Having spent some time in seminary classrooms, if I’m being honest, when someone suggests a new book on Biblical leadership I get a bit nauseous. It is not that I find the topic boring or irrelevant, but because I have found the publishing field full of soft books written to make leadership “easy” and palatable. “Here’s ten ways to manage a congregation so that you can have Saturday all to yourself!” While such practical issues do matter, I find the self-help concept to be contrary to Christian leadership. As such, I was not overly excited about a book subtitled Theology for the Everyday Leader. But Forrest and Roden’s table of contents challenged me to look beyond the cover, with names like Benjamin Merkle, Andreas Kostenberger, and Robert B. Chisholm Jr. (to name only a few) telling me that there was something else going on within these leaves.
It would be next to impossible to give the book any serious treatment in the space of a blog post. There are some chapters that need some deep push-back (such as “The Priestly Prism” by David M. Maas), while there are others that push back against my own view such that I was greatly challenged by them (like “Conflict Resolution” by Stanley Porter). So given such constraints, I’d rather highlight a couple of essays which I think represent the core of the book. These essays bring the best of biblical interpretation to bear on the way church leaders operate in a modern context, and present these matters in a broad enough way (while not abandoning the position of the author) so that any stripe of Christian might benefit from their insights.
The first essay worth consideration is Tremper Longman’s “Leading in a Fallen World: Leadership in Ecclesiastes” (172-183). Longman has a particular view on Ecclesiastes, and he unpacks his two narrator framework at the beginning. Regardless of one’s agreement, Longman deftly maneuvers throughout the enigmatic Old Testament book to show how “‘under the sun’ thinking” is helpful to earthly leaders, even if it is not enough (176). But this is to be balanced with the “above the sun” wisdom that can also be found in Ecclesiastes (180). The views work together to suggest how a leader might “remove thorns and thistles from our gardens” knowing that they will “grow back” sooner than we’d like (182). Longman weaves Hebrew exegesis, historical studies, and interpretive questions into one big picture about leadership for the Christian living in the present. It is an excellent example of how the Ivory Tower and the Man on the Street should be connected.
The second essay is Joseph Hellerman’s “Community and Relationships: Leadership in Pauline Theology” (423-437). I’ve encountered Hellerman’s ideas before, and found much of those previous ideas present in his two essays included in this volume. But the format allowed for interesting insights. Even if one does not adhere to Hellerman’s plurality format for leadership, his exposition of Paul’s relational approach (430) and the various ways this is evidenced in Paul’s letters (432) will challenge church leaders to consider the way they relate to those who are part of the congregation.
Biblical Leadership is a resource that every pastor, lay leader, or Christian leader outside the church would do well to have on hand. The essays allow for a “take one” approach, so that the essays that seem pertinent can be explored at will. But every essay brings something to the table for leaders to consider. Shepherds and servants should spend some time digging deep into the Biblical explorations within these pages.