Thabiti Anyabwile. The Life of God in the Soul of the Church. Christian Focus Publications, 2012. 256 pages. $8.99.
A huge thank you once again to Christian Focus Publications for sending out a review copy of the book. It was truly a blessing to read and review. This one has an honored place on my shelf, and will be returned to often.
As a church music director and corporate worship leader, much of what I do and think about has to do with church life, and has to flow from my theology of the Church. What I believe about the church affects everything. from how I plan songs, to what I say or teach during a corporate gathering, to what I’ve learned to expect from our music team and from our congregation on Sunday mornings. And I pine often for books to keep me encouraged to pursue the right things for the church family. A right, biblical understanding of the church is often in danger of shipwreck in our individualistic, market-driven culture. Thabiti Anyabwile’s The Life of God in the Soul of the Church is an extremely helpful resource in the fight to view the church rightly. Building on Henry Scougal’s Life of God in the Soul of Man, Anyabwile explains true fellowship in the family of God, which is rooted in, and defined by God’s own Spirit and life in us. Anyabwile says, “To be a Christian is to have ‘Divine life’ resident and reigning in a human being” (7), and this necessarily affects our interaction as the family of God. The church is not a social club, it’s a family.
Anyabwile clears up some common misconceptions in the body of Christ, about what church life should be. He states, “Spiritual fellowship is not fundamentally a set of activities, though activities may give opportunity for experiencing fellowship” (17). He goes on to build his case that the church is our very identity, and that fellowship is shared experience in believing the truth together, sharing the truth in genuine relationships, and which all leads to the ultimate ends of joy and holiness for us all who have been called out of our sin through Christ, and adopted into God’s family. It’s so very refreshing to read books like this, shepherding us away from consumerism and into true family relationships in Christ. As members of it, it’s important that we get our theology right about the body of Christ.
A Multifaceted Family
Each chapter develops a different facet of church life. Anyabwile bookends the chapters with love as the necessary factor, as he specifically explains the role of spiritual gifts, correction and restoration, forgiveness, giving, and even singing. Again, the facets of church life are many, and they are brought to light here in a proper way. We’re reminded of the vital role each of us plays in the family, and that whether in correcting one another or singing to one another, we’re all a unique part of the “body” of Christ – Christ’s physical manifestation in a broken world. The folks who lead a church gathering from the front are no more important that the congregant who shows up ready to receive the Word and to sing his heart out in the midst of the gathered body, or the behind-the-scenes brother who shows up early to set up for communion. We are all integral, and add a beautiful facet to God’s redeemed church.
Singing To One Another
Forgive me for plugging the chapter on singing. As a corporate worship leader in my church body, I devour chapters on church music in the books I read. Some end up being better than others, but Anyabwile’s treatment of the subject is great, and he puts church singing in just the right place in the life of the church. He rightly emphasizes the benefit to one another that we provide as we sing together, saying, “Too many Christians think the public gathering of the church is basically a couple of hundred people having their personal quiet time in the same place [...] Privatized religion destroys spiritual communion. Privatized views of the faith tear apart the body [..] When we gather with a hymn or song we do so for the benefit of the church, the entire body of Christ, the whole group of people” (169-170). What we do, even as we sing, has to be with a view to build up one another, and thus the whole group.
Really, the only drawback I could find to this very helpful book is mostly a subjective one. It’s a collection of sermons, ultimately, and it does read like it in places. Some paragraphs seem more suited for live preaching from the pulpit than for a written work. But again, some of our greatest literature in the Christian faith are collected sermons from our great preachers – Edwards, Spurgeon, and the like. Don’t let this turn you off to the book – just know the feel and tone of the pulpit don’t always translate perfectly to a written page.
This is a vibrant, clear, joyous exhortation for the church to be what it’s supposed to be, having true fellowship as we enjoy God’s abundant life that He gives us in and through His Son. I exhort you to get yourself a copy and underline the pages like crazy. Very, very helpful.