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What Is a Healthy Church Member? (IX Marks) Hardcover – June 9, 2008
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"In an era when Christians seem confused about what kind of community the church ought to be, here's a helpful handbook outlining the church's true biblical priorities, especially as they apply to individual church members."
—John MacArthur, Pastor, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California; President, The Master's College and Seminary
"Given the state of so many of our churches today, this book arrives not a moment too soon."
—R. Albert Mohler Jr., President and Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
"This book provides an excellent and much-needed focus on the individual church member."
—R. C. Sproul, President, Ligonier Ministries; Senior Minister of Preaching, St. Andrew's Chapel, Sanford, Florida
About the Author
Thabiti M. Anyabwile (MS, North Carolina State University) serves as a pastor at Anacostia River Church in Washington, DC, and is the author of numerous books. He serves as a council member of the Gospel Coalition, is a lead writer for 9Marks Ministries, and regularly blogs at The Front Porch and Pure Church. He and his wife, Kristie, have three children.
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What is a Healthy Church Member? is the latest addition to the 9Marks series of books, however this installment is not authored by Mark Dever who is commonly associated with this ministry, rather it has been penned by Thabiti M. Anyabwile. Anyabwile is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman Islands, and from the glowing endorsements by men such as Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., and Dr. R. C. Sproul Sr., to the rather personal and insightful foreword written by Mark Dever, he appears to be more than qualified to write this book.
Anyabwile's introductory chapter describes the story of "Jenny", a typical Christian who upon becoming part of a local church felt as if she was pushed to a corner with no clear guidance as to how one was to live the Christian life. From this impetus, What is a Healthy Church Member? attempts to help those in situations like Jenny's, but also to be a journey of rediscovery for those who do not identify with such an experience. Anyabwile states:
"This little book is written in the hope that you might discover or rediscover what it means to be a healthy member of a local church, and what it means to contribute to the overall health of the church." (p.14)
Following on from his introduction are ten short chapters that outline what Anyabwile believes are the ten marks of a healthy church member. These ten include one who is an Expositional Listener, a Biblical Theologian, Gospel Saturated, Genuinely Converted, a Biblical Evangelist, a Committed Member, one who Seeks Discipline, is a Growing Disciple, a Humble Follower, and finally one who is a Prayer Warrior. Each chapter is geared towards developing and defining its particular mark, and then giving practical ways that one could possibly cultivate that mark in their life, or at least practically examine that area in their own life. Each chapter then concludes with either points to aid further reflection, references to encourage further reading on the subject, or both.
Initially I was very disappointed with the size of the book. I was expecting more than one-hundred-and-seventeen pages to deal with this subject, however I have since realised the wisdom in their decision. The page length and style of writing has made this book extremely accessible for any person who has ever sat in a pew. The truths and exhortations contained within its pages can now easily spread to a much wider audience than if it was twice the length. Furthermore, it is very difficult to remain disappointed and not be immediately impressed when a book makes the following remark in the first paragraph of chapter one:
"The first and most important mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching." (p.19)
It does not stop there. If that distilled portion of Reformation clarity was not enough to keep my head nodding, many other important issues were addressed, even if only indirectly through what Anyabwile positively affirmed. Several stand out issues included addressing the move away from the primacy of the Word of God in the local church (p.19), the false dichotomy which has been established that suggests theology is only for the pastor of a local church (p.27), the reductionism that has removed the gospel from the life of the Christian and isolated it as only applicable to the non-Christian (p.39), the error of "decisionism" in evangelism (p. 60), and the often misunderstood concept of what it means to "pray in the Spirit" (p.110).
Anyabwile's presentation of the gospel, although very succinct still covered essential elements that are often lacking in today's typical evangelical church, including but not limited to God's anger & holiness, sin, punishment, repentance and Christ's active obedience as well as his passive obedience (pp.40-41). An exhortation is made to address lackadaisicalness and ecumenicalism by calling the Christian to guard the gospel from "corruption and abandonment" (p. 45). Even more surprising, and worthy of commendation, the gospel is not only clearly proclaimed, but the reader is actually challenged as to whether they themselves are genuinely converted (p.50).
Certain readers may take issue with Anyabwile's apparent view that non-members are to be restricted from partaking of the ordinances (p. 69), or of his indirect endorsement of certain men throughout the book by listing them as suggested further reading. I personally would have chosen slightly different recommendations in instances given my own doctrinal differences with certain authors. However, as none of these individuals redefine the gospel, this has not inhibited my recommendation of the book.
The greatest concern for any book that attempts to provide practical suggestions for cultivating godly living is the risk that the book becomes a how-to guide for Pharisaicalism, or a stumbling block hindering the view of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ being the source of grace and sanctification. The former is something that one could even charge the Bible with, for the Pharisees did a good job of utilising the Old Testament to this end. However, in a very balanced way the latter is explicitly addressed by Anyabwile in a section entitled A Final Word where he states:
"The council of this book is offered not as a prescription to be taken independent of God's grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ..." (p.116)
In conclusion Thabiti M. Anyabwile's What is a Healthy Church Member? is a must read for all Christians. Many important topics are addressed and much practical insight is given into the life of a regenerate, local church active and Biblically based Christian. I am confident this book will be a highlight in the 9Marks series of books, and if only a fraction of what is discussed is implemented in church member's lives globally through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, the blessing to pastors in ministry, the growth of believers individually as well as corporately, and ultimately the glory given to God will be immense.
The list of recommendations forms a veritable "Who's Who" of conservative Evangelical leaders: John MacArthur, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., R. C. Sproul, etc. They accurately extol the virtues of the book as a biblical handbook on true Christian community. Every pastor should be so delighted by this book that they order a copy for every member. For no pastor can work alone in moving with the Spirit toward the biblically healthy church. It must be a joint effort of equipping pastors and equipped people (see Ephesians 4:11-16).
Pastor Anyabwile (note--Pastor--he practices what he preaches) outlines the ten marks (he adds a tenth that surely Pastor Dever approves of) as follows. The healthy church member is:
1. An expositional listener
2. A biblical theologian
3. Gospel saturated
4. Genuinely converted
5. A biblical evangelist
6. A committed member
7. A seeker of discipline
8. A growing disciple
9. A humble follower
10. A prayer warrior
Each chapter includes a built-in discussion guide, making the book very effective in church small groups and in adult Sunday School classes.
Some reviewers have expressed that Anyabwile has not broken new ground. While I understand what they mean and while I sense their positive meaning in that comment, I would say it differently. As a former pastor, as a current seminary professor training pastors, and as a church consultant, pastors would "die for" (die and go to heaven) a church composed of a congregation with these ten traits. In other words, the "new ground" is that while this is a typical biblical norm for a local church congregation, unfortunately it is not the typical actual norm today. The "new ground" is an engaging, applicable, biblical discussion that can move congregations toward the biblical norm.
Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of "Soul Physicians: A Theology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction," "Spiritual Friends: A Methodology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction," and "Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction."