Review: Estelle, The Primary Mission Of The Church (Mentor, 2022)

Western culture is being ripped apart, to varying degrees depending on the country, over issues of social justice and cultural welfare. That increasing pressure has also often included the advocates of various social causes demanding assent from everyone else. This no exception approach to ideological uniformity has also often affected the church, as proponents of cultural issues impose their views upon us as another institution that must get in line with secular orthodoxy. Perhaps even more troubling, Christians also have sided against one another even on these exact same issues—in some way or another—both insisting that the church must adopt and promote their cause. Christians sympathetic to mainstream cultural woes summon the church to align itself overtly with the same causes defended in the popular media, while Christians who see those issues as nonsensical intrusions of unbiblical mindsets insist that the church speak out against these same agendas. Ironically, both sides of this issue demand the same thing: that the church as church address cultural issues with a formal and official stance and pronounce from the pulpit about what God has said we must do.

Into this furor of demands for the church to saddle up for or against every wave of cultural concern, Bryan Estelle has contributed a balanced, even-keeled defense of the church’s mission as focused primarily upon spiritual matters. The doctrine of the spirituality of the church teaches that the church’s job is defined by the Scripture, specifically to focus on gospel proclamation rather than on speaking to cultural issues. Although some have thought this doctrine originated in American Presbyterianism during the Civil War, Estelle explores its biblical foundations along with the historical instances that help us formulate a more precise understanding of the church’s mission.

Estelle’s balance is in providing a biblical basis for individual Christians to engage social issues thoroughly according to their consciences, allowing the church to speak to moral matters, and protecting the church from intruding too far into areas that do not properly belong to its mission. Throughout the book, Estelle insists that his doctrine of the two kingdoms approach to Christ and culture facilitates greater engagement with cultural matters at the individual level because the responsibility for social issues is not handed over from personal obligation to the church. Moreover, Estelle affirms that the church must address the genuine obligations of God’s moral law, even while she must avoid pronouncing about particular policies, votes, or political issues. So, for example, the church is obviously responsible to decry racism and abortion as sinful but must also not pretend to have authority to speak to how Christians must vote for candidates or specific policies as they relate to these moral issues.

Estelle’s book provides some truly original biblical insights as he reflects upon the Joseph and Daniel narratives, arguing that they exemplify God’s people engaging as individual believers in the secular field. The historical material provides an illuming exploration of what the spirituality of the church is not, and what it is. Readers will find throughout this nearly-comprehensive volume thought-provoking material to help discover a refined, precise, and biblical understanding about what task Christ gave his church between his ascension and return.

Bryan D. Estelle, The Primary Mission of the Church: Engaging or Transforming the Culture. Reformed Exegetical and Doctrinal Studies. (Fearn: Mentor, 2022).

©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.


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