Book Review: Political Church (Jonathan Leeman)

What is the local church? Or, perhaps, what is the church? Is it a body of believing Christians? Is it all of God’s people, his temple? Do we “go to church” or are we “the church”? How does the church live within the political sphere? Are they truly separate entities? In Political Church, Jonathan Leeman makes a case for the political nature of the local church and argues that it is possible to be political and a Christian. In fact, everything we do is political. “The local church and its members constitute a political community that exists according to Jesus’ explicit authorization in Matthew 16, 18 and 28… The purpose of this political community, then, is to publicly represent King Jesus, display the justice and righteousness of the triune God, and pronounce that all the world belongs to this King. His claim is universal” (294). 

Jonathan Leeman is the editorial director for 9Marks. He is an adjunct teacher for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently serves as an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He has both an MDiv and PhD in theology, both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science, and began his journalism career as an editor for an international economics magazine. Political Church is the third (?) volume in the Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture, edited by Daniel Treier and Kevin Vanhoozer, which brings together Scripture, Christian doctrine, and the issues of our day. Leeman, using biblical theology (here, the flow of the Bible’s storyline), looks at the overall storyline to understand how Christians should think about the political sphere, something which touches every sphere of life (just turn on the news or get on Facebook or Twitter).

The first two chapters asks what “politics” and “institutions” are. Because these two chapters are the most technical, Leeman gives his readers a “get out of jail free” card and tells them that they should “feel free to skip them” (32). They are technical, and I certainly didn’t understand a lot of the political language, but I was stretched and I think I have underlines on almost every page. “Politics” is “public-wide and coercive governance,” an “order-enforcing agency” (60, 61). The local church’s institutional authority is the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16, 18, 28), and the state’s institutional authority is found in “the sword” (since they are, as Leeman argues above, an “order-enforcing agency”). Putting it another way,

institutions tell you how to act, and they give you opportunities to act. They help to define relationships, giving them purpose and direction. They even shape aspects of your identity. Consider just a few examples listed by the sociologists: marriage, the contract, wage labor, the handshake, insurance, the army, academic tenure, the presidency, the vacation, attending college, the corporation, the motel and voting.46 These are very different kinds of institutions, but all of them, in various ways, contain rules and opportunities for action, shape a relationship, and impinge upon identity. (108)

The state builds the platforms of peace and justice so that the church can “hang signs with Jesus’ name over right beliefs, right practices, and right people—the repenting and believing citizens of Christ’s kingdom” (15).

Chapter three looks at the politics of Creations, particularly that as governed and ruled by the triune God. The Christian’s Godthe Father, Son, and Holy Spiritis one of a unified relationship and provides the basis for people to be committed to care for their close neighbors. Husband/wife, parent/child, employer/employee, and neighbor-to-neighbor are the relationships that make up the fabric of society. There are relationships of affirmation and submission. “Good government works according to principles of righteousness, justice and love; and good government works best when ruler and ruled are perfectly in sync” (153).

Chapters 4-6 cover the Politics of the Fall, the New Covenant, and the Kingdom. The “the local church is a political institution because it has been authorized by a King to borrow and wield his own office keys for declaring who is and who is not a citizen in the ‘age of new covenant’” (295). The local church is an extension of God’s kingdom; it is not God’s kingdom, but an embassy for it. It “represents one nation inside of another nation… and it protects the citizens of the home nation living in the host nation. Embassies do not make people citizens of a home nation, but they do formally affirm who is and who is not a citizen of the home nation” (296).

Just as Jesus was ‘under’ the authority of Pilate and submitted to his decrees, Christians are not higher than their governments and must submit to their decrees. However, just as Jesus’ kingdom was elsewhere, Christians are members of the Creator’s kingdom, and he has given them a particular authority to preach the gospel, make disciples, and display love, peace, justice and righteousness. Everyone worships something—either God or idols. Christians are ambassadors for God (2 Cor 5.20); they mediate his covenantal rule to the world around them and call them to submit to Christ the King. 


The volumes in this series are more advanced than what I usually review, and one should have some knowledge of the political sphere to get the most out of this book. But yes, I do recommend it, especially because Leeman works through the Bible’s covenantal storyline. “The church’s life is held together by justification by faith alone, the most powerful political force in the world today for flattening hierarchies and uniting one-time enemies” (14). You may not be a political expert, but you will benefit from reading Leeman’s work. It is slow work, but it is a rewarding read.


  • Series: Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture
  • Author: Jonathan Leeman
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 26, 2016)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 


Book Review: Baptist Foundations (Dever/Leeman)

Baptist Foundations Review


This review will begin backwards. Why even be interested in a book like Baptist Foundations? Students and laymen may (and should) take interest in this, whether to know the views of Baptist friends or to be able to interact with a solid book in their own denomination, this book has a lot of weight to it. But Baptist Foundations is pertinent for pastors and elders—yes, of any denomination (to wrestle and interact with)—but certainly of Baptist churches. In the foreword, James Garrett Jr. says,

Most beliefs that have ever been claimed as Baptist distinctives are ecclesiological in nature; for example, regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism by immersion, various forms of close or strict Communion, congregational polity and autonomy, religious liberty, separation of church and state, and so forth. (ix)

Baptist Foundations is written with Ephesians 4.11–14 in mind. The pastors/elders/overseers (and the deacons!) are not to take all of the work upon themselves, but they are to train the church for ministry both within the church body and outside among those whom they rub shoulders with on a daily basis. The local church—the elders and the members—has been given the keys of the kingdom. This book seeks to teach how to use them properly by presenting the proper structure of the church.


In the Preface, Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman state, “Church polity, most fundamentally, is about exercising God’s authority after him” (xvi). Some revile the idea of being under authority in a church (and some have good reason!), but nonetheless, God has desired to show the world his authority ruled through his church (1 Cor 6.1–8, 9–11). They add, “The congregation is called to exercise one kind of authority, the elders or pastors another kind” (xvi).

After calling for a return to a concern for church polity and an ongoing (or a brand new) humble submission to the Christ-given authority of a local church body, the reader arrives at the Introduction (Leeman). According to Leeman, polity officiates (or “establishes”) a local church, it guards what the gospel message is and who its believers are (and doesn’t mix them with non-believers), it shapes Christian discipleship, strengthens a church’s witness through the hard work of the shepherds to train their members in knowing the Word and understanding our redemption in Christ.

There are five sections to Baptist Foundations. One of the primary distinctives among Baptists is the authority given to the church as seen in Matthew 18.15–18. In part one, Michael Haykin provides the historical background to the rise of congregationalism (ch. 1), and Stephen and Kirk Wellum provide the biblical and theological case for it (2).

In part two, Shawn Wright prepares the reader by five ways through which we should understand the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (3). Wright spends two chapters (5 and 7) on the history and theology of these two ordinances, and Tom Schreiner gives two chapters on how these two ordinances are taught in the Bible (4 and 6). Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are for those who proclaim Christ as their Lord—thus, it is not to be given to infants. In baptism believers remember Christ’s death and resurrection for them. At the Supper, they remember how he died for them, and they look forward to the great eschatological banquet of the new creation.

In part three, John Hammett and Thomas White cover church membership and discipline. Though some churches have used church membership to bring guilt on their members who don’t do or give enough, church membership shows you are committed to the church and it’s members (8 and 9). In this commitment, all have God-given authority to keep one another (including the leadership) accountable. Leeman says, “A local church is a real-life embassy, set in the present, that represents Christ’s future kingdom and his coming universal church” (171). All members are to be regenerate. No church is perfect, but it ought to be easier to maintain sound doctrine with fully regenerate church members than with a mixed membership (for what non-Christian wants to follow Christ’s commands?). This section covers some practical matters as to when and how church discipline should (and should not) occur (10).

Part four covers elders and deacons. Dever scans through history to show how the biblical plurality of elders and deacons changed to what is seen today in many churches and denominations (11). Ben Merckle shows how in the Bible the terms “elder,” “overseer,” “pastor,” and “shepherd” all refer to the same church position (12). There is no notion of a senior pastor nor of an official distinction between elders who teach and elders who rule. Merckle then covers the qualifications (13) for plural eldership and their role (14) in church office. They work hard, lead, admonish, shepherd, equip—all with limited authority over the church members, but equal authority with the other elders (whether full-time or not). Merckle examines the office of deacon (16), and Andrew Davis lays out some practical issues to both elders (15) and deacons (17).

Part five, consisting of two chapters written by Leeman, covers the church and churches. (18) Leeman looks at the unity of the church throughout church history in the dual lenses of holiness (“Who is holy, and what makes a person holy?”) and apostolicity (“Who or what possesses the apostle’s authority, and what is it an authority to do?”—p. 334). Do Christians become members of a church through their status as saints or through what the church has been authorized to do—Christians enter through baptism? For Leeman, the church—the elders and the members—hold the keys to the kingdom (Matt 18.18). All Christians and their churches are united together under the Gospel, but local church members (i.e., those of the same church body) can “participate in the formal discipline of one another, whereas two Christians belonging to different churches cannot” (366).

In the final chapter (20), Leeman provides 25 practical implications from this book for Baptist churches.

Still Recommended?

We live in an anti-institutional age. Many have been burned by churches and have broken away from them. To them, it is appropriate to do so for they are “the church.” However, that complicates matters when we’re called to love one another, discipline one another, treat the unrepentant as not a part of the local church, and so on. What churches need are both humble leaders and a good structure. Being a Baptist myself, I could agree with much in the book. While the practical matters for elders and deacons don’t mean much to me know, they surely will in the future (either when I am one of these things or when I am under the elders), and they will be very handy for those elders who are in a tough spot (like wanting to avoid being sued when church discipline occurs—there are some suggestions on that matter).

I think and hope this book would be read widely. Membership has been abused, but it makes church discipline difficult (how do you discipline someone who isn’t even a member)? We live in a non-committal age, but entering into the membership of a local body means you are committed to that local church body.

This book will not solve everything, but it provides a strong foundation to work on.

*Those in other denominations will probably take beef with Wright’s and Schreiner’s chapters on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These chapters are short, but longer discussions may be found in their works Believer’s Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.


  • Editors: Mark Dever/Jonathan Leeman
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (June 15, 2015)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog.