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.

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About futonreformer

I am a pastor in the PCA serving in Myrtle Beach, SC. I am a sixth generation Tampa native and I love the Rays and Bucs!

4 responses to “Book Review: The Vine and the Trellis”

  1. Paul S. says :

    Interesting thoughts Justin. I have to laugh because we are working through this book with the men of our church and I had almost the exact same reaction to the book that you did. It makes some very good observations and points, But on the issues you already mentioned I keep going back to Calvin III.X.VI and his thoughts on vocation and calling.

  2. Craig Hurst says :

    I love this book! I see what you are saying in your quote on pg. 139 but I think if you asked them they would agree with you that all work is related to Kingdom growth. I think what they are saying is that Discipleship starts with the person first and is then evidenced through their work. How they do their work is effected by their discipleship growth. Maybe I am splitting hairs…..what do you think?

    • futonreformer says :

      Craig,

      I think you are dead on in your assessment of Payne and Marshall’s point. I would maintain, though, that vocation is equally important in the eyes of God and evangelism.

      Perhaps a question is in line here. Would it be wrong for someone to share their faith at work if it interfered with their normal work duties?

  3. Craig Hurst says :

    Yes, vocation is central to the Christian Life. From a Thematic and Biblical theology standpoint, vocation comes before evangelism/mission.

    As to your question, I think we should evangelize as we can at work. This will look different for everyone depending on work conditions and interaction with others. Someone working in a office will have more opportunity to do this without work interference. On the other hand an ER doctor should probably be paying more attention to his work than trying to bring his patient or co-worker to Christ:) There are more avenues to work place evangelism than just the work location.

    In Frame’s book “The Doctrine of the Christian Life” he mentions that when it comes to ethics we are never in a place where we have to choose between the worst of two evils. I think this applies here. We are to evangelize and work. Both are commanded by God and we must obey. However, we are not to evangelize such that we do not fulfill our work responsibilities (which can be a bad testimony – anti-evangelistic). This would have to be fleshed out in each persons work environment.

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