Dismantling the Servant Paradigm and Recovering The Forgotten Heritage of Early Christian Ministry

Dismantling the Servant Paradigm and Recovering The Forgotten Heritage of Early Christian Ministry

John N. Collins

35.00 €

This book demands responses to what ministry should effect in churches. John N Collins raised this challenge in his 1990 research volume Diakonia: Re-interpreting the Ancient Sources. Over three decades scholars recognised the theological somersault this study represents, but church bodies have largely chosen not to disturb inherited ministries. The same decades have also been witnessing what appears to be the slow death of conventional church life. Nowhere perhaps is this more evident than in the Roman Catholic tradition to which Collins belongs. A bishop theologian of his country declared that in the light of his work “this whole area of theology can never be the same.” With a Plenary Council of Australian bishops scheduled for 2022, Collins hopes their consultations will include women and men in authentic ministry.

Category:Bibles, Mind & Spirit, Religion

Who are you, in a few lines?

Learning Greek at boarding school in Australia in the 1940s paid off by introducing me to Plato and Socrates, this drawing me in the 50s to private readings of the Greek Gospels to the neglect of other studies in preparation for ordination as a Catholic priest. Such an interest gained me, nonetheless, sponsorship for specialist biblical studies in Rome and Jerusalem in the years just prior to the Second Vatican Council. When that Council closed in the mid-60s, so too did my vision of a renewed priestly ministry. The 70s I spent largely in London with my wife as I followed up a dream about one Greek word from the mouth of Jesus in the gospels that had come my way in Papua New Guinea: a diakonia word that my thesis, 6 books, and multiple articles across the next 50 years have sought to publicise as a key to identifying and furthering the mission of Jesus and the ministry of the church.

A perfect day starts with...? And ends with...?

An orange… Sweet dreams – after six or seven hours engaging with, clarifying, and promoting renewal of ministry in the Roman Catholic Church and ecumenically.

How do you handle the COVID-19 pandemic?

Apart from worrying about damage to and distress within local, national and international communities, my own life has continued much as normal. Our daughter and son are in touch daily by phone and email (+photos) with reports of family activities and of achievements of grandchildren at homeschool, and my wife and I walk daily in our neighbourhood or along our nearby bayside beach.

Was this publishing experience a way to manage the stress, anxiety, and social isolation?

As just noted, the period has been relaxed for myself, with ample time to attend to the requirements of publishing a manuscript.

Your latest book is "DISMANTLING THE SERVANT PARADIGM AND RECOVERING THE FORGOTTEN HERITAGE OF EARLY CHRISTIAN MINISTRY". What is the message you want to convey to the readers?

There are three easily identifiable elements to this:

I want readers to become aware from the start that they are engaging with a writer who for decades has been and remains personally involved in the issues of who does what in the churches and why and how.

I want readers to recognise at once the seriousness and pressing immediacy of the issues that I bring forward: undeniably denominational churches are regressing and must urgently commit to reform of both structures and strategies.

Each denomination sees itself as a corporate expression of the gospel: “the body of Christ”, and yet the theological character they have constructed for themselves in the last century is deeply flawed, this deriving from mutually developed misreadings of the New Testament in regard to both ministry and charism.

Who is target audience?

The target audience includes:

church leaders (of whatever clerical rank or none: pastors, priests, deacons, bishops…);
church administrators with responsibilities in pastoral processes;
members of local church communities who have a sense of responsibility towards the health and functionality of their community;
faculty members in tertiary institutes with interests in or responsibility for church order and ecclesiology more broadly;
staff and students of seminaries and pastoral institutes;
members of contemporary “reform groups”;
members of ecumenical groups

You are known as the author of the ground-breaking study Diakonia and you have made an important contribution to understanding church ministry. What are the top three main ideas of your research?

For over a century the Greek word διακονία / diakonia and its cognates in the earliest Christian documents have been presented as expressions of the fundamental character of authentic Christian “ministry”, namely, ministry as a lowly and loving service to others. This perception has been enshrined in vol. 2 of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament since 1935, and was embraced in 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical God is love: here, “diaconia – the ministry of charity … became part of the fundamental structure of the Church.”
My semantic investigation at the University of London King’s College (1971-76), published in 1990 by Oxford University Press under the title Diakonia: Re-interpreting the Ancient Sources, established that across 800 years of ancient Greek literary activity the diakon- terms never expressed notions of loving service. The same conclusion was the outcome of the doctoral thesis of Dr Anni Hentschel, now of the University of Würzburg, Diakonia im Neuen Testament (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007).
Accordingly, any theology of ministry constructed on the premise of ministry as lowly, loving service is misrepresenting early Christian understanding of ministry. More importantly, such a mindset precludes appreciating the early Christian perception of ministry as opening a living encounter with the God and Spirit of Jesus Christ.

How was the publishing experience like? Describe Generis Publishing in a few words.

From proposal to submission of a final manuscript to Generis Publishing the process has been stress-free and efficient. My Generis editor (Ms. Anna Rothman) has been unfailingly helpful, prompt, and effective.