One of the points I made in the first post on the Trellis and the Vine (T&V) related to the way that images and metaphors carry with them a logic or structure, and that logic is what makes the metaphor work. I suggested that the logic of the ‘trellis and vine’ metaphor was bi-partite on the surface, but actually tri-partite – trellis, vine and vine workers. Vine workers do vine work on the vine, or at least they should, but too much work gets done on the trellis. And the problem is that has the necessary drift into separating out 2 kinds of Christians, despite Col and Tony’s best efforts to mitigate against this conclusion. The mitigation efforts don’t really work, and that’s because of the logic of the metaphor.
Of course, Paul uses a metaphor when he want to talk about the issue T&V addresses – it’s the metaphor of the body. What’s so interesting and important about this metaphor is that it also has a logic and structure, but a very different one – its logic is of a unity, neither bi-nor tri-partite, with each part doing very different but equally important work (Rom 12.3-8, Eph 4.7-16 and 1 Cor 12.12-31). In fact, the use to which Paul puts the metaphor in 1 Cor 12 is precisely designed to subvert any possibility of a 2-kinds-of-Christians approach – in Corinth a spiritual / non-spiritual divide (as I am suggesting T&V brings with it a ministry minded / non-ministry minded divide). Hence he asks his rhetorical questions at the end of the chapter – “Do all speak in tongues?” and the answer is emphatically no! and likewise “Are all teachers?” And the answer is equally emphatic!
This relates then to the way that the metaphor of vine work is played out. Vine work is “a Christian bringing a truth from God’s word to someone else, praying that God would make that word bear fruit through the inward working of the Spirit … everything else is trellis”. Now, it turns out that this vine work is centered on a single activity – reading the Bible with someone. This comes through very powerfully throughout the book. Although other kinds of examples are sometimes offered, when vine work is given some quick content, it almost always turns out to be reading the Bible with someone.
My point is this: as the content of the mutual life of the church, let alone the content of Christian ministry, I suggest that it is neither deep enough nor broad enough. Of these 2, it’s the second that is more relevant.
It’s not deep enough because it shares a weakness that I am increasingly convinced is a huge gap for us generally. That is, it fails to engage deeply with the process of sanctification. That is, how do Christians become more and more conformed to the image of Christ? It seems to me that this is exactly the topic at hand, and more needed to be said, in particular, how reading the Bible with someone leads to sanctification. I think that their bold chapter “Why Sunday sermons are necessary but not sufficient” is reaching for this, but doesn’t quite get there, since it merely swaps one method (sermon to large group) for another method (reading the Bible 1-1) – the issue really is, ‘Why the Bible is not enough’?
Now don’t mishear me, please! Of course the ministry of the word is absolutely, fundamentally, non-negotiably, hill-to-die-on necessary. My life’s investment is about that. But the plain fact is that there is more to sanctification than reading the Bible (in a big group or 1-1) – university Biblical studies departments prove that. And it’s that ‘more’ that is crying out to be unpacked. And it’s not good enough to say ‘the Spirit’ either – of course it’s the Spirit, but the issue is what means the Spirit uses. I am convinced this is a massive issue for us; I am convinced that the answer lies in the doctrine of sanctification by faith; I think Tim Keller provides a stimulating model of how to apply that doctrine in sermons and 1-1 reading of the Bible; and I’ve ordered my copy of Berhower’s book of that title to get a handle on it. But, as I say, since this is a one of the bigger issues for us, it’s not really a criticism of T&V, since as far as I can tell, no one much is addressing this issue. But it was an opportunity.
The second issue is a bigger deal. The 1-1 model of reading the Bible is not broad enough. It’s interesting that T&V calls for a ministry mind-set, that does the vine work of 1 Christian bringing the Word of God to another Christian, particularly 1-1. That doesn’t seem to me to be Paul’s mind-set. He has a body mind-set that does the love work (1 Cor 13) of every Christian using whatever gift God has given her or him for the common good. Notice how different this ends up being – love is the dominant value, rather than ministry (of course, love issues in a servant heart, but love is a far less functional concept); the body is the dominant image and so holds together both unity (rather than 2 kinds of Christian) and huge diversity; and therefore the entire range of gifts is deployed for the building of the church, and this is how the church is built (1 Cor 14.5).
In other words, what I’m suggesting is that T&V identify a really important problem – a one sided focus on some aspects of church life (ie. trellis work) – but misfire in regards to the solution, because it equally proposes a one sided focus, this time 1-1 Bible reading. If seriously implemented, it would lead to the same problem! And what drives this is the logic of the metaphor. It’s Paul’s use of the body metaphor that prevents him from falling into the same trap.
And it’s structuring the life and work of a church in such a way that it genuinely releases the full spectrum of people’s gifts, to be exercised in context of the abiding excellence of love, precisely because we are one body in Christ, that is the real challenge of this issue.
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