It is difficult to review objectively the work of one for whom I have such personal respect and affection, but I will try.
This book is more of an annotated outline than a paragraphed book. It has no thesis per se, but is rather a simple outline of the church, written from a distinctively Baptist perspective.
First, Halsey writes with an admirable balance and moderation. I did not come away with a sense that this book has a theological agenda or a defensive edge. This is significant considering some of the downs I’ll point out below. The book is helpful to those wanting to understand what a certain strand of Baptists generally believe about the local church, and why.
Second, Halsey encourages the church to subscribe to a doctrinal confession. He actually includes a revision of the New Hampshire Confession in the book. I think this is a good emphasis because it forces us to view our doctrine in the context of church history.
Third, Halsey gives the best explanation I’ve ever seen for why many Baptists view baptism as prerequisite for participation in the Lord’s table.
First, I think Halsey got it wrong on a raft of issues. He argues subtly for the local church only position and holds to close communion, the requirement of Baptist baptism for membership, a pre-Pentecost beginning for the church, etc. While I firmly disagree on these matters and see several of them as severely damaging, I appreciate the grace with which he presents his positions.
Second, Halsey actually leaves the door open biblically to a plurality of elders, but then seems to write that off as an anomaly of the historical context. Throughout the book he seems to then assume a single pastor/elder. I would have loved to see him address this topic more directly and explain why he believes the norm is a singular elder in spite of the biblical pattern he admits.
Third, while I found the simple defence of Baptist convictions refreshing, I felt that too much emphasis was placed on the denominational distinctives. For instance, he suggests a letter of transfer should only be given if the person is transferring to another Baptist church. While Baptist convictions are important, we cannot treat every point of interpretation and methodology as a fundamental doctrine. The whole idea of fundamentalism is that some things are fundamental and should be fought over, and other things are not fundamental and therefore should not be major points of contention.
This book shows an encouraging degree of balance. The arguments are logically weak in many places, but they are presented in a reasonable and gracious spirit.
Grace to you.