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Fri, 28 Sep 2012 - 10:13 AM CST

Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day

Anthony B. Robinson and Robert W. Wall (Eerdmans, 239 pp., paperback)

When I received Called to Lead, I was intrigued by the title, especially the subtitle. This seemed to be a leadership book based on Paul’s letters to Timothy. I was anxious to explore its content.

Because of previous study in the Pastoral Epistles, I was interested in the authors’ view on Pauline authorship. Robert W. Walls is a biblical scholar and professor at Seattle Pacific University. He is also a teaching elder of the Free Methodist Church. Anthony B. Robinson is a pastor/teacher in the Congregational/United Church of Christ. This book is the product of several teaching sessions they have presented together on this topic.

Concerning authorship, the authors’ state: “Our conversation about 1 and 2 Timothy … will name ‘Paul’ as the author of, and ‘Timothy’ as the recipient. … These attributions are not secured by historical analysis, since the hard evidence necessary to do so is much too sparse and uncertain to validate such a claim with confidence. Furthermore, historical constructions of authorship are largely irrelevant considerations when we are deciding a text’s religious authority.” (10,11)

“We suggest a range of different practices, especially when we approach the final redaction of the Pauline corpus as Scripture and useful as an auxiliary of the Lord’s spirit for Christian formation. Not only are the epistemological, historical, and theological interests in the phenomenology of a text’s canonization different from the circumstances of a text’s composition; the definition of apostolicity is also different. No longer is it attached to a particular historical figure, but it is attached to a broadly defined apostolate or tradition. In this regard, the apostolicity of a sacred text is recognized by the church, not through the modern historical constructions of its author, but whether or not what is written coheres to what is remembered of what the apostle taught (see 2 Tim. 1:13,14; 2:1,2; 3:10-14) and produces a mature wisdom necessary for salvation and good works (see 2 Tim. 3:15–17).”(11)

For the authors, the important thing is faithfulness to Paul’s teaching and the fact the text produces spiritual maturity. Those with a high view of the inspiration of Scripture and Pauline authorship of these letters to Timothy will probably have problems with the authors’ conclusions.

Each chapter of the book takes a portion of these epistles and then divides the content into two parts. Walls provides the exegetical comments on the passage while Robinson provides the practical application for today’s leaders.

Walls and Robinson understand the leadership vacuum in many of today’s churches. They also see the conflict and contention, even the testing and attacking of pastoral leadership today similar to what Timothy was facing at Ephesus. Throughout their book they encourage pastors by helping them apply Paul’s words to Timothy to their present situation. They state: “If the church is to face these times and the challenges they bring, it will need leaders who hold steady, who speak calmly — and with the authority born of both conviction and compassion.” (7)

One might not always agree with Wall’s assessment of the biblical text. Concerning 1 Timothy 3:1–13, Walls chooses to translate episkope as “administrator” instead of bishop. Part of his reasoning comes from arguments against Pauline authorship. Many claim that the office of bishop indicates a more advanced church structure than in Paul’s day. In his translation of 1 Timothy 3:15, he says Timothy is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (emphasis mine) while the NIV says “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (emphasis mine). Since Walls believes Timothy is the pillar and foundation of the truth, “Timothy alone is charged with those responsibilities that are normally associated with the congregation’s lead pastors.” (68) Robinson likens the episkope as a lay leader or church administrator.

Elders (overseers) were responsible for teaching (1 Tim. 3:3; 5:17; Titus 1:9), and together the elders were responsible for “ ‘managing’ or ‘caring for’ the local church.” (Gordon Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus A Good News Commentary, xxxiii-xxxiv). Given the presence of false teachers in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3–7), the attributes listed by Paul for these leaders seem to stand in stark contrast to these false teachers. These are also qualifications, not duties. Timothy “must see to it that elders are living according to … these standards.” (Fee, 42) This was Timothy’s responsibility in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3–7).

It seems that in Wall’s attempt to avoid the discussion on church polity concerning leadership he has missed the important roles of these elders. They are more than administrators; they are responsible to teach sound doctrine, a role Walls seems to ascribe mainly to Timothy. In his commentary, Walls overlooks this aspect in 1 Timothy 3:2: “able to teach.”

The thing that impressed me the most about this book was the practical application for today’s pastors. Robinson has a passion for helping pastors be the most effective in ministry. Both Walls and Robinson call pastors to be people of the Word, holding to sound doctrine, and people who live in a way that brings honor to the gospel. In this role, pastors need to confront false teaching and behavior that dishonors the gospel. The pastor also needs to care for his spiritual life (1 Timothy 4:8).

Their emphasis on the church “household of God” brings a fresh perspective to the content of 1 and 2 Timothy, although at times I think they stretch the imagery.

I often have opportunity to pour into the lives of younger ministers through classroom settings, personal conversations, and social media outlets. As I read this book I looked for ways not only to challenge myself, but ways in which I could use this material to pour into the lives of young ministers. I plan to incorporate material from this book in some of my interactions with younger ministers.

Even with some differences withi the authors' views, this book would be a good addition to any pastor’s library. I would also recommend Fee’s commentary as a supplement to provide a detailed look at the text in the context of Timothy’s situation at Ephesus. But Called To Lead provides some great application and encouragement for pastoral leadership in today’s church.

Reviewed by Richard L. Schoonover, associate editor, Enrichment journal, Springfield, Missouri.

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