What are we for?

pastorspecialist

In The Pastor as Public Theologian Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer makes the following provocative observation, “What are pastor-theologians for? The short answer: for cultivating life and for coping with death. “Death” is more than the moment of dying. It is rather the sense of an ending that casts its dark shadow over everything else in our stories (Vanhoozer, The Pastor as Public Theologian, pp. 104-105).”

We know that death is certain, we all say the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes. Yet there is in our culture and even in our churches a certain unwillingness and inability to cope with the reality of death. I once visited a man who had been just diagnosed with cancer. He was in his 80s and in light of the doctors prognosis had opted not to receive treatment. This does not mean that he had begun to cope, or was willing to begin the process of preparing for death. Quite the opposite. During the months before his passing he did not mention the word cancer, even to his wife. On one particular occasion he did express that he was expecting a miracle and shared with me a booklet by Norman Vincent Peale that he had been given on the subject of claiming miracles.

The challenge for pastors today in my opinion is to minister to a people who have been conditioned by the culture to ignore the reality of death in every day life. I believe philosopher Luc Ferry clearly points the predicament of man in ignoring death:

Death is not as simple as ane event as it is ordinarily credited with being. It cannot merely be written off as ‘the end of life’, as the straightforward termination of our existence…Death is, in the midst of life, that which will not return; that which belongs irreversibly to time past, which we have hope of recovering. It can mean childhood holidays with friends, the divorce of parents, or the houses or schools we have to leave, or a thousand other examples: even if it does not always mean the disappearance of a loved one, everything that comes under the heading of ‘Nevermore’ belongs in death’s ledger ( Luc  Ferry, A Brief History of Thought, pp. 4-5).

Death lies lurking in every area of life, casting its shadows everywhere. Which means the liberating light of the gospel needs to be brought and applied to every area where death casts its shadow. Lets us be committed to knowing how to minister to those going through death’s shadows in every day life.

 

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Spurgeon and Suffering to Win Souls

Charles_Haddon_Spurgeon_by_Alexander_Melville

In The Soul Winner, Spurgeon recounts a particular incident when his emotional suffering was used to bring about the conversion of a man who was in the midst of suicidal despondency. Spurgeon states the circumstances surrounding the message as follows:

Some years ago, I was the subject of fearful depression of spirit. Certain troublous events had happened to me; I was also unwell, and my heart sank within me. Out of the depths I was forced to cry unto the Lord. Just before I went away to Mentone for rest, I suffered greatly in body, but far more in spirit, or my spirit was overwhelmed. Under this pressure, I preached a sermon from the words, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” I was as much qualified to preach from that text as ever I expect to be; indeed, I hope that few of my brethren could have entered so deeply into those heart-breaking words.1

It was a combination of spiritual and physical suffering that in Spurgeon’s understanding enabled him to preach his text. His preaching of the text did not prove to be successful because of his study, it proved to be successful in reaching the despondent man because Spurgeon had lived in the shadow of the text which he was preaching. Spurgeon knew personally the soul anguish of feeling forsaken of God and he knew the cure for the despondency as well. After making clear that he would not have been able to reach out to the man in question had he not suffered in such a way as to enable him to preach his text from personal experience, Spurgeon exhorts those who would win souls to see the importance of suffering in soul winning. Spurgeon begins by putting forward the premise that one would undergo a painful procedure to save lives, so it is with soul winning. Spurgeon says,:

Reckon, then, that to acquire soul-winning power you will have to go through fire and water, through doubt and despair, through mental torment and soul distress. It will not, of course, be the same with you all, nor perhaps with any two of you, but according to the work allotted you, will be your preparation. You must go into the fire if you are to pull others out of it, and you will have to dive into the floods if you are to draw others out of the water. You cannot work a fire-escape without feeling the scorch of the conflagration, nor man a lifeboat without being covered with the waves.2

One cannot get past this reality, that in order to reach sinners in a world of suffering with the gospel of a glorious and gracious Savior, one must walk through suffering and suffer likewise. We cannot be good to our people who suffer unless we know what it is to suffer. It does souls good to hear the promises of God and the gospel from the lips of one who has suffered and been encouraged and comforted by them. The choice before the minister is either to suffer in order that one might bring the gospel comfort to the afflicted, or to avoid suffering and being almost entirely useless to those you would do good.

1 Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1963), 185-186.

2Ibid., 187-188.

Review of Questioning Evangelism

In Questioning Evangelism Randy Newman provides a resource that rightly blends evangelism and apologetics. Newman draws on the example of Jesus who often used a questioning method to evangelize and teach. Where many resources focus on providing short memorable cookie-cutter outlines Newman helps readers think through how to ask the right questions to lead people to a better understanding of God and the gospel.

In the first section of this book Newman points to the importance of asking questions rather than giving pat answers. He gives general principles for evangelism drawn from the wisdom of Proverbs. He then provides basic principals that help move from asking the right questions to a place where the right answers are received. In the third section he addresses some of the fundamental issues that are often confronted in evangelism and apologetics ranging from the problem of evil to the biblical teaching regarding homosexuality. The third section addresses some important issues that point to the lack of compassion and concern that often prevent evangelism.

If you read nothing else in Newman’s book read his last three chapters. I think Newman has hit on the main reasons that professing Christian don’t evangelize others namely that either they don’t care or they actually hate others. Newman’s book is both instructive and convicting at times.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review

Review of Preaching in the New Testament

Among the many books that have been published on the issue of preaching Preaching in the New Testament by Jonathan Griffiths truly stands apart. Most of the recent publications on preaching in recent years have focused more on the how to of preaching. In contrast to those work Griffiths seeks to explore what the New Testament has to say about preaching and its priority in the local church.

This book is divided into three main sections. In the first section a biblical theology of the word is presented, the key terms used to describe preaching in the New Testament are explored, and the word ministry of all believers is addressed. In the second section of the book Griffiths narrows in with laser focus on six of the most prominent New Testament passages that address the issue of preaching the word, his work addressing Hebrews and its implications for the church are worth the price of the book. Th third and final section provides an overview of the material covered in previous chapters with some important implications of this work explored.

Biblical preaching has fallen on hard times, and rather than argue for the importance of preaching simply based on its importance in church history we must have a biblical foundation for preaching in the church. Griffiths in this work points to the solid foundation for understanding the enduring importance of preaching in the life of the church which is found in the New Testament.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review

Review of The Heart of the Church

The Heart of the Gospel, part of Joe Thorn’s three part series on the church, focuses in on  the most important aspect of the church the gospel. Thorn in his introduction demonstrates the fact that one of the primary problems the church has is the fact that it is not driven by the gospel which should be the central driving force of the church.

This book is comprised of three parts divided into twelve short and easy to read chapters. In the first section of this book Thorn addresses the gospel as the central theme running from Old to New Testament. In the closing two chapters of the first part the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are addressed. The third part of this book addresses the doctrinal truths of the gospel beginning with justification and its consequences and ending with sanctification and good works. The final section addresses the character and nature of God as revealed in the gospel.

Of the books in this series I think this one stands as the most important as it reminds pastors and church leaders of the central place the gospel is to have in the church, a place that it does not have in many churches. Without the gospel being central the aspects of character and life will never be what they need to be. In a day where there is increasing abandonment of the biblical gospel Thorn has given the church a wake up call to the supreme importance of the gospel, the whole gospel, for the very existence of the church.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Review of Revitalize

My first awareness of Andrew Davis’s ministry came through a pamphlet I received in seminary entitled “An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture.”  In Revitalize his commitment to Scripture and love for the local church are clearly evident. In this work Davis provides biblical principals required for church revitalization. He doesn’t seek to provide some one size fits all program, he describes the biblical character and understanding that must exist in the heart and mind of the pastor for revitalization to occur.

I greatly appreciate the transparency seen throughout this book. Davis throughout the book illustrates the points he make either through his personal experience or through the history of the church. His emphasis on personal holiness and dependence on God to do a work only He can do are refreshing to read in a book of this sort. Too often it seems ministry leaders put forward programs as infallible tools to bring about revitalization in the local church, an error that Davis avoids in this book.

I think this book should be on every pastor’s book shelf. Some might hear about this book and think they have know need of a book like this and they would be greatly mistaken. First the vast majority of churches in North America or plateaued or declining and in need of  revitalization. Second even if one found themselves in one of the very few churches doing well the principals puts forward by Davis in this book are applicable to any pastor in any church context. It would be plain stupidity not to get this book and learn from one who has plodded through the difficult and dangerous journey of church revitalization.

Disclosure: I received an advanced review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review

Review of The Character of the Church

 

The Character of the Church by Joe Thorn is great introduction to the marks of a health biblical local church.

The concept of the the marks of a church goes back to the time of the Reformation and standing firmly in that tradition Joe Thorn provide five marks that are essential to the health and existence of a local church. The five marks put forward in this book are right preaching of the Word, right observance of the ordinances, biblical leadership, church discipline, and the Great Commission.

Thorn shows the importance of each mark for the life of the church from the Bible itself. He at times addresses how some of the marks have been ignored or confused in contemporary evangelicalism to the detriment of local churches everywhere.

This has been the second book I have read in this series and must say I am impressed at the quality of each book so far. As a local church pastor I have been keenly aware that up until recently there have not been a great number of resources that one would recommend to the the average church member to better understand the local church. I think Thorn’s three part series is a much needed resource that would lend itself to many uses within the local church by pastors and church leaders.

Disclosure: I received an advanced review copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review

 

 

Review of As Kingfishers Catch Fire

Readers who have befitted from Eugene Peterson’s prolific writing ministry will want to read his latest book As Kingfishers Catch Fire, a collection of his sermons.

This book is divided into seven sections with each section containing sermons based on the books of seven different biblical authors. The first part of the book contains sermons from Genesis through Deuteronomy. The second contains sermons based on various Psalms by David. The third comes from sermons on Isaiah. The fourth draws on Solomon with an emphasis on wisdom literature including Job. The fifth contains sermons drawing on Peter as recounted in the gospels. The sixth contains sermons from Paul’s epistles. The seventh and final section draws on sermons based on John, 1 John, and Revelation.

Eugene Peterson’s pastoral heart and his skill as a pastor-poet are on full display in the sermons contained in this volume. The context that is given for the sermons helps shed light onto the work and challenges involved in preaching God’s word. I don’t think there isn’t a pastor out there who won’t gain some benefit from this latest work.

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Review of the Dawn of Christianity

Author Robert Hutchinson most recent title  The Dawn of Christianity provides a narrative account of the origin of Christianity beginning with the start of Jesus’s ministry and concluding with the Jerusalem Counsel which is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. In this work Hutchinson draws heavily on the Scriptures and uses some secondary material to to shed light on the historical background of Jesus and the early church.

One of the greatest faults in this work in is Hutchinson’s willingness to discount the clear testimony of the gospel writers as occurs in the third chapter in which he casts some doubt as to whether those Jesus brought back to life were actually dead as is recorded in the gospel accounts. There isn’t much you’ll learn from this that couldn’t be learned through studying Luke and Acts, and in fact Luke in his accounts in Acts narrates more of the early church’s history concluding with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. While well written there isn’t much to commend this book as ground breaking.

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.