My review of the third edition of Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting.
Goals of the book:
In our post-modern societies, the value of community and togetherness has become more important than we’ve realized. More and more people are becoming isolated and feel more lonely than they did in the previous generation, and more young people are seeking greater degrees of belonging. In light of this, it’s super important that churches step up as places of hospitality toward those who are seeking a place to belong. The kingdom of God is ruled by a Father with arms wide open, waiting to welcome in any to come to him. The early church was a safe haven for those who were outcast and poor, welcoming and fostering a community of believing among anyone who would come to them. Unfortunately, as Robert Banks believes, the Church has lost sight of the original church’s vision for community that Paul expresses in the New Testament.
Even if the church has lost her early vision of community, she still has the New Testament. This is what prompts Robert Banks to write this volume. Banks’s Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in their Cultural Setting becomes an important book for churches, pastors, and any who would offer hospitality in the name of Christ. So important, in fact, that this review is looking at the third printing of the title! Readers who have already read this book might still find quite a bit to enjoy with a re-read; the third edition contains updated information based on current scholarship, edits for clarity in certain chapters, with an updated bibliography and an added index.
What does this book offer the church?
The basis of true community, and the church, for Paul, is the gospel itself. Because of that, the book seeks to investigate the way that the gospel influences our communities, our residences, our households, our unity with others, our meals, how we give and exercise gifts, and how we interact with “othered” people such as women and outsiders. A lot of churches consider themselves to be gospel-centered, aiming for the gospel to influence every aspect of their lives. Banks’s book offers us insights into the way that Paul teaches us how the Gospel can work in our lives and affect the way that we live in community with one another. If we can start to see the Church and our community the way that Paul does, through the lens of the Gospel, we can’t help but grow together in unity and love.
Like I alluded to above, this book becomes an important piece that would help pastors, small group leaders, and ministry leaders think biblically about the way that they organize and talk about their communities. One thing that I have noticed lately is that a lot of books call the Church to emulate the practices of the early church, but they look only at the church’s practices rather than their biblical sources. By calling us to look at Paul, Banks offers us a more sustainable way of rethinking community and addressing it as a church.
How successful is this book in reaching its goals?
The book aims to look at Paul’s idea of community. In light of this, certain ideas had to be omitted. Obviously, this means that the book does not focus on the entirety of the New Testament, leaving the work of investigating the Gospels, Johannine corpus, and Catholic Epistles to another author. Some (but few, according to [the author]) will bristle at the separation of the Pauline corpus. [Author] looks broadly at the genuine letters, and includes Ephesians, while relegating the Pastoral Epistles to the back. I would have been disappointed had [author] focused solely on the so-called genuine epistles. Even if Paul didn’t write the entirety of the corpus assinged to him, it would have been important to trace the Pauline school’s idea of community. Thankfully, the Pastorals are included and studied, albeit separately from the rest of the book.
You can read more about the third edition on Baker Publishing Group’s website. You can order it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other websites.