Full Disclosure: I’m a Jared Wilson fan. While I wouldn’t call myself a full-on “fanboy,” I have told my wife on at least one occasion that I want to be Jared when I grow up. (He would be appalled at that statement, for the record.) What I mean is: I want to be a faithful expositor, a gentle and loving pastor, a skilled and challenging writer, and a faithful husband and father. When Paul tells Timothy to put into practice what Timothy sees in Paul’s life, I think of men like Jared Wilson.
With that on the table, then, you’re probably inclined to think that I am incapable of fairly reviewing Wilson’s book, and as a result, my review can’t be trusted. Well, I hope that won’t keep you from taking seriously my next statement:
The Prodigal Church is one of the best books I’ve ever read about ecclesiology, and it needs to be put into the hands of every pastor and seminary student. Full-stop.
In The Prodigal Church, Wilson examines the shift in the American evangelical church toward an “attractional” or “seeker-sensitive” church model. In a measured and fully Biblical manner, Wilson examines the theological and ideological underpinnings of these approaches to “doing church.” He praises what is praiseworthy and critiques what is deserving of criticism. Wilson raises questions that need to be raised and challenges assumptions we in the Evangelical church make about how we conduct ourselves in corporate gatherings. (In a sense, he’s pulling an “Ian Malcolm”–pushing past the question of “if we could” to ask “if we should.”)
One of the sections that I thought was particularly powerful was his examination of the role of pastor-as-shepherd, and how the “CEO model” of church leadership completely misses the power and weight of the Scriptural office of pastor. When talking about Jesus’ instruction to Peter to “feed My sheep,” Wilson writes:
Jesus is referring to a shepherd’s personal care for the flock, and specifically He is helping Peter see that his (Peter’s) role must reflect the work of Christ Himself. “If you love me,” in other words, “you will do for others what I have done for you.” And we do not see Jesus simply handing out resources and programs to His disciples, but sitting with them, walking with them, eating with them, praying with them, touching them and correcting them. He does not hide behind His office door labeled, “Messiah for Preaching and Vision.” He is sweating and crying and sleeping in front of them. And He dies for them.
Wilson goes on to say that this means “we ought to put an end to the notion that The Program is the key to spiritual growth… Systems may aid the discipleship process, but discipleship is not a system.”
I really appreciated that the subtitle bore out in the content of the book: The Prodigal Church is most definitely a manifesto–but it is truly and sincerely gentle. Wilson writes with honesty and directness, but also with a disarming humility. He gently and pastorally pleads his case, and does so convincingly.
I also appreciated Wilson’s final chapter, in which he shares some very honest and painful stories from his own life. At first his account might seem irrelevant and perhaps even inappropriate, but Wilson does this to demonstrate how the true message of the Gospel provides hope for people who are struggling, and how the Church’s mission is to be a beacon of that Gospel hope.
Who Should Read This:
If you are not interested in questions of how the Christian Church functions, then this book won’t interest you.
However, if you have concerns about church growth and methodology, or you want the local church to function in a healthy and holy manner, this book is incredibly important and applicable.
So here’s my pitch:
- If you are in full-time ministry, buy and read this book immediately. It will bless you and challenge you.
- If you are a lay-person and a church member, buy this book and give it to your pastor. Write a nice note letting him know that you appreciate his ministry and faithfulness and want to encourage him, and include that note with the book.
- If you’re a Christian but not a church member, get connected to a Bible-believing local church. Seriously, I shouldn’t have to remind you.
I’m serious about this: Read the book. I’m planning on buying several copies for pastors I know, as an encouragement to stay faithful to the Scriptures when it comes to serving the church of God.
Please Note: I was provided a free electronic copy of the book under review from the publisher, Crossway, in exchange for an unbiased review. The above comments are my sincere opinions of the book reviewed.