We Didn’t Start the Fire: a book review

Neil Cole has written a book designed to get followers of Jesus to engage in mission with the five-fold gifts described in Ephesians 4:11-12, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”.  The so-called APEST gifts (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, and Teacher) provide a template for Churches and ministers hoping to impact the wider culture with the reality of the Kingdom of God. This book is designed to help church leaders and members of the body of Christ understand their contribution by recovering the gift and ministry that Christ intends for us.

I believe the APEST acronym (originally APEPT) originates with Alan Hirsch who’s The Forgotten Ways (Brazos Press, 2007) covers similar ground. What sets Primal Fire apart from Hirsch’s is the level of detail he goes into looking at each of the gifts, and his rooting of each of the roles in the ministry of Jesus (the archetypal Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd and Teacher).  In Cole’s first section of the book he points to Jesus as our chief exemplar, discusses the role of elders and deacons, and argues for the recovery of each of these gifts for our contemporary contexts. In section two, he profiles each of these gifts from Ephesians 4:11 and how they work together. He identifies the ‘start and go team’ (Apostles and Prophets) an the Stay and Grow team (Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers). Section Three focuses on how these gifts, used together will enrich the church and re-invigorate it for mission. He also points to the danger of counterfeit gifts (super apostles, false prophets, Judaizers, hirelings,  and false teachers).

As I said, Cole covers a similar ground as Hirsch (who writes a glowing endorsement). While Cole does refer to passages across the New Testament, Ephesians 4:11 with its list of the five gifts is central to the organization of the book. Some readers will fault his appropriation of the term “Apostle” as one ‘sent out’ on mission to pioneer God’s work (rather than a historical, limited list of leaders commissioned by Jesus himself). Other readers may find his biblical case shallow as he does tend towards prooftexting. I think his profiles of each of the gifts are as rooted in his experience as a church planter as they are in his exegesis. Throughout this book he says what each of the gifted ‘tend to do’ (i.e. Apostles tend to…, Prophets tend to…). In many of these cases he is sharing personal observations of things he’s seen among the gifted.

He also doesn’t spend much time explicating his central passage, Ephesians 4:11-13:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Verse 11 provides list, and verse 12 tells us that these gifts are given for the building up of the church. Verse 13 gives us the telos: these gifts are given to build up the church until they reach unity in the faith, knowledge of the Son of God, maturity and attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Coles use of verse 13 is as proof for the continuing of each of the five gifts (63). He uses it show that the work is still incomplete, but  his profile of each of gifts would be more grounded if he showed how these gifts serve this end (verse 11-13 are one sentence!).

Though I think pastors and leaders will find much food for thought here and a challenge to recover the character and content of mission in the early church. I give this book 3.9 stars

Thank you to Tyndale for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

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