Short version: If you are a pastor, buy and read this book
Laniak has written a biblical theology of the Shepherd-Motif which begins in the Pentateuch and ends in Revelation. While the book does create a basis for understanding the work of a pastor in daily church work and does make occasional “practical” comments, this book is not a how-to of the pastor’s office.
It is precisely this lack of detailed “practical” information which I think makes this book particularly useful and necessary. Too many pastoral books and blogs are written without a sufficient grounding in theology. Pastors are trained to be pragmatists, not pastors, and thus have done a better job at filling building, selling things and moving people around than they have in leading people safely to Christ.
Lanai rightly explains, “Biblically, leadership can only be understood in terms of a fully integrated theological vision of God and his work on work” (249). This is where his book is so needed:
Our theology of leadership is informed by this breathtaking choice of God to grant royal prerogatives to his creatures. To be made in his image is rule with him and for him….Every shepherd leader is first and always a sheep who relates to god as ‘my Shepherd.’ (248).
Shepherding is a profoundly theological task — and thus the theology must be rightly understood.
Christ is the True God-Man Shepherd:
Laniak reads the Scripture as one of progressive revelation (thus working out biblical theology in the lines set out by Vos), showing out the pastoral imagery is made complete in Christ.
He begins the work with a useful discussion of metaphor. He explains not merely the how of metaphor, but also the why: metaphors teach us and affect us: “It is precisely in the combining of cognitive content with affective associations that metaphor gains its power” (39). Metaphors help us to understand by both explaining to us and changing us. It is one thing to say that God is in control for our good; it is better to say that God cares for us like a shepherd.
That leads to the second chapter: If we will understand the metaphor, we must understand the original. Most of the readers will be like me — I am not a shepherd from the ANE and I have never been shepherd. My sheep time amounted to a few minutes in a petting zoo at the fair.
Thus, Laniak gives a detailed treatment of the shepherd’s work and the shepherd’s economy. He also shows how the shepherd image was a common one throughout the ANE.
Having provided a background, Laniak begins his analysis of God as the shepherd of Israel in the wilderness during the Exodus. This theme of God as the wilderness shepherd is a strand which Laniak traces throughout the Scripture, tying the understanding of the wilderness shepherd to Jesus as the Shepherd of the Church. The Scripture has an organic whole where the first elements culminate in the last:
The Shepherd of Israel was, through Israel, seeking a remnant from all the nations (cf. Amos 9:12), i.e., ‘sheep which are not of this fold’ (John 10:16 NASB). (93)
Next comes the Davidic King as the development of God as the Kingly Shepherd over the people of God. Unfortunately, the actual kings of God’s people were corrupt and not fit undershepherds of Israel’s God. Therefore, God sent prophets who rebuked the false shepherds and promised the new — true Shepherd — who lead God’s people in a second Exodus.
Interestingly, in the prophetic development of the Shepherd there are human and divine elements. First, It is God who is the true shepherd of Israel (115). Human authority is secondary:
“Isaiah describes God’s rule over his people and the world as unmeditated. The human king, occasionally mentioned, has delegated authority and thus can never claim to be more than a servant of the Lord” (131). Thus, the prophets regularly condemn the false shepherds who fail to recognize God as the true sovereign — these false shepherds use the sheep for their own ends.
Second, God promises to send a new Davidic King to shepherd the people:
Ezekiel 34:23–24 (ESV)
23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.
These two strands: God as the true shepherd and the servant David as the shepherd come together in Christ who is the true shepherd. This culminates in the Jesus Christ of Revelation is God, King, Shepherd and Lamb.
As I stated above, this is a theology book — it is not a how-to blog post with tweet-able quotes. The book is hard work. Laniak sets out and develops a thesis across the entire scope of Scripture. There are footnotes and references to original languages (those always transliterated and always defined). This might scare off some readers.
But if a reader is scared off from a theology book, perhaps that man should not be a pastor.