A Review of
Representing Christ: A Vision For the Priesthood of All Believers
Uche Anizor and Hank Voss
Reviewed by Trent Crofts
My first year of college involved a lot of church shopping. Oddly enough, the experience was analogous to shoe shopping. I remember thinking, “this church feels too restricting, this feels too loose, this is bland, this is flashy, this smells,” and so on and so forth. At the time, I focused on what I could get out of church—rather than what church could get out of me. I lacked vision for how believers can serve within the Church, a vision that Representing Christ provides.
Written by Uche Anizor and Hank Voss, Representing Christ provides an introduction to a necessary conversation about the priesthood of all believers, a conversation that is based on Scripture, grounded in history, and motivated for service in the Church and in the world.
In the introduction, Representing Christ helpfully outlines the different understandings of “priesthood” within three expressions of Christianity (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant) and affirms that each tradition articulates and emphasizes some aspect of the doctrine. However, the authors move into arguing for a Protestant interpretation of the priesthood of all believers with no justification for this decision. Some of the chapters hint at interaction with the other two traditions, but the authors could have created more dialogue between the three.
The book then unfolds in four arguments. The first argument employs biblical theology to develop the theme of priesthood through the Old and New Testament. The authors draw three conclusions from this sketch: (1) the priesthood pictured in the OT anticipates the eschatological Priest-King with whom the Church participates; (2) the Church as a royal priesthood exists to offer spiritual sacrifices, serve, and preach God’s word; and (3) every member participates in the ministry of preaching the gospel.
Within this chapter, I was most interested in the idea that Israel’s priesthood was “word-based.” After listing several functions of the priesthood, the authors note, “The common feature of all these ministries is their clear public and word-centered orientation. Priests bring the word of the Lord to bear on the entirety of Israel’s existence, in the everyday and sacred dimensions as well as the legal and cultic” (36). While the authors may overstate their case—word-based ministry does not connect to the prototypical understanding of Adam as priest, which the authors argued for within the same chapter, nor does it encapsulate the function of mediation, which may better describe priesthood—this stress on the word undoubtedly captures a significant aspect of priesthood that is underemphasized in the Church.
The second argument focuses on the historical development of the doctrine of priesthood. I enjoyed this brief historical account and found the focus on Martin Luther to be a helpful example of theological retrieval the authors promote. They remind us that Luther wanted to reform the Church by returning to doctrine previously established, not replace it. Luther’s approach to the interpretation and teaching of Scripture by all believers receives particular attention. The authors argue that Luther distinguished between official and nonofficial ministry of the Word. Luther’s emphasis on this doctrine focuses on the individual’s obligation. The authors write, “Luther does not intend to create an individualistic democracy within the church…Christians have access to God and his Word in order that they might minister the latter in its many forms to one another” (82, author’s emphasis). Protestant readers like myself would do well to heed this reminder. Luther’s work produced unparalleled access to the Bible, but this opportunity necessitates responsibility—that we not isolate ourselves in our reading of Scripture.
The third argument develops the theology behind priesthood, arguing for a “Christocentric-Trinitarian vision.” In this understanding, participation in the priesthood of Jesus involves communion and cooperation with the Trinity. The author explains, “[The] royal priesthood understands itself to be sent by the Father to share in the mission of the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit” (91). The Trinity thus gives direction to the priesthood.
The book provides helpful vocabulary for relating to the Father, Son, and Spirit in this doctrine. The defense of their argument, however, bears mixed results. The authors list three ways Protestants neglect the Trinity in terms of priesthood: understanding pastors and elders as those responsible for “ministry;” crass individualism among believers who think they have no use or need for the local church; and under-appreciating God’s mission for the world and the role of the Spirit in this work. While all of these critiques have merit, the authors only successfully tie the third problem to understanding the Trinity.
The fourth argument extends the response of the priesthood to God’s grace through seven practices: baptism, prayer, lectio divina, church discipline, ministry, proclamation, and the Lord’s Supper. As ministers of God, these practices encapsulate what service and sacrifice looks like within the Church. Listing seven practices does not necessarily capture every aspect of service, but it at least provides a helpful framework. I especially appreciated the authors’ “bookending” of baptism and communion. They write, “Baptism is the public commissioning to the worship, work and witness of the royal priesthood, and the Lord’s Supper is the ongoing means by which the royal priesthood publicly renews its baptismal covenant vows” (118). These practices provide healthy forms of worship so that the Spirit may lead believers in the imitation of and participation in Jesus’ priesthood.
In the concluding section of Representing Christ, the authors write, “Our desire in this book has been to paint a contemporary vision for representing Christ as members of his royal priesthood” (149). Did the authors succeed in this goal? Overall, yes. Some chapters certainly appear stronger than others (namely the biblical and theological arguments), but they provide a comprehensive, albeit Protestant, examination of the priesthood of all believers. The book suffers from exploring a broad range of issues in less than 200 pages, but the authors have at least begun paving the way for further discussion. I think Representing Christ is best suited for a group of pastors working through the structure of their church (particularly the last chapter on practices), small groups thinking through their role as members within the Church (note the chapters on history and practices), and students of theology to begin contemplating the issues related to the doctrine overall (especially the chapters on biblical and Trinitarian theology).