(crossway 2012, $40) Gregg R. Allison 

Gifted theologians offer much guidance in areas like biblical theology, Christology and ethics, but resources that set forth ecclesiology are rarer, particularly from a robust Baptist perspective.

Gregg R. Allison, professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary, fills that void with his latest book, Sojourners and Strangers.

“The church is the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit,” he writes.

Observing that church experience often influences the development of ecclesiology, he examines the sufficiency of Scripture in forming this doctrine and offers helpful tips for distinguishing between normative and relative passages of instruction in the New Testament.

“The church of Jesus Christ itself is a necessary reality,” Allison writes. Emphasizing the role of the church in Christian life, he describes seven characteristics of the church’s origin and vision: doxological, logocentric, pneumadynamic, covenantal, confessional, missional and eschatalogical.

Allison identifies a lack of church discipline as the greatest problem in American evangelical churches and a hindrance to achieving purity. Allison urges churches to practice discipline as a future warning, and reminds them of the presence of Christ through this difficult process.

Since church polity is a defining mark of Baptist ecclesiology, Allison surveys the various offices of the church and summarizes the main forms of church government. Allison advocates plural-elder-led congregationalism, which he argues has historical precedence in Baptist life.

Readers may be surprised to find an academic endorsement of multi-site churches, and should examine the biblical basis for Allison’s arguments; Allison is an elder at Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Ky.

Countering what he sees as apathy in administering ordinances in many churches, Allison offers a theological basis for a careful and deliberate approach to baptism and the Lord’s Supper with local churches.

The final section of the book handles the ministries of the church, which encompasses not only spiritual gifts but also worship, preaching, evangelism, discipleship and member care. Ultimately, according to Allison, “the church is a paradox,” loving her neighbors through culture-building while opposing the fallen world.

Excerpts from the book: 

  1. “To the church Christ has given two signs of this new covenant relationship: baptism, the sign of entrance into the new covenant relationship with God and into the covenant community, the church; and the Lord’s Supper, the sign of ongoing new covenant relationship with God and the covenant community, the church.”
  2. “The church is the missional body commissioned by its head, Jesus Christ, with the same commission with which he was commissioned by the Father. The missional church is identified by and engages in the missio Dei.”
  3. “Failure on the part of Christ-followers to [pursue holiness] should lead to their being disciplined by the church as proleptic and declarative sign of the divine eschatological judgment…The church benefits not only from divine sanction as it engages in church discipline but also from answered prayer and from the presence of Jesus Christ himself.”

See also this post: Church Necessarily: Allison Discusses His New Book