Rediscovering the Elder. An Ancient Office for Today's Church is not just another book on church leadership, but a refreshing biblical and theological look at local church leadership by elders, in which cultural considerations receive their proper place. Besides arguing for this office as fundamental to local church leadership, Van Dam counters the contemporary tendency to locate church leadership roots and practice mostly, or only, in the NT with an extensive and lucid discussion of relevant OT material. By showing OT wisdom literature's peculiar contribution to successful church leadership Van Dam also corrects an often neglected aspect of leadership. As a unique contribution to church leadership literature, Rediscovering the Elder is a must read for churches wishing to reinvigorate their own traditions of local leadership or to train those elders or presbyters elected to exercise Christian pastoral care.
With much appreciation I have read the manuscript The Elder: An Ancient Office for Today's Church by Dr. Cornelis Van Dam. In my judgment this is an excellent book that will be read with great interest by elders, ministers, and theologians in Reformed and Presbyterian churches. The book will serve as an eye-opener for many readers, because it deals with a neglected topichow the New Testament office of elder is rooted in Old Testament background. I would definitely include this book on the list of required readings for introductory course to Practical Theology. I know no other book that explains the continuity (and discontinuity) between the OT and the NT offices as clearly as Dr. Van Dam does in this book. Van Dam deals with several topics that continue to generate discussions in the churches. For example, he shows how studying the tasks of elders and priests in the Old Testaments helps us to see the differences between the teaching elder and the ruling elder today. I am convinced that Van Dams view will play an important role in the discussion between those who hold a two-offices view and those who hold a three-offices view. The book gives guidance to ministers and elders who struggle with practical questions such as: How can we equip (candidate) elders for the office? Should the eldership be permanent or should it have an indefinite tenure? Elders in the churches will read the part on church discipline with great interest. Van Dam illustrates how the principles of the law as given in the Old Testament can have great benefit for the church today. He describes how God gave his law to his people in the full realization of their weakness and inability which has obvious implications for church discipline. In addition to this, the author describes how God's righteousness often means his mercy and benevolence, going beyond the strict justice of the letter of the law. This raises the question of what an elder can tolerate in the process of shepherding the flock. Reflecting on what may be tolerable and why can be very helpful. In my estimation, this book will have a long life span. It is a book that will be read and reread for many years to come. Theologians will interact with it. Theological students will be expected to study it. Consistories will put it on their agenda for discussion. I can imagine groups of elders studying the book together and discussing it one chapter at a time. With these reflections I endorse the book proposal by Dr. Van Dam with enthusiasm.
Rooted in the deep soil of Reformed faith and practice, The Elder is also a treasure at a time when much gets lost these days in translation from theory to practice. I heartily recommend this book for current elders, elders-in-training, aspiring elders, and those who seek to be blessed by their labors.
Dr. Van Dam's contribution to the churches is for many years to come. He is a professor of Old Testament, but also a church man with a deep love for the local church. Out of this commitment, he has studied what the Bible says about elder rule in order to encourage elders and churches to reconnect with the biblical teaching on wise governance that is distinctive from contemporary models of leadership. Because elder governance is not unique to the Presbyterian form of government, I expect leaders in many different churches to benefit from reading and applying this book to their lives and to contribute to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Cornelis Van Dam provides a full and intelligent discussion of the biblical texts that inform our understanding of the office of the elder in the church today. This book is a must for those who are elders or who think they might be called to that office.
Displaying the carefulness of a biblical scholar and the wisdom of a pastor, Cornelis Van Dam examines key passages related to elders in the church. Readers will find themselves challenged, stretched, and edified as they encounter seasoned insights on matters such as shepherding, church discipline, and personal character. The work shows particular promise as a tool in training elders in Reformed churches.
In my judgment the monograph The Elder: An Ancient Office for Today's Church by Cornelis Van Dam is an excellent treatment of a neglected topic. Written from a self-consciously Reformed perspective, Van Dam looks at the office of elder in a broad redemptive-historical context, rooting the New Testament givens in their Old Testament background, and carefully noting both the continuity and discontinuity between the testaments with respect to this office. By thus situating the eldership in the broad metanarrative of Scripture, Van Dam (himself an Old Testament scholar) gives a perspective which is sorely lacking in most contemporary treatments of the topic. Although written for a broad audience, the book is based on solid scholarly research, and interacts with a broad range of biblical and theological scholarship. A specific strength of the book is the way it draws on the rich Dutch sources that are available on this subject, which are generally inaccessible to a North American audience. A further unusual strength is its treatment of the flexibility of Old Testament law as a guide for the contemporary elder's pastoral care. It thus takes seriously the Reformed confession that the truth and substance of the Old Testament Torah is still relevant to the lives of Christians today, and refutes the widespread misconception of that Torah as rigid and inflexible.
Dr. Van Dam's book enlarges a growing body of material designed to assist churches and church leaders in applying Scriptural teaching to the organization and government of God's people. Because it is rich in biblical teaching and careful reflection, this book will be useful for group study and church leadership training. It belongs in every church library and in the hands of every elder and church member as a manifesto of mutual expectations. May it be serviceable to the greater glory of Christ and the well-being of his church.