Top critical review
2 people found this helpful
Passionate, but deeply flawed
on 18 October 2013
I really wanted to like this book -- partly because I know the author, and partly because like him I want to see the church stirred up and become more biblical.
In it, Peyton does three things. First, he argues for a particular understanding of church leadership in the New Testament. Second, he claims that the contemporary church has ignored this model for two long (with chapters like "Why Your Church Sucks"). Third, he finishes with a passionate call to put things right.
The book is bristling with pop-culture references, which you'll probably either love or hate. In the first chapter we're told, "the post-Christian mind-set... [was] swallowing churches alive... like the mightly Sarlacc pit's digestive juices slowing eroding Boba Fett's Mandalorian body armor". Wikipedia had to come to my rescue for that (something to do with Star Wars, apparently).
The final third of the book is undoubtedly the best. I found myself carried along by Peyton's passion for church planting, despite all the hardships it can entail. His emphasis on the need for the Spirit's help is much-needed, and refreshing. Take this as an example: "The wind can't be tamed; it blows where it pleases. But I'll tell you where it pleases. Anywhere somebody is yearning to glorify Christ and step out in faith will find the roaring wind of the Holy Spirit at his or her back." Amen to that!
But unfortunately there are deep problems with the main part of the book. One problem is theological, the other is more about the book's character.
Let's deal with the theology first. Peyton's main argument is that the office of apostle is one that was present in the first century, but is missing today. It's this lack (together with a lack of prophets and evangelists) that is causing much of the problems in the contemporary church. Peyton makes clear that he's talking about apostles with a small `a' -- "a lesser group of church planters who served under Paul". And he's right to point out that Bible does describe many such people as apostoloi. He argues that today we won't have apostles like James and Peter, but we should have small `a' apostles like Titus, Barnabas, Apollos and so on, and that church-planters are these modern-day apostles. So far, so good.
But where does Paul fit into this? According to Peyton, "Paul was not one of the Twelve, but he was a kind of link between the twelve apostles who were there from the beginning and those who would take his place". Perhaps that's the case, perhaps not. But it certainly is clear from the NT that Paul was closer in authority and qualifications to the Twelve than he was to the small `a' apostles. Yet in Church Zero it's not the small `a' apostles that become the model for a modern-day church planter, it's Paul. He gets mentioned nearly 200 times in the book, nearly three times more than all the small `a' apostles put together. That's a big problem if you believe that Paul's role in the church was foundational and meant to be a model for today. And if you're someone who believes the small `a' apostles are to be a model, you'll surely be disappointed that Paul steals all their thunder.
Equally problematic is the lack of discussion as to who it was who sent the small `a' apostles. Peyton says they were "sent out by Jesus", but these small `a' apostles were not sent out directly by Jesus in the way that the twelve were. When we do find reference to their sending, we find they were sent by the church or by Paul (see particularly Acts 11:22 "they sent Barnabas to Antioch", and Philippians 2:19-29, but also Acts 15:22, 27, 17:10, 19:22, 1 Corinthians 4:17, and 1 Thessalonians 3:2). Indeed, it could be argued that the difference between the twelve and the small `a' apostles is that the twelve were directly commissioned by Jesus (as was Paul, of course), whereas the small `a' apostles were commissioned by the church. Peyton's right to say we should be looking for small `a' apostles today, but he's missed the New Testament's emphasis by not adding that they should be sent out and commissioned by the church.
That leads me onto my second, even deeper concern - the character of the book. Peyton says he loves the church, and I believe him, but he's got a strange way of showing it. Early on, he tells us that "the church inchworms pathetically on its mission like a fat little grub". As one Amazon reviewer said, "men usually don't take kindly to that kind of talk about their wives, even if the old lady is fat and not what she once was. It's still the Groom's bride -- show respect, dude."
It's not just the church that faces such heavy-handed criticism. Those who serve in seminaries are "brain-heavy, pasty-white, [and] book-nosed... more wired for holding ground than taking it". Pastors have a "comfortable lifestyle" and refuse to understand the Bible's teaching on church leadership because "it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it". I know many seminarians, and many pastors, and this description fits none of them. They have their faults certainly, but they are as committed to gospel-advancement as any church-planter I know, including Peyton himself.
Church Zero then, is deeply flawed. It's passionate and edgy, and its aim of continuing to reform the church is the right one. But it's built on too shaky a theology to be truly reforming, and even worse, it slanders both the bride of Christ and the gifts he gave her. It's not a book that will win friends, and it will ultimately end up preaching only to the choir -- albeit a punk rock choir.