Gregg R. Allison
Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012
I wish Sojourners and Strangers had been written when I was in seminary. It is both theological and practical, and it is the most comprehensive book on the doctrine of the church I have ever read. The author Gregg Allison, a veteran to ministry, currently serves as the professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. In reading this book I was impressed by Allison’s command of biblical studies, systematic theology, church history, and practical theology.
To give you an idea of the breadth of coverage of this 471 page book, check out the table of contents:
PART ONE: Foundational Issues
Chapter 1: Introduction to Ecclesiology
Chapter 2: The Church of the New Covenant
PART TWO: The Biblical Vision – Characteristics of the Church
Chapter 3: Characteristics Regarding the Origin and Orientation of the Church
Chapter 4: Characteristics Regarding the Gathering and Sending of the Church
PART THREE: The Vision Actualized – The Growth of the Church
Chapter 5: The Purity and Unity of the Church
Chapter 6: Church Discipline
PART FOUR: The Government of the Church
Chapter 7: The Offices of the Church
Chapter 8: Types of Church Government
Chapter 9: A Model of Church Governance
PART FIVE: The Ordinances of the Church
Chapter 10: Baptism
Chapter 11: The Lord’s Supper
PART SIX: The Ministries of the Church
Chapter 12: The Ministries of the Church
PART SEVEN: Conclusion
At the end of the book there is an eleven page Scripture index listing all the Bible passages mentioned in the book, as well as an eleven page general index listing all the subjects and theologians referred to.
Allison begins by looking at foundational issues related to the church, then moves to more practical issues. He examines different traditions and various viewpoints among theologians and denominations, but in the end he does not shy away from giving his own position, which he always supports biblically.
Here are just a few of the specific positions Allison takes: churches should be congregational in government, but not independent. Rather they should be interconnected with other churches. They should be elder-led, which includes the pastor, but also have deacons. He also makes a limited case for deaconesses based on his exegesis of 1 Tim. 3:11, which he does not believe refers to the wives of deacons. He points out that “their” in most of our translations is not in the original Greek. Also, the verse begins with “likewise”, which sets it up as parallel to deacons in 3:8.
Allison is complementarian, not egalitarian, in his view of marriage. As to the cessationist – continuationist debate on the use of spiritual gifts, he favors the latter. Regarding baptism he fairly and biblically sets forth both paedobaptism (infant baptism) and credobaptism (believer’s baptism), but believes that the latter has more support in the New Testament.
In my opinion his chapter on church discipline is especially good. Some of his teaching on the church were somewhat new to me; for example, his exegesis of Paul’s teaching on the care of widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-16, from which he drew out principles to help churches to know how to help needy members of the church.
In the final chapter the author explains some of the paradoxes of the church, such as the church standing in both continuity and discontinuity with the people of God living under the Old Testament. Another paradox is in the title of the book, Sojourners and Strangers, by which Allison means we are to be in the world, but not of the world.
If you want to understand the church of Jesus Christ, both the universal church and local church, I would highly recommend Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church. In conclusion, I agree with Timothy George, Founding Dean, of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University, who wrote, “Allison clears the ground by presenting a thoroughly biblical ecclesiology, comprehensive in scope and sensitive to nuance.”