When the Church was a Family by Joseph Hellerman (book review)

I received When the Church was a Family by Joseph Hellerman from B&H Academic as a complimentary review copy. The title of the book truly intrigued me, and I was drawn to the subject matter. Hellerman’s subtitle for the book reads, “Recapturing Jesus’ vision for authentic Christian community.” The author begins the book by establishing the mindset of the people of God in the biblical world – they were group-oriented first and foremost. It is not as though they always acted in accordance with the best interests of the group as a whole, but that these contrary examples were seen as less than desirable, not models to emulate. This mindset of placing the interests and well-being of the group (or family) above the interests of the individual is so foreign to our American rugged-individualism. This is why it is difficult to understand certain teachings or biblical accounts because they harken to the well-being of the group being more important than the interests of the individual.


One of the examples that Hellerman sets forth to prove his point is how individuals made decisions about what we believe in our contemporary world are the most important decisions of life – where will I live, what will I do for work, and whom will I marry? In the biblical world, the individual would live where his family lived, he would do what his father did for work, and he would have a pre-arranged marriage. This eliminated stress in relation to these areas of life. In the church today, these are the areas in which people struggle the most with anxiety and uncertainty. Many of our cultural examples (Hollywood’s depictions) involve “following your heart” which ends up being self-serving, self-exalting, and self-rewarding pursuit of pleasure. Sadly, this mindset has become entrenched in the church. Hellerman seeks to counteract this un-biblical mindset with his book.


I really like the historical and biblical evidence set forth in the book by the author. He sheds light on the cultural mindset which was present in the biblical time period, and what God was calling his people to do in living life deeply with one another in service to God. I think that the message of this book is very needed and important, for the spiritual good of the church and its witness in the world.


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