Saturday, March 19, 2016

Book Review: Church History for Modern Ministry by Dayton Hartman

Introduction

It is my conviction that the modern church as a whole seems lost. In our attempts to remain relevant, in many ways we have become irrelevant.  We have more tools available to spread the message of the gospel, but seem less effective.  Young people are leaving the church and our congregations seem more biblically illiterate than ever before. Where have we gone wrong?  What is the solution?

In Church History for Modern Ministry, Pastor Dayton Hartman believes the answer lies in our past.  The author contends that "[f]or pastors, ignoring the past is both foolish and dangerous" [p. 4] and Hartman knows from experience.  He begins this work explaining his own pilgrimage into studying church history and the impact it had on his worldview and personal ministry.  He explains that a "multi-year journey into church history changed my view of the creeds, preaching, discipleship, pastoral care, and cultural engagement. I am a different and, I believe, better pastor because of church history."[Ibid.]  His studies have convinced him that, "pastoral ministry is maximally effective only if carried out in light of lessons from our history." [p. 3]  Hartman spends the remainder of this short work (90 pages) identifying "a number of dangers inherent to ignoring the past, as well as many benefits to knowing what has come before us." [Ibid.]

Strengths of the Book

This reviewer found Hartman's suggestions thoughtful and extremely practical.  For example, after arguing the benefits of introducing ancient creeds into a worship service, the author offers feasible ways that it can be done:

"Churches can begin to include creeds as part of worship through a number of strategies. I would suggest the following approach. First, recite the Hebrew confession of monotheism, the Shema (Deut 6:4), and Paul’s restatement of it in light of Christ’s revelation (1 Cor 8:6). Then, during Holy Week, your congregation could read the Christ-centered hymn in Philippians 2 (vv. 6–11), as well as Paul’s summary of the evidence of Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor 15:1–11). Allow time in the service to explain these creeds. The congregation could then recite these creeds before learning others, like the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed." [p. 19]

Moreover, his pastoral experience and care for the body of Christ are evident throughout.  For example, when discussing how to introduce creeds to a congregation, he writes:

"The key to introducing anything new into a church’s liturgy is patience and explanation. Don’t rush the process of explanation and implementation. Allow ample opportunity to explain the value of a creed and to connect it to specific passages of Scripture."[p. 21]

This reader was also thrilled to see Hartman's insistence that pastors incorporate apologetics into their weekly sermons.  As he points out:

"...much of Scripture itself is written with an eye toward apologetic implications. The first chapters of Genesis are both a scriptural account of creation and an apologetic against ancient Near Eastern cosmogonies. Even many of the miracles recorded in Scripture are meant to serve apologetic purposes. These miracles range from the plagues in Egypt, demonstrating the futility of Egyptian gods, to the healing miracles performed by Jesus, revealing that he is the Messiah. The text of Scripture is so interwoven with apologetic elements that it is difficult to preach the whole counsel of God without noting those elements and incorporating them into weekly sermons." [p. 41]

Further, after offering examples of apologetics from church history, the author argues "[i]f pastors assume that their listeners know the foundation of a Christian truth claim, like Christ’s deity, their congregations never see those claims unpacked so that they, too, can defend them and build on them. We should not assume that our congregation is in agreement with whatever scriptural propositional claim we are addressing. Thus, in an effort to edify and build up the body of Christ, we must 'contend earnestly for the faith' (Jude 3) from the pulpit so that the pew will be a place of confidence and a place of preparation for cultural engagement.[Ibid.]

It was also refreshing to see the author argue that Christians must stop merely consuming and copying culture, but must once again become creators of culture.  Hartman argues that this return to what was once normative Christianity must begin with pastors:

"Throughout history, the most culturally influential Christians have been pastors: Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Abraham Kuyper, and Francis Schaeffer. Pastors are critical for progress in redeeming and producing culture. We must understand the culture around us, help build redemptive culture, and envision how to create culture." [p. 51]

Moreover, the layout of the book is both easy to follow and down-to-earth for church leaders desiring to implement the author's ideas.  Each chapter ends with a short note to pastors, action steps, reflection questions and recommended reading.  Further, throughout the book Hartman's convictions are supported by examples from the very history he argues we need to recover.

Conclusion

Church History for Modern Ministry is an ideal introduction to church history for anyone interested in learning more about the topic.  Hartman's humor and concise explanations make his work easy to digest while not sacrificing depth or precision.

The shelves at Christian bookstores are filled with books that recommend new ways to preach, teach, disciple and worship; however, Dayton Hartman has successfully argued that the answers to the issues plaguing the modern church can be found in its rich history.

I highly recommend this book!

You can order your copy here.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Many thanks to Dayton Hartman for the review copy!

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