Monday, January 5, 2009

The Vanishing Church: Book Review

Today I finished reading Dr. Bob Pearle's book The Vanishing Church: Searching For Significance in the 21st Century (Hannibal Books, 2009, 143 pages, ISBN: 978-1934749395, $14.95 paperback). Pearle has served as the pastor of Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas for the last eleven years. He is also President of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention. I have had the privilege and honor of having Brother Bob as my pastor for nearly six years.

In his book, Dr. Pearle argues for a reclamation of a biblical church by using Scripture as the foundation of his argument that is buttressed with pertinent examples (good and bad) from church history to the present day. He does so to show that churches that have lost their doctrinal core are struggling with an identity crisis. p. 7. He describes how This book began with a sermon series I preached to the congregation of which I pastor... p. 8. Having heard the sermon series and having now read the book, I am pleased to enthusiastically recommend this book to pastors, theologians, church leaders and layman alike. Every committed follower of Christ that seeks to be part of a biblically based church should read this book.

I found the book to be a straightforward, readable apologetic which a layman can easily understand and grasp. It will also hold the interest of any biblically concerned theologian. I believe that you will agree that Pearle says more with less words than most who endeavor to embark on such a work. The author clearly states that the book is not a formal thesis and not "... an academic treatment on the subject..." p. 8. However, one cannot escape the thorough research of Scripture as he does not shy away from the exposition of texts and words of the koine New Testament Greek and even the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). In this short volume, the reader will find an extraordinary two hundred and seventy-five endnotes of references and Scriptures. He does this in a manner in which a layman unfamiliar with biblical languages would not be overwhelmed or feel that the subject matter is over his head. For example, when defining the word church, Pearle explains the origin of the word in Greek (ekklesia) as well as it's use within Scripture. In fact the entirety of Chapter Four: The Church of the Living God is exemplary of how an expositor of the Word of God can and should use Scripture. Specifically he aptly utilizes the original language in order to allow the text to define itself and make salient points. He then ably uses history and present day illustrations to supplement the text of Scripture.

The book is distinctively divided into three sections that encourage the church to take an honest hard look inward, backward and forward. Throughout the book Dr. Pearle appeals to Scripture as the basis of his assertions. He is an intrepid author contending that many of today's churches are in danger.

Once again the Apostle Paul sounded the alarm. This time the alarm was not sounded to the outside culture but to the church in Colossi. He warned them of certain errors in teaching that threatened the faith of the believers in the church. In Paul's day this error was known as the "Colossian heresy". Today the same kind of error disguises itself in differing ways in the contemporary church. What happens today is just as dangerous and harmful. p. 19.

We see parallels today. In contemporary society and the emergent-church culture truth is viewed as fuzzy, uncertain, vague, and even unknowable. Emergent-church leaders are uncomfortable about declaring any hint of certainty about what the Bible means. p. 33.

Dr. Pearle addresses the issue of regenerate church membership throughout most of section two. Chapter 5 discusses Church Membership; Chapter 6, Christian Baptism; and Chapter 7, The Purpose of the Church. He succinctly and emphatically advocates that a New Testament Biblical Church is one that is only composed of believers that are biblically Baptized (immersed), who follow the command of the Lord to make disciples.

For this Baptist, I am delighted that my pastor deals with an issue most dear to me: ecumenism within our Southern Baptist Convention and the need to recover our Baptist distinctives. After quoting J.M. Frost, founder of the Baptist Sunday School Board, Pearle elaborates:

The need Frost saw last century was to advance Baptist distinctives and denominational identity. This is the same need today. The trend toward ecumenism is diminishing doctrinal differences. Baptists need to get more serious about their doctrinal distinctives and quit trying to be an ecclesial supermarket serving the whims of religious consumers. p.113

Pearle rightly points out that The antidote for Baptists to not travel the same path of Evangelicalism is to remain true to their doctrinal distinctives. Celebrate them and adhere to them, or the same fate of Evangelicalism will be ours. p. 115. He further gives insight to the failure of modern preaching that is void of biblical truth and thus ineffective.

In the modern church this kind of preaching is in short supply. Repentance from sin is seldom declared from church pulpits, if they have one. The therapist's couch has replaced the pulpit in some churches. Felt-needs such as obtaining happiness, overcoming loneliness, dealing with depression, and gaining material wealth are typical of the messages of the day. Felt-needs have trumped biblical doctrine in the preaching ministry. In this therapeutic culture, sin is treated as a disease and not as wickedness and rebellion against God. p. 117.

We are currently living in an age where we are witnessing a movement by Baptist theologians and pastors who want to forget the many sacrifices of our Baptist forefathers and relegate them to a martyrdom that was for naught. They desire to abandon biblical fidelity by widening the definition of what it means to be Baptist. Dr. Pearle argues that churches today are choosing pragmatism over truth. The majority of Christians in the pew (and many unaware pastors) would be shocked to learn that we Baptists are having to defend biblical baptism within our own convention! Pearle articulates a sound biblical vindication of our historic Baptist principles and the need to adhere to biblical doctrine and truth in all matters. Today many preachers and churches are seeking to be culturally relevant rather than biblically sound. This is what is most refreshing about this book; it is a call back to the Scriptures and a reminder that our forefathers died at the hands of other denominations because they would not compromise the Word of God. Dr. Pearle's book is a clarion call for the church to be faithful and vigilant to obey the commands of Christ rather than the latest culturally driven trendy church growth fad.


peter lumpkins said...

Brother Ron,

You've created a desire to read the book! I have my copy in the mail and look forward to reading it.

Our crisis in ecclesial identity is far from over. Dr. Pearle is to be commended for tackling this needed subject.

Grace to you, my brother. With that, I am...


Ron Phillips, Sr. aka Ron P. said...


I appreciate the link from your blog

I hope you have a great New Year, and I am looking forward to your upcoming book!


Grosey's Messages said...

That is excellent Ron.. I greatly appreciate your pastor's thoughtfulness in addressing the real issues.

Baptist Theology said...

Thanks for the review, Ron. It is very encouraging to have pastors like Bob Pearle step up and boldly proclaim the truth of Scripture. This is especially poignant when so many Christians and Baptists would prefer to take the wide cultural route rather than the narrow biblical route.

Bro. Robin said...


Thanks for the review, I anticipate my copy coming to me in the mail.

Now that I know you have a blog I will add you to my blog reader.

God Bless


Ron Phillips, Sr. said...


I could not agree with you more. Unlike a lot of books that one can find about the church and Baptist issues, Bob has written a book about a subject matter of real significance to Christendom and our Baptist Zion.


We need more pastors like Brother Bob who will faithfully preach the whole counsel of God. I am grateful to have such a pastor at Birchman. Far too many men take to the pulpit today who are more like the scribes rather than Christ.

And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Matt. 7:28-29 NKJV

We need more men who preach the Word like Jesus and less like Hollywood.


Thanks. I believe that you will enjoy and appreciate the book. It will be a great read for your church as well.



Hannibal Books said...

Thanks for your great review of Dr. Pearle's book. We appreciate it! We sincerely hope that his book is able to point people in the correct direction to keep churches focused on the truth.

Ron Phillips, Sr. said...

HB (Louis?),

Thank you for publishing the book! By the way, I really enjoyed Witness To The Truth.

Ron P.

Grosey's Messages said...

Many Many thanks Ron for the wonderful copy of Dr. Pearl's book. I greatly appreciate your kindness and generosity in sending it.
It arrived yesterday and I am slowly devouring it.
It is a tremendously needed book.

Ron Phillips, Sr. said...


You are most welcome. I hope you enjoy it.


Ron P.