Emerging Leadership in the Pauline Mission: A SocialIdentity Perspective on Local Leadership Development in Corinth and Ephesus. By Jack Barentsen. Princeton Theological Monograph Series 168. Eugene, Or: Pickwick, 2011, xviii + 378 pp., $44.00 paper.
Jack Barentsen, Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and New Testament at Evangelische Theologische Faculteit in Leuven, Belgium, concludes that “Paul instituted uniform patterns of leadership for those levels of leadership, which sustained the consistent communication of Paul’s gospel in each community in alignment with other churches in the Pauline network” (p. 15). In this revised Ph.D. dissertation, researched under Martin Weber at ETF-Leuven, Barentsen studies 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, and 1-2 Timothy through the lens of social identity theory and discerns patterns of leadership in Paul’s mission among those in Corinth and Ephesus.
Chapter 1 covers key definitions, surveys the plan of the book, and provides an explanatory rationale for his choice of texts and the social identity model of leadership. Barentsen’s research question serves as a helpful introduction: “what were the leadership patterns in these early Christ-following communities, and how did the communities as well as Paul influence the development of these patterns?” (p. 6). Chapter 2 provides a history of research on early church leadership. Barentsen rightly notes that denominational commitment heavily influenced these studies. The Holtzmann-Sohm hypothesis represented the consensus until the middle of the 20th century, when Post-Weberian social scientific studies, disconnected from denominational ties, brought more diversity into the discussion (p. 20). However, this new approach simply replaced denomination ideology with sociological models. Thus, more integrative work still needed to be done. Barentsen situates his study at the intersection of the denominational approaches that were driven by prior institutional commitments and the social approaches with their focus on group dynamics evident in the Mediterranean cultural context. In many ways, Barentsen’s work builds on and seeks to further the work of Andrew Clarke by integrating rather than juxtaposing the social and ideological components of leadership. He also brings further refinement to the model-based approach to social identity theory evident in the work of Philip Esler.
Chapter 3 delineates Barentsen’s “three-stage” social identity model of leadership (SIMOL) that guides the exegetical discussions that follow (p. 32). This chapter analyses the way social identity approaches (SIA) conceive of issues related to leadership. It begins with a brief history of SIA and then covers the basic concepts important to this study, i.e., social identity hierarchies, social identity definitions, and group prototypes and stereotypes. Barentsen points to Esler’s influence in the use of social identity theory within biblical studies, discusses some of the criticisms leveled against scholars using these tools, and introduces his case study approach (p. 42). His model begins with a description of the processes of social identification within groups, processes that will be applied to the situations in Corinth and Ephesus (p. 52). The second stage focuses on the way leaders manage these processes, relating the way Paul engaged leaders and the way the communities negotiate their social identity. The final stage looks at the way a leader’s identity-based management leads to the “emergence, maintenance, and succession of leaders,” providing a substantial discussion of the latter aspect since it has been somewhat under theorized in the literature (pp. 58, 62).
Chapter 4 discusses the impact that cross-cutting social identities (and comparative fit) had within the Corinthian Christ-movement. Barentsen rightly notes that Paul’s rule that members should maintain, where possible, existing social identifications (1 Cor 7:17-24) brought a certain added level of complexity in these identity negotiations (p. 82). One of the significant contributions from this chapter is that it brings to the fore the role of local leaders in the (mis)management of Christian social identity. Thus, paying attention to the way social identity is formed emphasizes details in the text that traditional approaches have overlooked (p. 86 n. 43). Next, Barentsen discusses Paul’s agency with regard to the formation of social identity in Corinth. He provides an excellent overview of the way Paul relies on processes that are also found in SIA; what results is a leader who empowers the Corinthians “to strong identity performance” (p. 100). The final part of the chapter outlines the patterns of leadership that emerged from his SIMOL analysis of 1 Corinthians.
With regard to 2 Corinthians, which is the focus of chapter 5, Barentsen defines the problem as Jewish Christian leaders who have come to Corinth with a different vision for the way Jewish social identities continue to be relevant within the church. These intruding Jewish teachers were able to influence the community because Paul’s social engineering in 1 Corinthians had been ineffective. This group also relied on more culturally acceptable leadership discourses (patronage and recommendation letters). Paul’s initial approach to this problem included a painful visit, a tearful letter, and the agency of Titus, who functioned as a temporary delegate (p. 137). He ultimately was reconciled to the Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians records the way in which the negotiation of identity occurred. In reasserting his position, Paul focused on his position as the ingroup prototype and emphasized the centrality of suffering in mission (p. 138). However, this resolution had not yet taken place so there is no discussion of a leadership successor, and based on the evidence from 1 Clement, initial success in appointing local leaders fossilized and “further succession faltered” (p. 139).
Chapter 6 surveys Ephesians, which Barentsen understands as Paul’s attempt to manage the identity of a stable leadership group by focusing on a universalistic Christian social identity, in contrast to his focus on nested, cross-cutting identities in 1-2 Corinthians. Ephesians is a legitimating document designed to provide necessary organizational structures for a “city-wide church that had outgrown the small network of house churches” (p. 183). Barentsen navigates many of the traditional arguments raised against Paul’s authorship of this letter. For example, Barentsen accounts for the exalted persona of Paul in this letter, which scholars often note is not congruent with the way he presents himself in the undisputed Paulines, as a function of “the normal processes of charismatic leadership attribution” (p. 180). Thus, attention paid to SIA provides plausible solutions for scholarly debates. Barentsen contends that the apostles and prophets were foundational leaders who embodied the ingroup prototype and are joined by local leaders in the formation of Christian social identity, though this latter group “has not yet been shaped into the full-fledged form of church office” (p. 179).
Chapter 7 analyzes 1 Timothy as a communal structuring document. Barentsen provides a series of arguments for an orthonymous understanding of the Pastoral epistles, an important point in his approach. Although he recognizes the problem in approaching a personal letter with a hermeneutic of social identity, he suggests that the community was reading over the shoulder of Timothy. Issues of deviance are brought to the fore in this form of a mandata principis letter, and Paul writes to Timothy in order to instruct him on the way to maintain local leadership (p. 249). He does this through the use of stereotypes, gendered prototypes, succession chains, and the construction of an identity narrative that reinforces beliefs and values (p. 226). Chapter 8 then examines 2 Timothy as a leadership succession letter. Paul defends Timothy’s ecclesial position in the letter by reshaping key attributional processes. He is presented as a leader similar to Paul, which should in turn encourage the community to accept him as they had earlier accepted Paul (p. 274). Chapter 9 provides key implications from this study, especially as they relate to contemporary leadership practices in the church. Barentsen makes the similarities of Paul’s processes in each of the letters clear; the differences that are present are to be explained by the divergent local contexts and stages of leadership development within each community (p. 302).
Barentsen set out to provide a more comprehensive interpretation of the leadership patterns evident in the Pauline communities in Corinth and Ephesus than has been possible using traditional interpretive methods; in this he has succeeded. For those who find themselves in religious contexts that identify closely with Pauline Christianity, Barentsen offers new and fresh insights for leaders seeking to fulfill their missional calling in a way that coheres closely to the scriptural witness. This recommended study provides groundbreaking insight into the way social identity theory can inform contemporary ecclesiology rooted in the consistent leadership practices of the Apostle Paul.