Recovering the Priesthood of All Believers: a book review

Protestants champion the priesthood of all believers. But what does this mean? What are the implications and obligations of such a  priesthood? How is that ordinary Christian re-present Christ to one another and the world? In Representing Christ: A Vision of the Priesthood of All Believers, Uche Anizor and Hank Voss explore the meaning of the priestthood of all believers through the Bible, by engaging  Martin Luther (the historic Protestant who championed this doctrine), Trinitarian theology and discussing the practical role and function of the priesthood.

9780830851287Anizor is associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Talbot. Voss is the national church planting director for World Impact. Anizor writes the first three chapters. Chapter one forms an introduction, chapter two examines the biblical case for the priesthood of all believer, chapter three looks at historical theology, with an eye trained on Martin Luther. Voss writes the next three chapters. In chapter four he explores how Trinitarian theology gives shape to the way we live out the priesthood of all believers. Chapter five explores seven central practices of the Priesthood (drawn from Martin Luther). Chapter six forms a conclusion for this study.

Anichor and Voss bring their particular strengths to their sections. Anizor roots the concept of the ‘Royal Priesthood’ in more than just sparse references to the priesthood from 1 Peter and Revelation (1 Peter 2:4-9, Rev. 1:6;5:10). Instead he sketches a robust biblical case for the priesthood of all believers rooted in the priestly function of human image bearing (Genesis 1-2), the role of Israel’s priesthood (cf. Exodus), Christ’s priesthood foretold (i.e. Psalms, and prophetic literature)  and enacted (the gospels) and the church’s participation in the priesthood (1 Peter, Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, Revelation). His chapter on Luther shows the centrality of the concept in Luther’s works (especially in a piece called Concerning the Ministry) Anizor identifies seven priestly practices: (1) Preaching and teaching the Word, (2) Baptizing; (3) Administering the Lord’s Supper; (4) Binding and Loosing Sin; (5) Prayer; (6) Sacrifice; (7) Judging Doctrine (76). Anizor is critical of scholars who would see the ‘priesthood of all believers’ as the invention as an ‘imaginary’ or ‘mythical’ doctrine invented by the likes of Jakob Spener, the founder of Pietism (58). So he focuses his historical exploration on explicating Martin Luther, though he does identify several antecedents to Luther.

Voss’s chapters have a more practical focus. He aims to show what this priesthood looks like in how we live it out. His chapter on Trinitarian theology opens with this assertion, “The most important thing about us is the God we worship, and the God we worship will determine the kind of royal priesthood we become” (85). Voss distinguishes a Christocentric-Trinitarian priesthood of all believers from other approaches to the priesthood of all believers (i.e. Mormonism, Islam) which exhibit a different character. Our worship as priests is” directed to the Father”, “performed as service in Christ,” and “joins in the Spirit’s witness in the world” (91). Voss also identifies ways the priesthood has gone awry because of an over emphasis on one member of the Trinity to the exclusion of other Trinitarian persons (103). Monopolizing ministry to the Father might result in clericalism(103-105). An exclusive emphasis on being ‘in Christ’ may cause believers to become atomistic individualists in living out the priesthood or collectivists that deny the unique contributions of each person in the body of Christ (105-107). An over emphasis on the blessings of the Spirit may give way to egotism (08-109).  A mature priesthood will keep the persons of the Trinity in balance as they seek to worship God and mediate His presence to the world.

Chapter five revisits Luther’s seven ministry practices and shows how each is an important part of the priesthood of all believers ministry and witness (drawing on Dallas Willard’s language of vision, intention and means). Luther’s seven practices are described here as: (1) Baptism, (2) Prayer, (3) Lectio Divina, (4) Church Discipline, (5) Ministry, (6) Proclamation,  and (7) the Lord’s Supper (118). Voss demonstrates how these practices share in the Trinitarian life and explores their implication for the priesthood of all believers: baptism is our commissioning in the priesthood,  prayer and lectio divina direct us towards the Father, church discipline and ministry show us how to be in Christ in community, proclamation is our participation in the Spirit’s witness, the Eucharist is the culmination of our priestly practice, causing us to rember, forgive, give thanks, be in covenant, experience nourishment, and anticipate the fullness of the kingdom (122-44).

This is a short, meaty book on what the priesthood of believers is. My small critique is that I wish the look at the priesthood of believers did more than pay homage to Luther. Pietists, Baptists, Anabaptists,  Methodists have each contributed to our contemporary understanding of the doctrine and I would like to see their contributions explored more. Of course a book cannot do everything and showing that Luther (the protyptical Protestant) held this priesthood of believers goes along way towards their aim of recovering a robust theology and practice for today’s Protestant evangelical. I recommend this book for students, pastors and lay leaders who wish to recover a fulsome vision of what it means to be the priesthood of believers. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review



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