Corinthian Elders (Book Review)

New Testament Elders
A Book Review of: “Corinthian Elders” by Jack Fortenberry

In his book”Corinthian Elders,” Jack Fortenberry delivers one more strong defense for the functioning of elders in the New Testament fashion. This book is a “biblical examination” of specific Pauline rhetoric on the teaching and practice of church leadership.

Fortenberry skillfully expounds on the various events that caused divisions throughout the local churches of the New Testament. In particular, he draws our attention to the unhealthy desire and practice of leaders that was wreaking havoc on first-century churches and still plagues us today.

The author crafts a vivid account of the issues facing these churches and presents the reader with solid evidence as to how authority “over” the saints severs the branches from the Vine that is Christ.

Are there leaders in the New Testament church? Absolutely. However, this leadership looks like Christ and allows others to know Christ as head of the church. It makes room for all the gifts to be equally shared among the saints.

Fortenberry suggests that this is one of the greatest threats to the unity in the church at Corinth: division caused by an infatuation with eloquent preachers and teachers.

“by submitting to leaders as a substitute for our fellowship with one another, we will loosen our hold on Christ.” (p.43)

I have read many books on church restoration and organic church life. I recommend this little book to those who are convinced that something is definitely wrong with the top-down model of leadership within the church today and rightfully need to be persuaded by the very words of Scripture that there is another way.

If you are the least bit concerned about the centrality and supremacy of Christ being known in the local church, then give this book a read with your New Testament in hand.

I also recommend reading:
The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: An Extraordinary Guide to Understanding the New Testament
Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices
Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity
The Normal Christian Church Life
Going to the Root: Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal
Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting, Revised Edition

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 15 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

9 responses to “Corinthian Elders (Book Review)

  • J. R. Miller

    Overall, it sounds like a good book, but I do want to amplify one point. You wrote,

    “Fortenberry suggests that this is one of the greatest threats to the unity in the church at Corinth: division caused by an infatuation with eloquent preachers and teachers. ”

    The problem here is that you make it sound as if “eloquent” speakers were the problem. I know this fits with a preconceived notion, by some, that preaching is bad for the church, but this is not exactly the case in Corinth.

    Apolos was the one who was very eloquent of speech in Corinth, but Paul does not give ANY indication that he was at fault for the division. As a matter of fact, we read in Acts that Apolos’ eloquence of speech was a great asset to the church in encouraging the saints.

    The problem was with the people who chose to follow after these faithful leader (some are of Paul, some Apolos, etc…) People were putting men above God, but the fault in these men was not their use of rhetoric. Can that be a problem/ Yes. And it is today in our churches, but I think your brief paragraph does not give balance to the real issue.

    I would also suggest that Paul says some people were divisive in following after “Christ”… I am of the opinion that these are much like the folks today who are just as divisive in condemning other Christians who are not as “faithful” to the NT church, or don’t follow Jesus in the “same” way… What I see from Paul is that even following Jesus can divide the church if we use him as a weapon to beat over the heads of other saints.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey J.R.

      I don’t believe I have made it sound like “eloquent” teachers are the problem, but an “infatuation” with eloquent teachers. And I’ve not known anyone to think that biblical preaching is bad for the church. It would be quite a stretch requiring us to ignore the Scriptures to come to this conclusion.

      There is something we must consider here as well. Paul, Peter, and Apollos were traveling apostles/church planters/itinerant workers… not “pastors/shepherds” or “elders” in the New Testament fashion or in the institutional sense. So… we should distinguish between a N.T. preaching from apostles and teaching from elders within the local fellowship. A New Testament “preaching” does not have in mind a man of a local congregation (hired or not) standing in front of the people and delivering a 30-45 minute sermon. Furthermore, teaching in the New Testament looks much different than modern-day preaching.

      Regardless of which New Testament practice we are referring to (apostolic preaching or elder teaching), the message presented in this book remains the same: an infatuation with eloquent teachers/preachers brings division and cages up the Body of Christ by inadvertently taping the mouths and tying the hands of the many members. This can be perpetuated by the many members… as well as the teacher who is not mindful of his place among the saints.

      I have only written a brief review. It would be good to read the book and then respond to it. I don’t see anyone “condemning” others because they are not concerned with reflecting the church in a New Testament fashion.

  • J. R. Miller

    Hi David, I did not mean to insunuate you were making any condemnations.. just that i have seen some out there and wanted to offer some additional thought to what you were pointing out. Again, I agree with what you wrote, I simply tried to add some further thoughts on what creates division. You are welcome to disagree brother.

    Like I said, you make the book sound good, so I will try and get a copy when I can and read it.

  • roykeane

    Nice blog about book reviews.

  • Vicki

    David, excellent review – I’d like to read this book, plus your other recommendations. I’ve been bothered for some time now by what I’ve seen and experienced in the church. Part of it certainly includes infatuation of so many believers with “eloquent teachers/preachers.” Your writings are helping me. Anyway, I wanted to thank you.

  • Marshall Diakon

    Glad to have met brother Fortenberry in Mississippi in 2006, and recently reviewed “Corinthian Elders” (without knowing that you had done so here, David). Though the flavour of the book seems more in reformation than transformation, I thank God for His Spirit moving Jack’s pen to another wake-up call.

  • citypact

    I am going to have this book. Thanks for review.

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