My friend Jonathan Leeman is the director of communications for 9Marks and edits their eJournal. It has been a blessing to know him for lo these many years now, and I’m excited about the appearance of his first book, The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline.
Jonathan was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book–even giving the inside scoop on the cover:
Can you tell me in one sentence why people should read this book?
I hope it will offer people an opportunity to reconsider wrong ideas they have about God’s love, what God’s love is really like, and what this means for our commitments to our local churches.
Okay now that I’m hooked, can you tell me in one paragraph why people should read this book?
I think that God has unbelievably glorious plans for the local church. He means for it to display the very nature of his holy love to all the world. The problem is, we, even we who are Reformed evangelicals, can have idolatrous conceptions of love and wrong-headed conceptions of holiness and authority that cause us to miss what the bounded, accountable life of the local church should look like as it practices membership and discipline. (In fact, I argue that a lot of the recent popular and academic treatments of the local church miss the boat right here.) So even before we can talk about church membership and discipline, we need to go back and consider our understanding of God’s love and authority. The book is a book about church membership and discipline, but I don’t really begin building the biblical and systematic case for membership and discipline until chapters 4 and 5, because chapters 1 to 3 are spent trying to drastically undermine and then rebuild the worldview universe we’re living in. After several hundred years of individualism, consumerism, commitment-phobia, and skepticism, it’s like we’re living in the wrong universe, and so cannot even begin to consider what our relationships to the local church should be until we first place ourselves in the right universe. In the last two chatpers (6 and 7), I try to be much more practical about what it all actually looks like. What does it mean to really submit yourself to loving that strange, step-on-your-toes group of people down the street called the local church?
I notice the word Love in the title of the book, the titles of all three parts of the book, and in the titles of each chapter. The word Offense is only in the book’s title. So is this going to be a love-fest or are you going to offend me?! My serious question is this: should I expect to find a surprising offense in each discussion of love in this book, or is there only one initial surprising offense, and once I’m past that it’s over?
Chapter 1 examines our idolatrous conceptions of love–a conception of love in which I AM AT THE CENTER. LOVE MEEEEEE!!!!! Chapter 2 presents the antidote–the offensive love of God, a love in which GOD IS AT THE CENTER!!!! May I offer a quote from chapter 2?
Since God is the greatest object of God’s love, God’s gospel, in spite of the things that the world might like about it, ultimately offends us. After all, God’s gospel involves applying God’s own righteousness through faith to the sinner, leaving the sinner with nothing to boast in. All glory goes to God with God’s gospel (Rom. 3:21-27). Not to us….And since God is the greatest object of God’s love, God’s church, in spite of the things that the world might like about it, ultimately offends us. After all, the church is the very outpost of people who have capitulated to this offensively self-glorying God. These traitors have been duped into promoting this megalomaniac. They’re supporting his regime. What about our ways and our glory?!
The book’s cover is focused on a fence, with a blurry church in the background. Was this your idea and would you like to comment on it?
The cover was Matt Schmucker’s idea. Matt is my boss and the executive director of 9Marks. The fence is meant to be provocative. Many Christians these days have managed to absorb the culture’s inclusivistic, all-embracing sensibilities. The idea here, I think, is to say to Christians, just as Eden had an inside and an ouside, and Israel had an inside and an outside, so does the local church. Why? Because God’s love in fact has an inside (that which is holy) and an outside (that which is not).
Thanks for the questions, Jim. My hope for the book is not that Christians would learn to be more exclusivistic, but to grow in wonder for God’s holy love, and to see how this wonder should translate into submitting oneself to seeking the good of a concrete group of people called the local church.
Thank you, Jonathan, and congratulations on the book!
May it be read and discussed by elders, deacons, and small groups everywhere, and may the Lord use it to teach us to know him and love the church he bought with his own blood.