Thank you to Pickwick for the review copy.
Whether you are a theologian or a biblical scholar, this book deserves a read. Jack Barentsen applies social identity theory to a study of the Christ-following communities in Corinth and Ephesus. Viewing Paul’s letters as “instruments of leadership,” Barentsen examines Pauline leadership emergence, maintenance, and succession in these two locations, as Paul shapes their identity as Christ-followers. The social identity model of leadership integrates the social (historical) and psychological (ideological) factors shaping Paul’s correspondence, providing a heuristic model which can get at the “how” and “why” of Pauline leadership patterns, as opposed to simply their content. Social identity theory can be particularly helpful in assisting more individualistic, global North Christ-followers to understand the cultural world within which Paul and the early Christ-followers lived. Barentsen then explains specifically how Paul assisted the Christ-following community to see their membership in Christ as their superordinate identity.
Also, having a more fleshed-out picture of the early church’s background allows Barentsen to make sense of seemingly inconsistent aspects of Paul. For example, why is it that sometimes Paul emphasizes his own apostolic authority (at the expense of local leaders), while other times he downplays his role and empowers local leaders? The social identity theory of leadership also allows Barentsen to challenge – successfully – the Holzmann-Sohm hypothesis, which suggests that early church leadership was originally charismatic, then later became legalistic and focused upon offices. Wrapping up his work with avenues for further study and implications of his work, Barentsen makes his own suggestion as to what aspect(s) of Pauline leadership are cross-cultural.
This is an exciting study for people interested in Pauline theology, leadership strategies past and present, church government, application of social identity theory to biblical studies, as well as methods for historical study of the NT that neither exclude nor marginalize theology. I hope to see more of this sort of work!