Growing in Christ = Growing in Church: a book review

The Life of God in the Soul of the Church: The Root and Fruit of Spiritual Fellowship by Thabiti Anyabwile

Henry Scougal, the 17th Century Scottish theologian penned a book called The Life of God in the Soul of ManThat book was instrumental in George Whitefield’s conversion and influential on the Methodist revival in Great Britain and the First Great Awakening in America.  Scougal took union with God seriously and urged his readers to pursue union with God and forsake false notions of religion; nevertheless Scougal’s vision of union with Christ in  an explicitly Christ centered way (J.I. Packer’s critique) and his vision of union with Christ was individualistic.

In The Life of God in the Soul of the Church, Thabiti Anyabwile expands on Scougal’s theme by examining the corporate, public character of union with Christ through the lens of involvement with a local church. Anyabwile is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands). He is passionate about communicating both the nature of the church as a spiritual fellowship and what the practical implications of our shared union with Christ and one another.  The book is a collection of sermons Anyabwile preached at First Baptist which explore this theme (expository sermons, mostly from Paul’s letters but two are based in texts from 1 John).

Anyabwile’s sermons are organized into two sections. In Part 1, Anyabwile describes our union with Christ and spiritual fellowship.  Like Scougal he stresses the vital necessity of union with Christ in the Christian life, but he takes great care to make sure that the Christian life is not conceived in privatized, individualistic terms. Rather our growing up in the image of Christ necessarily takes place within the context of the Body of Christ, his church.

In part two, Anyabwile explores what this looks through sermons about how we ‘apply’ our union with one another. Loving one another forms an inclusio of all his material here. He also has sermons on fellowship and the nature of Spiritual gifts,  what it means to partner in the gospel, the ministry of restoration and encouragement, suffering with one another and offering comfort, forgiving one another, singing to one another,  giving and mutual acceptance.

I appreciate Anyabwile’s treatment of his theme and the careful exposition he offers. Anyabwile’s ecclesiology is biblically rooted and these sermons are meaty. There is a lot to chew on here. Anyabwile does not simply describe what your church should be (but probably isn’t), but gives sound, biblical advice to his readers/hearers on what it means to be the church.  It is impossible to grasp the message that Anyabwile is saying here and be a passive observer. In Christ  we have fellowship with God and with one another. In Christ we have been invited into a whole way of life which is  characterized by mutual sharing, love and sacrificial care for the church and for the world.  This book may enlarge your vision about what it means to be ‘in Christ’ and what it means to be in the church.

My biggest criticism of this book is that it should have been edited to reflect the print medium. Sermons are meant to be heard, and at times this book reads like a transcript of a Sunday sermon (I don’t know if these sermons come from Anyabwile’s manuscripts or are transcribed from his delivery).  Occasionally a sermon refers to ‘this morning’ or describes what we do ‘here at First Baptist.’  I found these  rhetoric devices a little distracting. But my critique is more for its style rather than it’s substance.  I can appreciate that these sermons came out of a context, and do like that Anyabwile isn’t just spouting timeless truth but presenting the gospel with in a context.

I recommend this book to anyone who is seeking to deepen their fellowship with other believers and to those who wonder why church matters. This is a short accessible treatment on the theme.

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and Christian Focus Publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

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