Book Review: The Vine and the Trellis
As many of my readers know, I was raised in fundamentalism and the vestiges of that remain with me to this day. Many of you also know that I have long since stopped identifying myself as a fundamentalist and would consider myself broadly Reformed. More specifically, I identify myself with the Dutch-Neo-Calvinist of the late 19th/early 20th century. All that to say that I was very interested in reading The Vine and the Trellis because of the buzz it created about a year ago in the reform community. Westminster Seminary’s bookstore featured the book and a number of blogs were giving it a great amount of attention.
First and foremost, Vine and Trellis is based on a metaphor for ministry that goes something like this: The vine is the Gospel ministry and the Trellis is the support/business of the church. Payne and Marshall contend that there is far too much emphasis put on “Trellis” ministry and too often “Vine” ministry is ignored. By-and-large I agree with the premise of this book. However, as one of the elders pointed out at a session meeting this past meeting, “The business of the church is important too”.
As Marshall and Payne lay out their case, they show how the church must encourage every member to be engaged in gospel ministry. They then show how that is the only way for churches to genuinely grow. They go into great detail on how one pastor cannot do the ministry by himself. This leads to a model where the pastor is a trainer for the rest of the congregation. This idea, is imminently, biblical. It is exactly what Paul was talking about in Ephesians 4.
As far as discipleship goes, this book does a good job modernizing and applying books like Coleman’s classic The Master’s Plan for Evangelism.
And yet I have this one thing against the book. It lends itself back to a platonic/gnostic worldview. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the chapter on vocation. Marshall and Payne say, “We don’t make disciples of Jesus by building better bridges, but by prayerfully bringing the Word of God to people”. (pg. 139) This shortsighted view of the Kingdom and this life is endemic to Evangelicalism. It trivializes work and reduces us to something sub human.
My thinking on this subject was dramatically altered by two things. The first was reading Where in the World is the Church. While I may not agree with everything Horton said in the book, it was the first time I was introduced to Kuyperianism. The idea that the brick well laid was just as glorifying to Christ as the sermon well preached was revolutionary and beautiful. It allowed me to give meaning to the day to day lives of those I served as a Pastor. The second event that changed my thinking was the movie The Big Kahuna. This movie is the tale of two road-weary salesman and a young christian tech who accompanies them to a conference. It was originally a play called the Hospitality Suite. The way the move shows the flaws of work being a means of evangelism is shaking. Many Christians don’t know what unbelievers feel like when we do this. the Big Kahuna reminds us.
Overall the book is helpful, if we understand that evangelism is a part of the larger whole of what it means to be a redeemed human.