Friday, February 22, 2013

Jim West poses a question about Paul's church planting effectiveness and Ephesus in response to a tweet

Here's a longer version of what West has written a rejoinder to.  Ed Stetzer plugs for the book here:

Today I conclude a series (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five) through Paul's Missionary Methods, a new book I contributed an essay to with the assistance of Lizette Beard, my coauthor and colleague at LifeWay Research. Other contributors include Michael Bird, David Hesselgrave, Don Howell Jr., Craig Keener, Chuck Lawless, Benjamin Merkle, J.D. Payne, Robert Plummer, Michael Pocock, Eckhard Schnabel, David Sills, Christoph Stenschke, and John Mark Terry.

And now we come to the bit West refers to

... Simply put, Paul did not stay long when he started churches. Allen notes, though it seems paradoxical, that the brevity of Paul's time with the churches he planted is likely what helped them succeed. ...

West just can't let that slide and writes the following:

Really? So, 1) how would one go about demonstrating that claim? And 2) who says the churches Paul planted succeeded? 3) Do you consider the mess of the Corinthian church a ‘success’? 4) Why? What on earth is good about that congregation and how could it possibly be a model for any church? 5) How do you know the churches Paul planted wouldn’t have been MORE successful if he had been able to be with them longer? 6) Paul’s work at Ephesus (!) certainly didn’t last and wasn’t successful even for 40 or 50 years (since it is the Church excoriated in Revelation for having lost its first love). 7) So what is success anyway?
It’s just more of the short sighted pseudo-scholarship twitter seems to accommodate most ‘successfully’. If your ‘theology’ can be expressed in 140 characters, it isn’t a theology worth holding.
[No offense to the good people at IVP].
Interesting questions from West about how successful Paul's church plants actually were.  To go by the situation in Ephesus described in the pastoral epistles there seemed to be some recurring problems finding men qualified enough to handle the tasks that Timothy was supposed to find them to do.  Assuming for the sake of conservative scholarship that 1 and 2 Timothy are a) written by Paul and b) deal with a continuing situation it sure looked like Timothy was failing to find men qualified enough to handle whatever elders were supposed to handle at the time in Ephesus.  Tradition held that Timothy became bishop at Ephesus.  It may not simply have been the case that Paul's church plant there faltered but that even leaving Timothy in charge of finding qualified men to help carry on the teaching and work there faltered because, at least according to one tradition, Timothy ended up staying there so long he became the first bishop of Ephesus. 
Some stuff to keep in mind about the early church in Ephesus and the church in Corinth.  It's interesting to note that while many Reformed types love Romans that's the epistle Paul wrote to a church he didn't plant.  I wonder how it was he managed to have time to write what has been considered his greatest, most lucid, and compelling epistle, was it because he was writing to a church he didn't plan and that wasn't riddled with the problems that cropped up in the other churches that he did plant so he had time to focus on something besides "What are you people doing!?" 
Just playing with that idea a bit. 


Anonymous said...

From a historical point of view there seems to be good evidence (see Rodney Stark), that Paul's missionary journeys didn't actually many any measurable difference to which city was likely to have a functional church and which wasn't.

Anonymous said...

I know this is going to sound bizarre in this day of institutional church worship but what if Paul saw his duty to preach the Gospel and not "plant churches"? These churches tended to be more organic in how they were formed. They had to deal with polytheism being the mainstay of culture. It would be like us sharing the Gospel with Hindus and we all meet and eventually a lot of stuff is giong to collide.

I get a bit tired of reading scripture through our enlighted western eyes for answers to such things.

In fact, I think the focus on the institution we want to "plant" is wrong. The whole concept has become another Christian business machine.

What a concept. BE the ekklesia. Paul did not even need buildings except for the time he rented the hall of tyrannis because he was being limited on the streets.