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The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love – Some Short Reflections

February 16, 2010

I read through Jonathan Leeman’s The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love this past week.  When I picked it up, I thought, Do I want to read 360 pages on church membership and discipline? Not that I think that church membership and discipline is an unworthy topic, its just daunting.  I got the same feeling when I first started Greg Wills’ book Democratic Religion (historical look at the practice of Church Discipline in 19th century Georgia baptist churches) or Mark Dever’s Polity.

Yet, Leeman does something surprising.  He starts with God’s love, which is displayed in the Gospel.  Then he makes the case that the Gospel is “tightly tied” to the structure of the church’s life together.  If we dismiss one – the Gospel or the structure of church life – as trivial or, even, peripheral, it has massive implications for the other.  I loved Leeman’s approach to this issue.  Let me give four reasons why I loved this book:

  1. Its the best book on the love of God since Carson’s The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.  That may sound like a ridiculous statement about a book on church membership and discipline, but I don’t think its misguided.  Leeman grounds the love of God in a biblical understanding of the Gospel and how Christians should function together as the body of Christ.  The love of God is not an etherial concept, but a subject of deep consequence for Christians and how they care for one another.
  2. Leeman allows the Bible to speak on its own terms.  Rather than allowing culture or felt needs to inform the issue of God’s love or the church’s life together, Leeman defines them in the context of the redemptive history of Scripture.  This ground is rarely broken in discussions on membership and discipline.
  3. Leeman answers all the difficult questions.  Those, like Leeman, who argue for the Christ-given authority in the Church to regulate membership and discipline its members are faced with many accusations of neglecting the love of Christ in favor of authoritative, loveless exclusivism.  Leeman doesn’t evade the difficult issues, nor does he neglect the love of Christ.  His answers are lucid and clear.
  4. The Gospel is offensive to our culture and Leeman doesn’t take the offense out of it.  He argues, convincingly, that we must not take the offense out of Church membership and discipline either, for the sake of the Gospel.
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