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Summer 2012, Vol. 9

Book Review

Authentic Church: True Spirituality in a Culture of Counterfeits

Vaughan Roberts
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 213 pages

Reviewed by Anita Koeshall, 2010-2011 J. Philip Hogan Professor of World Missions

Assemblies of God Theological Seminary

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Early in his Christian life, “sincere and passionate” (p. 13) friends urged Vaughan Roberts to “open himself up” to the Holy Spirit so that he would experience greater power in his life and a closer walk with God. Disappointed in his search to receive this experience, the joy in his walk with God dissipated. A friend advised him to not look to others for what it means to be spiritual, but rather to “look to the teaching of the Bible” (p. 13).

Roberts wrote this book to help people who are grappling with the issue of discerning which spiritual experiences truly are from God. Although entitled Authentic Church, this book could more aptly be named Authentic Spirituality, for Roberts seeks to discover the nature of true spirituality through the lens of 1 Corinthians. He states that Authentic Church is an expository, not topical study; however, the chapters are neatly divided into a remarkable range of topics such as: leaders must be faithful, not flashy; Christians are to be holy, not permissive; freedom must be constrained by a concern for spiritual growth and for others; and gender roles are different, but both male and female have equal value.

Authentic Church, written with a pastoral heart, follows the structure of a series of messages possibly preached from 1 Corinthians at St. Ebbe’s Church in Oxford. The text is interspersed with life experiences and applications to the individualistic Western world and unfolds 1 Corinthians for the ordinary Christian in very practical ways. One cannot miss the book’s burning thrust: the centrality of the cross and the supremacy of God’s Word over experiences, prophecies, or miracles.

Roberts identifies “buzzwords,” (p. 14) such as spiritual, power, wisdom, and knowledge, which were problematic for the church in Corinth and are also valued in today’s church. Christians, Roberts notes, who seek to become more powerful, wise, knowledgeable, and spiritual, are liable to fall into the same unspiritual traps that ensnared the Corinthians. From 1 Corinthians 1-2, Roberts points out that true wisdom and true spirituality only come from a deep understanding of the centrality of the message of Jesus—the work of the Spirit will always direct the believer back to that message:
There is no deeper revelation of the Spirit beyond the revelation of the Bible. The authentic work of the Spirit is seen not when people get excited by some new message or miracle, but rather when their eyes are open and their hearts filled with an ever-deepening appreciation of the Bible’s teaching about what God has done for them in Christ and a growing longing to live in the light of all they have received from him (p. 29).

From 1 Corinthians 11, Roberts teaches an unabashed complementarian view of women and yet validates active ministry roles for them alongside the male leadership position. Because of the brevity necessary in an overview such as this, Roberts gives little space to discuss other viewpoints, but rather states his case. From his perspective, headship means authority, and this applies to both the marriage relationship and to leadership roles in the church. He argues that the difference in roles is not a reflection of culture, but, referring to the Trinity, is a part of God’s design for humanity (p. 143). Roberts chides those who would abuse their “headship,” and he brings balance to the perhaps distasteful view of women as submissive to an ultimate leader by exploring the literal reading of 1 Corinthians 11:10: “She should have authority on her head” stating that “the head covering seems, therefore to be understood as a sign of her own authority” (p. 143). In this case, she has “freedom as a woman to play an important role in the congregation.” Roberts does not consider the unbiased role of the Spirit as the giver of gifts to all His people regardless of gender, nor does he elaborate on the understanding of the Trinity as hierarchical (p. 143)—both ecclesiologically important questions.

Roberts handles 1 Corinthians 12-14 with alacrity, discussing the problem of spiritual gifts found in the church of Corinth and drawing from that particular situation truths that should resonate with all believers—the role that love plays in urging members of a community to desire spiritual gifts, the role of Scripture to test the validity of prophecy, the differentiation between Prophecy (that found in Scripture) and prophecy (the words given by the Spirit to the individual believer for the community), and the spiritual pride that can be a pitfall for individuals who feel they possess spiritual gifts not possessed by other believers.

Roberts points out that the gifts listed in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians represent those the church had misused to claim spiritual maturity. Roberts argues that Paul did not intend to give the Early Church a checklist by which to measure a church’s spirituality, but rather, he says, Paul identifies a sampling of the many gifts available through the Spirit. The key is that believers use the spiritual gifts to minister to others. Referring to John Stott’s classic statement from Baptism and Fullness (1964), he states that the “gift of the Holy Spirit is a universal Christian experience because it is an initial Christian experience” (p. 162). Since all believers have the Spirit, every believer has gifts that should be used to bless the community. Instead of lamenting this diversity, “we should rejoice in it, as it enables us to function well together” (p. 167-168). Roberts states that the gifts that love compels a believer to seek, in order to build up the community, are those that “communicate intelligibly” (p. 184) and “in a spiritually edifying way” (p. 184). One would do well to develop as a preacher and teacher, training and equipping others to lead Bible studies, Sunday Schools, and youth groups (p. 184).

This brief study of 1 Corinthians is devotional and easy to read. Every chapter ends with a list of questions one could use in a small group study. Some of the more controversial issues that Roberts discusses, such as women’s roles in family and church, or the gifts of the Spirit, would require a broader, more balanced representation to encourage critical biblical thinking on the part of believers.

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 9:43 AM