In what may be one of my absolute favorite themes of the book, the author underscores the idea of what he calls “every member ministry.” Boldly he asserts, “It is my conviction that God has all the necessary gifts of leadership within each congregation, if only those people could be recognized and encouraged to contribute their abilities in their own way for the good of the whole.” (34) This idea alone could revolutionize the Christian church of today! However, let me hasten to add that Green proffered a firm apologetic regarding the roles and responsibilities of church leadership and government. Indeed, God has set aside certain men to fulfill the offices of preaching, teaching, and shepherding the flock. The idea of “every member ministry” does not undermine their authority nor does it alleviate the honor due them by virtue of their tasks. It is a model of ministry that calls all to follow the Head Who is Himself over all.
The reader cannot help but be struck by the intensity of Green’s call to incarnational ministry. There is a practicality that plays throughout the whole of the book; the steady beating of a ready, willing heart. Indeed, the author is clear: generosity of the head cannot exist apart from generosity of the hand and heart. Generosity of the head plans the way. But it is the generosity of the heart –that seat of the affections—that moves us to combine pity with our planning. Generosity is the outlet of them both.
The author calls readers to “enter the mindset” of those around him; to think through, plan and personally tell one’s story in ways that connect with the cultural context. This we know, this we accept, however grudgingly. However, he does not stop there. Green goes on to call believers to the uncomfortable task of home visitation—to hospitality and to gospel-oriented visitation. Still, pressing us painfully further, Green summons us to pace the unsanitary sick room. He beckons us to the filthy back alleys. He calls us to blindly love the “rich and poor, Jew and Greek, lepers and brigands, prostitutes and Pharisees, beggars and nobles, the hungry and the lonely” and to touch “the untouchables, the poor and the outcast, soldiers and sorcerers.” (31) And he bids us trace the outline of Jesus in the faces we see there.
In light of Green’s literary prowess, his care toward Biblical research, and passionate devotion to the cause of Christ, it is difficult to name the few weaknesses I felt the book exhibited. However, I will endeavor to express my opinion most humbly and in a manner most respectful.
Linguistic capability combined with imaginative speculation is a two-edged sword in the hand of a writer. However, great devices necessitate great care. In this, I feel Green has, at times, gone somewhat awry. For example, his portrayal of the apostle Paul is vivid and real—one might almost picture him stalking the Damascus Road, seething rage invigorating each step. However, the author’s assertion that, “Saul had struggled with a bad conscience ever since he assisted in the murder of Stephen,” and that, “he must have had a shrewd idea that he was persecuting both love and truth when he continued to drive Christians to their death” (pp. 76-77) finds no basis in Scripture. It would be far better to cite references and examples for such a character sketch than to leave readers to wonder how such a notion came to be. Writers must warily employ the genius of compositional creativity.
I feel that Green’s book presents an over-idealized image of the first century church. To be sure, the author declares the inherent sinfulness of its membership; however, apart from citing the reluctance of the church at Jerusalem to obey the Great Commission (pp. 194-195), Green fails to note many more of their flaws in favor of more encouraging New Testament achievements. In the overall balance, this will not work, for “these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:11, NAS). We can often learn more from the voices of the fallen saints than we can from the exemplary ones. We identify with them; their dark melodies strike familiar chords in our own hearts and we know. Our faith is stirred by the ready obedience of Joseph and the prophet Daniel; it is fortified by the redemption David and Samson.
Green seems to scorn anything resembling “tradition.” While I certainly agree that sinful man is prone to lapse into disinterested religion, I do not find it always to be so. Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving are steeped in what one might call “tradition,” yet few would advocate a complete abandonment of them. Or, to view the matter from a biblical standpoint, Old Testament feasts and festivals were considered “traditions” yet they were traditions commanded by God. New Testament examples include baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Knowing that our Heavenly Father understands His creation, we can confidently assert that the problem does not lie inherently within the tradition. No, the issue is much deeper: the heart of the matter is the heart of the man; a matter of the heart’s sinful desire for autonomy, for self-rule obscured in the robes of religion. It is easy to lay blame at the door of tradition, to say that we must cast off the old traditions of the past in order to embrace the freedom of the future. But I wonder, does this really ever happen? Does not man simply replace one tradition with another? Does not the freshness of the future quickly fade into discarded disdain?
I believe Thirty Years That Changed the World is presents a clear call for the church of Jesus Christ — a.call to awake from apathy and the vain whimpers of a deceived self-love. The model written in the history of that band of first century brothers who, risking all, gained the entire world for Christ. Green’s book outlines how they did it.
The standard has been set. The method has been described. Will we rise and answer the call?