You Are Chosen: The Priesthood of All Believers. By Herschel Hobbs. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990. 123 pp. Cloth, $15.95.
As pastor of a Southern Baptist Church, I was deeply interested in Hobbs’s presentation of the priesthood of the believer for two reasons. First, Herschel Hobbs is a definitive writer of Southern Baptist thought. Second, this well-beloved doctrine has become perverted by what is known in SBC circles as “the Controversy.” Hobbs presents what I consider to be the doctrine’s Baptistically orthodox form-free from the parochial answers which it has been made to justify in the recent past.
Hobbs states that the priesthood of the believer means that every person in Christ is competent to stand before God without need for a human or human-made “go-between” (p. 1), excluding human interference of any kind between the individual soul and God (p. 3). After looking at the concept of priesthood both in the Bible and in subsequent history (pp. 5–16), he concludes that the privileges of the believer-priest are direct access to God for fellowship and confession, and the right to read and interpret Scripture as led by the Holy Spirit. Our responsibilities are to love, and to study the Scriptures. From this he branches out to examine the question of sovereignty and freewill, taking a traditional Baptist amalgamation of eternal security and the understanding that God predetermines the means of salvation, while leaving the acceptance of that plan to the individual. He presents a very balanced position concerning every believer being a minister. His insistence on the absolute necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit is both stirring and refreshing.
My criticisms of the book are few. First, many, both in and outside of Baptist circles, will find his use of the priesthood of the believer as proof of congregational church polity a non sequitur. In concluding one of many defenses, he expresses that “The decisions of the local congregation on ecclesiastical matters are ‘the consensus of the competent’” (p. 4).
Having seen rampant carnality in business meetings from childhood on, I would conclude that many Christians are not spiritually competent and have no business guiding the direction of the church. Second, I also believe that his understanding of pastoral authority in spiritual matters does not do justice to the biblical text, and that there is a biblical line of belief (creed or no creed) which if crossed brands one as a heretic. The claim to Spirit-led interpretation is often a false one (2 Pet 3:17).
In sum, this book is a presentation of Baptist thought by one whose theological writings are highly respected by Southern Baptists. I recommend it to those within and outside of that particular circle for understanding the priesthood of the believer. Special appreciation is due to Harper & Row for publishing a book which will appeal to a conservative Christian audience.
Mark A. Ellis
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society