Cover Image: Shepherds After My Own Heart

Shepherds After My Own Heart:
Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible (NSBT)

Timothy Laniak (Apollos, 2006)

Blurb Review by Dr. Andy Draycott

Review by Dr. Andy Draycott

This 20th contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series is organised into five main sections and a sixth short six pages of conclusion and epilogue. Before the material of the study proper Laniak offers an account of his purpose to which we'll return below and an overview of the material he will cover. He suggests that the ‘discipline of biblical theology represents an effort to describe the major themes and concerns of biblical authors at a level beyond a single text. In a sense, it is exegetical theology. We are giving the ancient authors ‘voice' about the topics of greatest concern to them, to hear them, in so far as is possible, as they were heard in their world, and within the context of their literary creations' Setting aside the negative implications of needing to give the authors ‘voice', it is clearly the marshalling of a topical overview that is in store. The promised topic being ‘pastoral traditions and leadership in the Bible'. As we shall see from the material that is surveyed and that which is not (e.g., no Amos, the shepherd-prophet) the ‘leadership' that is looked for is that which is tied to the pastoral tradition and is therefore ‘pastoral leadership'. This introductory segment ends with alternative suggested critical paths for the (likely) readership, aimed at either the academic or the thoughtful pastor. (Would that the sheep would move on to solid food and defy these, albeit, perhaps, realistic, expectations! Heb. 5v 11-14)

After the introduction comes section I offering Background in three chapters : a discussion of (Ch. 1) Metaphors for the moment, (Ch. 2) Shepherds in the ancient world, and (Ch. 3) Shepherd rulers in the ancient world. In this section Laniak presents a wide-ranging survey of extra-biblical, archeological and anthropological research in a very manageable manner for the non-specialist. The breadth of the pastoral task and metaphor in the ancient near east is very well expounded.

Section II moves us onto the biblical material proper as an examination of the dominating Biblical Prototypes: (Ch. 4) YHWH, Moses and the ‘flock' of God in the wilderness; and (Ch. 5) YHWH, David and the royal traditions.

Section III YHWH, The Messiah and Promises of a Second Exodus tracks (Chs. 6-9) through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah respectively. Section IV The Shepherd Messiah, his Followers and the Second Exodus takes up the pastoral tradition of the four Evangelists in examinations of (Ch.10-13) (See BLURB for more details of chapter titles) These chapters are all very helpful for registering the nuance and force of the pastoral metaphor in correspondence with the hopes and prospects of salvation history, and their messaianic fulfilment in Christ

Section V Following and Serving the Shepherd-Lamb looks at (Ch. 14) 1 Peter, and (Ch. 15) Revelation. After the concluding pages there are a couple of short appendices and thorough bibliography and indices.

In reading this book as part preparation for some lectures on the theology of pastoral care it was a little depressing to turn from a standard British textbook that claimed that the Bible had effectively nothing to say to modern pastoral concerns, despite the apparently misnamed ‘Pastoral' epistles, to find that Laniak, also, had no space to cover the ‘pastoral' epistles either. Now in fairness, of course, this is a deliberately narrow-focussed and therefore partial study which the author admits must be supplemented with other biblical material. ‘[W]e ought to appreciate the inclination of most biblical authors to engage a variety of images to express the dynamic and ultimately inexpressible nature of God'(p. 250). Yet, at the same time, the claims that are made about the possible achievement of the study are open to challenge on at least one front.

A fulsome concluding paragraph bears quoting at length:

‘The biblical understanding of human rule as an extension of divine rule helps explain why a biblical theology of leadership necessarily involves a journey into theological terrain classically categorized as Christology and theology (proper). Our exploration of leadership has carried us into ecclesiology, soteriology and anthropology as well. While these dimension of the discussion may have been unexpected, they reflect an important fourth observation. Biblically, leadership can only be understood in terms of a fully integrated theological vision of God and his work on earth. A comprehensive pastoral theology engages readers in this rich vision.'

This illustrates the wisdom of seeing the wideness of a theology that may proceed upon the study of the Biblical pastoral tradition. And Laniak has given us plenty of material to work on.

But hold on a minute: ‘leadership' seems to be taken as a generally familiar category that could do with some biblical tweaking. So Laniak writes in his introduction: ‘It is my hope that the following journey through Scripture will prompt rich reflection on the nature of the pastor's identity as God's undershepherd....the Bible promotes robust, comprehensive shepherd leadership, characterized as much by the judicious use of authority as by sympathetic expressions of compassion.' (p. 21) Despite ample description of the use of the metaphor of shepherd rule we have no conceptual analysis of what is meant by rule, so that we are simply left with the contentious, if not plain trite, contrast of authority and compassion.

More must be made of the political language of rule and its kingly expression, ultimately in Jesus, the good shepherd, and the Kingdom of God. There are, after all, congregations that remain to this day ‘ruled' by a Rector. Even if Gregory the Great's Pastoral Rule is not the first port of call for a theological exploration of the biblical tradition, the a long tradition of historical Christian language that holds on to the political implications of rule is just left hanging as unbiblical by the present study. Even if Revelation might be argued to tend this way (an open question) 1 Peter has plenty of room for the human institution of government, and had Acts and the Pauline epistles bulked out the treatment this omission may have been avoided. Of course, this is perhaps doing no more than highlighting the difficulties of the metaphor/semantically based exegetical study that purports to refuse a conceptual framework and so just seems to fall into a modern anti-authority guise which requires this to be ‘balanced' for the sake of being compassionate about service.

Equally one wonders why the church might be so self-obsessed as not to posit any missional understanding of the place of rule in wider secular political life when it addresses leadership. Does the term Christian Leadership refer solely to ecclesial office, or full-time ministry, or may it assume wider socio-political guises? Series editor Don Carson writes of Laniak's study ‘there are enriching and humbling practical entailments: so extensive is this imagery in the domain of Christian leadership that it contributes a great deal to what Christians ought to understand about leadership itself, and how they practise it. That is no small matter: it is part of faithfulness to Jesus Christ, who alone is the chief shepherd, not only commanding his undershepherds, but demonstrating in his own life and death and resurrection what Christian leaders are privileged, and morally obligated, to become.' (p. 12) Does resurrection include ascension here? How might a consideration of the authority of the ascended Christ given at Pentecost have taken the account of Luke more fully into the Christian church's world of Acts and its material for leadership?

The book's blurb is instinctively correct in when it says: ‘The pastoral role was central to the ongoing life of local churches in the Christian movement, and today's pastors are still called to be shepherds after God's own heart, to lead his people, living on the margins of settled society, to their eternal home.' Yet, the book does not fully explore even the New Testament biblical material on the pastoral role in the church, and is insufficiently conceptually aware of issues of ‘rule', ‘authority' and ‘society' to speak of leadership ‘on the margins' without much question-begging.

My thanks then to Laniak for an accessible and articulate compilation of some of the material important for an account of leadership, Christian or otherwise. Ultimately, this is a good, clear book on the biblical pastoral tradition but is too conceptually thin to deliver a full account of rule and therefore of shepherd-leadership. Vital building blocks are there but they do not amount to an account of leadership as rule, a treatment which remains otherwise parasitic on unmade arguments and cultural, ecclesial assumptions. A more guarded framing of the title and blurb would have set the book up better.

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