Saturday, January 27, 2018

Book Write-Up: Biblical Leadership

Benjamin K. Forrest and Chet Roden, ed.  Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader.  Kregel Academic, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader has thirty-three chapters, plus an Introduction and an Epilogue.  It goes through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, to discern what the Bible teaches about leadership.  It does not have a separate chapter on each book of the Bible, for it clusters some books together into single chapters.  It largely discusses leadership within the church, but sometimes it discusses other forms of leadership that people may exercise within their circles of influence.  Not surprisingly, the contributors to the book come from a conservative Christian academic perspective.  There were big names who contributed, such as Walter Kaiser, Jr., Tremper Longman III, Edwin M. Yamauchi, and others.  I know two of the contributors to this volume, in that I went to graduate school with them.

I am giving this book four stars out of five.  For a while, I was thinking of giving it three stars, but the New Testament section was especially excellent.  The Old Testament section was all right, but, overall, it was rather Sunday school-ish:  The footnotes engaged with scholarship, but several of the chapters brought up points that may strike one as obvious: that leaders should be servants, should be considerate towards others, should be willing to share the spotlight, and should care more about what God thinks than fearing human opinion.  These are valuable points, and perhaps many would benefit from reading them.  For that matter, maybe I need to be reminded of them.  Indeed, the Old Testament section could be edifying, since it attempts to draw moral lessons from the Bible.  Still, I prefer books in which I learn something.  Plus, while most of the book derived lessons from the biblical text, some in the book used the text as a launchpad to support popular leadership strategies.

The Old Testament section did have its moments.  Tremper Longman’s chapter on the Book of Eccleasiastes presented a helpful model of the book, in which a father is relaying the teaching of Qoheleth to his son, agreeing with some aspects of Qoheleth’s teaching but not others.  This is a helpful model because my impression is that liberal scholarship often presents some editor redacting Qoheleth to make him look more pious, and Longman’s model acknowledged redaction but also a coherency to the final form of the book.  Yamauchi’s consideration of the story of Nehemiah in light of Megabazos’ revolt was also interesting.

In some cases, some elaboration would have been nice.  For example, the essay on Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi said that Malachi’s audience misunderstood God’s word in that they thought that, well, the glowing prophesies of Haggai, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah would actually be fulfilled in their time.  For example, Haggai predicted wealth for post-exilic Israel after the Temple was rebuilt, that did not happen, and the Jews Malachi addressed were disappointed.  What exactly did they misunderstand, though?  I recognize that the author of the chapter wants to treat both Haggai and Malachi as infallible prophets, but perhaps he should have come up with models, at least in the footnotes, as to how both prophets could be correct.  There are models one can propose, such as that Malachi’s audience was hindering the fulfillment of God’s promise through sin and disrespect for God, or that the wealth would come in the future.

Now let me sing the praises of the New Testament section.  Like the Old Testament section, the New Testament section explored biblical terms that relate to leadership.  Unlike the Old Testament chapter, the New Testament chapter discussed the difficulty of defining ancient words, let alone applying them to modern questions; maybe the author was making the issue more difficult than it had to be, but it was refreshing to see some struggle with the book’s overall project.  The author also wryly remarked that the synoptic Gospels say little about leadership: they talk about discipleship to Jesus, and one of the few passages that is about leadership is the one in which James and John wrongfully request to sit on Jesus’ right and left hand!

The chapter on John’s Gospel attempted to argue that John was written before 70 C.E., whereas most scholars date it much later.

Joseph Hellerman’s chapters were especially good, even though I had some reservations about them.  One chapter argued that Paul was actually serving his fellow Christians in Acts 16 when he refused to parade his citizenship to avoid a beating.  The chapter seemed to be suggesting that perhaps pastors can follow this example by giving up their parking spaces or pay.  In my opinion, that is not necessary or even beneficial: pastors need parking spaces because they have a job at the church, so their presence there is important, and, regarding pay, Paul said that a laborer is worthy of his hire (I Timothy 5:17-18; cp. I Corinthians 9:9).  Hellerman’s other chapter was beautiful in that it highlighted that Paul worked with others and knew and cared about the people in his congregations.  This is important, but the chapter seemed to be suggesting that all Christians should be extroverts, without seeking to understand or propose remedies for those who may struggle to reach out to others.

The chapter on the pastorals was good in that it defined the attributes that Paul thought leaders of the church should have, while contrasting those attributes with those of the false teachers whom Paul was criticizing.

Amy Peeler’s chapter on Hebrews, James, and Jude presents leaders as coaches.  The author of Hebrews, for instance, does not discipline his immature audience but gets into deeper material, in hope that his audience will catch up.  Peeler supports church discipline, as does the Bible, but she believes that there are times when God alone knows enough to discipline someone.

Meanwhile, Peter H. Davids, in his chapter on I-II Peter, promoted submission to church authorities, while appealing to monasticism.  Such a concept can be abused and is not absolute, as Davids acknowledges.  Still, within reason, there may be something valuable to it.

The book had more highs and “mehs” than highs and lows.  It was ultimately worth the read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

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