It should not take another book to explain the radical nature of the way of Christ when compared to non-Christian society. However, sometimes we need to be reminded of the counter-cultural call of Christianity. This is the premise behind Joseph Hellerman’s Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why it Matters Today.
I admit that I expected something different from the book when I decided to read it. I anticipated another book on the wisdom of plural leadership in the church. It certainly is that; but it is more.
Joseph Hellerman begins by showing that Philippi, which is specifically identified in Acts as a Roman colony, was immersed in the culture of honor and prestige that dominated Roman society. He summarizes this by saying, “The people of Philippi had been socialized to embrace the status conscious, honor-oriented values of their cultural world” (p.26). As a Roman colony, Philippi was a “Rome away from Rome.” It is fitting, then, that it was to believers in this church that Paul expounded the selfless self-emptying of Christ in the richly Christological passage of Phil. 2:4-11. Hellerman reminds us that this deep, theologically rich Christology was given in the context of inter-personal behaviors and not in the halls of the academy. Theology is to be lived.
After building upon this and exposing our own culture’s romance with honor and status, the author makes a plea for church leadership that more closely imitates the way of the cross as described in Phil. 2:4-11. We know too well that many churches tend to follow corporate strategies designed more for the business world than for the flock for whom Christ died.
This book is a good exercise in interpreting Scripture in the context in which it was written. We tend to judge the example of Christ by modern concepts of humility. Hellerman clearly shows the absolutely radical nature of Paul’s injunction when viewed through first century Roman lenses.
As I progressed to the latter part of the book, I wondered if Hellerman would take a more extreme approach and denounce leadership out of hand. He does not. He knows that leadership is necessary and that, like nature, it abhors a vacuum. Someone will lead. It is the quality, accountability, and relational nature of that leadership that makes the difference.
Embracing Shared Ministry is a welcomed addition to the body of literature available in church leadership. It may send some sacred cows to the altar, but such sacrifices need to be made.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Kregel Publications as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising