The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today
Baker, Willian R., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today. By Everett Ferguson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996, 463 pp., $35.00 paper.
Everett Ferguson, professor emeritus at Abilene Christian University, made his name among Biblical scholars a generation ago with his still widely used Backgrounds of Early Christianity. His most recent effort, The Church of Christ, travels a different road but bears all the marks of a much-loved area of study to which he has devoted a lifetime of thought and teaching. As he acknowledges in his preface, this book is a Bible class, one that he has taught and developed over a lifetime, no doubt.
To say it is a Bible class is by no means a reproach. Indeed, this is its greatest asset. It is readable yet substantive. It covers all the key issues, does careful exegesis when necessary, and is chock-full of Biblical references for thoughtful students who wish to develop further their own theology of the church.
With six major sections entitled, "The People and the Messiah," "The Church and Her Lord," "The Church and Her Savior," "The Church and Her High Priest," "The Church and Her Bishop" and "The Church and Her Teacher," Ferguson's organization of the material in itself conveys his theology: In all its aspects, the church is rooted in and reflects Christ. All the major concerns of ecclesiology are addressed: Covenant, kingdom, community, the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation, membership, worship, ministry, ordination, church organization, ethics, discipline and unity. Yet, nowhere else will one read 14 pages on the doctrine of "assembly" or find a section on the theology of "singing."
The book includes numerous aspects that make it student-friendly. One is the regular appearance of numbered lists, either summarizing key points following involved discussion (e.g. the kingdom, election), drawing out implications from Biblical study (e.g. people of God, the body of Christ), or lining up what can be known Biblically in an area of interest (e.g. "The Spirit in the Life and Work of Jesus," "What is Sin Not?"). Another is Ferguson's patient analysis of the meaning of key terms, whether Greek (body of Christ), Hebrew (covenant), or English (worship).
Some might criticize Ferguson's effort as weak concerning footnotes and bibliography, which he duly acknowledges in the preface. However limited and somewhat dated (rarely reaching into the 1980s), secondary references to which he refers are solid. Contact with the Biblical, authoritative text is this book's chief asset. Perhaps disregarded as old-fashioned by some, most JETS readers will find it refreshing in this regard.
Ferguson's roots are in the Stone-Campbell restoration movement. Although churches of this origin usually identify themselves as evangelical, their doctrinal positions in some areas lie on the fringe of acceptability to evangelical scholars. Unlike evangelicals, whose passion has always focused on Christology and soteriology, StoneCampbell restorationists have always put their heart, preaching and study into understanding the Church and particularly its unity. …