The Barnabas Ministry
Book Review


Radical Restoration: A Call for Pure and Simple Christianity
F. LaGard Smith (Cotswold Publishing, Nashville, TN., 2001). 316 pages.

F. LaGard Smith is Scholar in Residence for Christian Studies at Lipscomb University. Radical Restoration challenges the traditional Church of Christ (and all churches with similar "restorationist" ideals) with the question: have you really restored New Testament Christianity, or have you just settled into a tradition? Taking a fresh look at the "biblical pattern" Smith addresses some very specific areas where present church tradition seems to have drifted from Biblical practice:

  • Are you really non-denominational?
  • The question of form vs. function
  • Communion in an unworthy manner?
  • Capturing the benefits of the first century house-church
  • Elders functioning as a board of directors instead of as shepherds for sheep
  • "Pulpit ministers" neglecting evangelism to function as a CEO of the church
  • "Youth ministries" driving the church
Rather than abandoning the restoration ideal in favor of a progressive theology, Smith argues that the church has either 1) restored the wrong things, 2) stopped restoring and settled for a justifiable tradition, or 3) has not seen the "ancient pattern" in the proper abstraction. For those with a restorationist mindset or background, this discussion is beneficial. Appendices include selected "opposing viewpoints" and discussion questions.

I applaud Smith for calling for critical self-examination and re-examination of the Scriptures. This would naturally meet with resistance when an organization or individuals thinks it is already right. He looks at passages on structure, organization and practices with freshness, not constrained by his present traditions nor seeking to justify them. In fact, he is willing to point out how present practices are detrimental to the intended ends and seem to be distant from Scriptural precedent.

However, to a certain degree Smith seems to demonstrate the "canonizing of the primitive pattern" approach often characterizes and limits restoration movement thinking. I think it is clear that the early church did not have a single pattern of organization and practice in many areas, but that there were multiple "patterns" that were all acceptable expressions of faith. Too often narratives and biblical examples are thought to communicate what we must do instead of what we may do or might do. Focusing so much on patterns of organization and structure (a Church of Christ specialty) can lead to confusing the gospel with the latest ideas on organizational structure and pattern-following.

To his credit, Smith does not seem to allow for worship of the pattern, or the latest perspective on the pattern. He is sensitive to the church being the kind of people God calls us to be, arguing that church practices and approaches have a significant role in shaping participants. He seeks to transform a church stuck in unhealthy patterns that they might suppose are the only Scriptural options. To those seeking a healthier , less tradition bound church, and also feeling a need to "restore (or respect) the ancient pattern," Smith's perspectives ought to be received as a welcome breath of fresh air. 

Copyright © 2004 John Engler. All rights reserved.


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