The thesis of this stimulating book is that there are apostles in the church today, and that their service is vital to the health of Christ’s body and the effective worldwide spread of the gospel.
Working on that novel and highly debatable premise, David Devenish works carefully through the wealth of New Testament material about the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul and seeks to use it as a pattern for the ministry of those who are generally recognised as fathers in the wider church and pioneers in international mission.
The result is a book which has lots of wholesome insight and instruction. It evidences a healthy regard for the local church as central in all God’s work. It stresses the relational nature of leadership. It strongly affirms that God gifts some men to serve far beyond the confines of one local church. It speaks thoughtfully and with weight on many issues relating to the church and the service of Christ today.
The problem with the book is not any weakness in stating the gospel foundation of the church, the special nature of the original apostles, or the completeness of the canon. It is its insistence that the church in every age must be built on a foundation newly laid by contemporary apostles and prophets. While the author puts much weight on the fact that the New Testament recognises more apostles than the original 12, his key argument seems to be that, in Ephesians 4, Paul implies that no church can be brought to maturity without the full range of gifts mentioned there, including apostles and prophets.
David Devenish surely reveals the fatal weakness of his basic position when he tries to draw a distinction between apostles chosen by Christ as witnesses of his life and ministry, and different apostles who are the gift of the risen Christ to his church. Even more desperate is his attempt to draw from Paul’s heavily ironic words to the Corinthians (‘Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you’) the implication that congregations may choose the apostles they will recognise and to whom they will relate! In truth he never really answers the classic position that apostles are those who have seen the risen Christ and been specifically appointed by him, and that Paul was the last to be set apart.
This is certainly an interesting and thought-provoking book, but its basic thesis failed to convince this reviewer. Indeed, even though the book is written with real grace and humility, it still rings some alarm bells over issues of authority and responsibility in the church.
co-pastor of Dewsbury Evangelical Church, a Grace Baptist congregation