) Didn't that make you smile?
There are also a few things I had issues with. At times Zens overstates his point, one example being when he suggests that the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon had nothing to do with Christ and everything to do with human power and control (p. 35, 41). I see what he is saying, however, this sweeping generalization fails to acknowledge that there have been people of devotion and genuine faith throughout all of church history; at the very least Zens could have acknowledged that we are not privy to the underlying motivations of historical figures. Not everything is as cut and dried as Zens and the other authors sometimes make it out to be.
In addition, I found a few minor style problems (I am referring to Zens here): a mixed metaphor ("Whenever the aroma of the foot-washing Christ is snuffed out, power-hungry church leaders will fill the religious vacuum." p. 46), an awkward sentence which could have benefited from some clarification (" History reveals that many rushed after the easy way of fleshly control and power in the post-apostolic church...." p. 19), and the occasional unsubstantiated, bold statement ("Roman Catholicism has instilled fear and suspicion into its adherents." p. 179), but perhaps I am just being picky. More importantly, aside from a brief mention in the foreword by Milt Rodriguez, virtually no reference is made to the significance of the title (there are 58 mentions of "one another" in the New Testament). I was hoping for some unpacking of these "one another's" and some exposition of their implications for body life and church leadership. No such luck.
An assumption which seems prevalent in this collection is that the early church experience was pretty much perfect and we should model ourselves after it. Judging by the letters which Paul wrote to these faith communities, it would seem that they had their problems just like the rest of us, so I would have appreciated a bit more rigorous engagement with the early church reality instead of simply pointing back to it as if to say: "See! That's how Jesus meant it to be!"
One of my favourite quotes incorporated by Zens is from Henri Nouwen. It seems to get at the heart of what the authors in this collection are trying to say: "Power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life. Jesus asks, 'Do you love me?' We ask, 'Can we sit at your right hand and your left hand in your Kingdom?'" (Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, 77) (quoted by Zens, p. 38).
58 to 0 is a handy, thought-provoking little book for those questioning or rethinking the status quo of church structure and leadership.While the depth of study and scholarship does not constitute a hearty, full meal on the subject (the chapters are on average 5-6 pages long), the articles certainly offer up a variety of savoury appetizers one can nibble on. Please excuse the food analogy, I am obviously hungry.
This book is provided to me courtesy of the publisher and SpeakEasy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.