Book Review: The Community of Jesus, ed. by Christopher Morgan and Kendell Easley
Morgan, Christopher W., and Kendell H. Easley, eds. The Community of Jesus: A Theology of the Church. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2013. $24.99.
“This thoughtful introduction to the doctrine of the church rightly roots its systematic theology in biblical theology.”
That’s my one-sentence endorsement of this book. Now I’ll unpack it.
When I teach the Bible, I focus on five disciplines:
- Exegesis analyzes what the authors who wrote the Bible intended to communicate. The authors of the Bible make arguments, and the best exegetes are simply good readers who accurately trace arguments.
- Biblical theology makes organic, salvation-historical connections, especially regarding how the Old and New Testament integrate. How do major themes like covenant and law and the people of God progress throughout Scripture? How much continuity and discontinuity is there?
- Historical theology surveys and evaluates how significant exegetes and theologians have understood the Bible and theology. The attitude that “all I need is just me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit” is arrogant because the Holy Spirit has illumined the minds of so many others.
- Systematic theology builds on the former three disciplines to draw systemic conclusions (organized on atemporal principles of logic) with reference to the whole Bible. What does the whole Bible teach about _______ (fill in the blank)?
- Practical theology applies the other four disciplines to help people glorify God.
It’s impossible to completely separate any one discipline from the others in such a way that the others have no affect on it. For example, you can’t do exegesis in a vacuum entirely apart from biblical or systematic theology, and systematic theology that isn’t based on accurate exegesis is bad theology. Ideally, biblical theology builds on exegesis, and systematic theology builds on biblical theology. But all five of these disciplines interrelate. And they culminate in doxology. (On this theological method, I’m following my mentor, Don Carson.)
I love how in the many books that Chris Morgan (co)edits he focuses on the above five disciplines in an edifying way. This 9-chapter book on the church is no exception.
Chapters 1–5 focus on exegesis and biblical theology: an OT theology of the people of God (Paul House); the church according to the Gospels (Andreas Köstenberger); the church in Acts and Revelation (Kendell Easley); the church in Paul’s letters (David Dockery); and the church in the general epistles (Ray Van Neste). Chapter 6 focuses on historical theology: the church in history (James Patterson). Chapter 7 blends biblical and systematic theology: the church as God’s new covenant community (Steve Wellum). Chapter 8 blends biblical, systematic, and practical theology: the church and God’s glory (Chris Morgan). And chapter 9 focuses on practical theology: the church in the mission of God (Bruce Ashford).
The very structure of this book positions it for success. And it does succeed. It wrestles with the key texts on the people of God throughout Scripture, shrewdly synthesizes the themes, and warmly applies it to God’s people today.
My favorite chapters are 7 and 8 because they skillfully and compellingly integrate the theological disciplines. Wellum’s chapter condenses his recent book with Peter Gentry, and Morgan’s chapter builds on his previous work on the glory of God.
When you have a solid grasp of how a theme develops across the Bible’s storyline in Scripture, you are able to trace that theme from a number of starting points. For example, you may be preaching or teaching through the Gospel of John and come to John 2:19: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” You may then zoom out so that you can trace the trajectory of the temple theme across the Bible’s storyline—from Eden, to the tabernacle, to Solomon’s temple, to Ezekiel’s temple, to Zerubbabel’s temple, to Jesus as the temple, to the tearing of the temple’s curtain, to the church as the temple, to the individual Christian’s body as the temple, to the heavenly temple, and all the way to its culmination in Rev 21:22: “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” Then you could zoom back in to John 2 and reflect on the significance of that passage in light of how it fits in the trajectory from Eden to the new heavens and new earth.
That is what makes a book like The Community of Jesus so valuable. It equips the reader with a theological framework so that when they encounter the theme of the people of God in Scripture they can zoom out and then back in to reflect on the significance of that passage in light of how it fits in the Bible’s storyline, and what that may imply for God’s people today.
The doctrine of the church has an ultimate end. Rightly studied, ecclesiology culminates in doxology: “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph 3:21).