Book Review: On Being a Pastor

On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and WorkOn Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work by Derek J. Prime
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I almost gave this five stars. It is one of the best introductions to ministry in the 21st Century that I have read. Several things set this book apart from others.

First, you have two men from two different eras giving practical advice on shepherding. You get a lot of “I did it this way.” Followed by the other man saying, “But I did this way.” By setting the book up this way the reader gets a lot of specifics, but none of them are presented as “this is the way it has to be done.” The reader is thus left to sift, sort, and apply what he can to his own situation. Tons of practical suggestions without setting down a bunch of laws.

Second, they cover a lot of ground. There are your typical chapters on preaching and prayer. But there are also chapters on leadership, delegation, family, two chapters on pastoral care, and a wonderful closing chapter on the perils of ministry. The delegation chapter was one of the most practical in the book with a lot of food for thought on a subject commonly ignored in books on ministry.

Third, the entire book focuses on the holiness of the minister. From how to handle interaction with women to mistakes to Bible reading to prayer to visitation the reader is reminded that pastors must be holy.

The only weak chapter was the one on worship. The best chapter was the one on prayer.

I would highly recommend this book for all ministers, elders, and ministers in training.

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Book Review: Planting, Watering, Growing

Planting, Watering, Growing: Planting Confessionally Reformed Churches in the 21st CenturyPlanting, Watering, Growing: Planting Confessionally Reformed Churches in the 21st Century by Daniel R. Hyde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very helpful book for those who want to plant ordinary means of grace churches, churches that are centered around worship, sacraments, preaching, teaching, hospitality, long term covenantal growth, and evangelism. There is a lot of good advice in the book on how to start church plant and when not to, how a church plant should interact with the mother church and the denomination, the priority of doctrine and preaching, how to properly contextualize, how to make the church plant welcoming, what should be looked for in a church planter, etc.

They are also willing to recommend books outside the reformed tradition, such as those from the Acts29 Network or those from more seeker sensitive models.

There are of course, places I disagree. My main disagreement was the need to go over the confessions before membership.The sample list of questions for new members (p. 185-86) is daunting. My view is that a person professes faith in Christ, is baptized, and then can become a member. After that there should be systematic teaching in whatever confession the church plant adheres to. I do not think there needs to be a long process for membership. But even here the writers reminded me of the need for systematic instruction of the saints in doctrine. I would just do it post-membership.

Though my church plant is eight years old and on solid ground there are still many ideas from this book that I will try to implement at some point in the future. The book is a worthwhile read for all in the reformed tradition who want to plant churches or want to be involved in churches that are evangelical, reformed, and Biblically sensitive to the surrounding culture.

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Why John Calvin Does Not Sound Like Modern Systematic Theologians

If you read John Calvin’s Institutes and compare it modern systematic theologies (and commentaries) you will immediately notice one striking difference: Calvin preaches. Most moderns do not. They look at all the data, examine all the secondary literature, and then eventually come to a conclusion that sounds more like the outcome of a science experiment instead of arriving at a great truth about God and his world. Why is this? Why does Calvin preach in everything, his Institutes, his commentaries, his polemics, and even his letters? Why are modern men so afraid to preach? Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson in their little book, The Pastor Theologian,  think it is the current division between the academy and the pastorate that is in part to blame. They want to see a return to what they call an “ecclesial theologian.” Here is their description of an ecclesial theologian. I have put a few explanatory remarks in brackets. All italics are their’s. All bold is mine.

An ecclesial theologian is a theologian who bears shepherding responsibility for a congregation and who is thus situated in the native social location [local church] that theology is chiefly called to serve; and the ecclesial theologian is a pastor who writes theological scholarship in conversation with other theologians with an eye to the needs of the ecclesial community [local church and beyond]…the pastor as ecclesial theologian is first and foremost a local church pastor who views the pastoral vocation from a theological vantage point…the theological contributions of the ecclesial theologian spring from the overflow of the shepherding responsibilities that he carries for his local congregation… Yet the ecclesial theologian is more than a theologically astute congregational leader. The ecclesial theologian is a theologian in the fullest sense of the term-one who provides theological leadership to God’s ecclesia [the whole church, not just local]…The ecclesial theologian represents a return to the days when pastors wrote theology that was richly theological, deeply biblical, historically informed, explicitly pastoral, and prophetic.

I am not fond of all the terminology the authors use, but the concept is a good one.  For most of church history the best theologians were pastors who used their local context to hammer out the truths of God’s word. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, etc. were men who preached regularly and were involved intimately in the local church. And even those who were in the academy were often so intimately tied to the church that they were de-facto pastors. Today that is not the case.  Pastors are rarely considered or expected to be theologians. There are a few exceptions. John Piper and his rebuttal of N.T. Wright come to mind. But what was the last book on theology written by a local church pastor that garnered national attention and acclaim? This has had the double of effect of not just removing theology from pastoring, but also removing preaching from theology.

The authors follow the paragraph above with this quote about Calvin:

John Calvin and his Institutes come to mind here. Calvin’s work is a fair bit different than the average modern theology text. But it is not  different because it is “lighter” or “easier to read” or “pitched to a less informed audience.” It is different in that it is framed according to Calvin’s pastoral context, does not feel such a need to plumb the nearly endless depths of secondary literature.., is not afraid to be explicitly theological and confessional, interacts with the great thinkers of the past who have helped shape orthodox thought, and-most significantly-because it prophetically calls the church to take action. We cannot dismiss the academic training that informed and undergirded Calvin’s theological insights. But neither can we dismiss the way his pastoral duties at Geneva shaped his overall theology. Calvin did not change the world because he was successful academician…He changed the world because he wrote as a robust, theologically informed, intelligent, prophetic pastor who understood-as a matter of vocation-what it was to have the weight of souls upon his shoulders. The ecclesial theologian, then, is a pastor who writes theological scholarship that is self-consciously “churchy” and explicitly Christian, and whose agenda is driven by the questions that emerge from the grind and angst of the parish context. 

Calvin, of course, was gifted in ways not many pastors are. But we should pray for the day when pastors are putting out major works of theology again. When they write books on the atonement, the Trinity, the covenant, Sacraments, Old Testament law and eschatology and all of these are written in the pastoral voice for the sheep. When it is not the professors only who are known as theologians, but pastors who are also church theologians can be found across the country. 

Fruit of Repentance

Here is one more short post on repentance. You can find the first two here and here. What are some signs that our repentance is bearing Spirit wrought fruit? Or to broaden it out a bit, how do I know I am growing in holiness?

Our love for Jesus is increasing. Jesus and His work become more glorious to us as time passes (Philippians 3:8).

Our hunger for God’s Word is growing (Psalm 19:10, I Peter 2:1-2).

We begin to hate sin because it is sin. We don’t hate it because of the consequences. We don’t hate it because of how it makes us feel. We hate it because it is sin against the God who loved us and gave His Son for us.

We long to be rebuked by those who are righteous and love us (Psalm 141:5).

We look beyond our sinful actions to the sinful desires that produce the action (Matthew 12:34-35).

The fruit of the Spirit is growing in us (Galatians 5:22-26).

We are quicker to forgive (Matthew 18:22-35) and slower to take offense (I Peter 4:8).

We are quicker to ask forgiveness when we have sinned (Matthew 5:23-25).

We are increasingly free from seeking the approval of men and following the traditions of men (Galatians 5:1 Colossians 2:18-23). Our freedom in Christ is becoming more and more a reality.

We are striving to serve those around us (Mark 10:45), especially those closest to us, such as wives, husbands, children, and fellow Christians in our churches (Galatians 6:9-10).

We love God’s people. We love the church. We love to worship with them, fellowship with them, give to them, pray for them, pray with them, weep with them, and rejoice with them (Psalm 122:1). There is no increasing love for Christ without also seeing an increase in our love for His sheep.

There is a noticeable increase in joy and gratitude (Philippians 3:1, 4:4, Colossians 3:17, I Thessalonians 5:16). We become more and more thankful for God’s grace, for the forgiveness of our sins, for Jesus, for the Spirit, for the Scriptures, for the world God has made, for the Church. I am convinced this is one of the key signs a man is leading a life of repentance. Without gratitude and joy I am not convinced that a man is leading a life of repentance.

Prayer & Grammar Meet in Spiritual Combustion

I am re-reading John Piper’s Brothers We are not Professionals.  I read it in 2011. It is better the second time around. Piper reminds pastors of what ministry is about. There are always voices telling the pastor, “This is important” or “That is important.” We have drifted into pastors as managers, therapists, generally nice guys who give good advice and often take the “pulse” of the congregation to determine what direction to go. In contrast, Piper directs us to the Word, prayer, suffering, preaching, exegesis, theology, missions, and trust in our Savior Jesus Christ. This book re-centers ministers, drawing us away from the edges, the secondary matters, and back to the central concerns of pastoral ministry.

Therefore it is not surprising that Piper has a chapter pleading with pastors to learn Greek and Hebrew. Perhaps no discipline is so neglected in our seminaries and ministries as this one. It is hard to learn and hard to keep up with once we have left an academic setting.  But if God’s Word really is God’s Word. And if this Word is the infallible, absolute, and final authority for all God’s people, including ministers. And if this Word is the power of salvation for all men (Romans 1:16) and the incorruptible seed of salvation which abides forever (I Peter 1:23-25).  And if this Word is able to make men of God [ministers] thoroughly equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:16-17). Then why would we not learn Greek and Hebrew? Why would we settle for a Hebrew or Greek study Bible, an interlinear, or using Logos?

Here are some of Piper’s thoughts on learning Greek and Hebrew.

What happens to a denomination when a useful knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is not cherished and encouraged for the pastoral office? I don’t mean simply offered and admired. I mean cherished, promoted, and sought.

[When Greek and Hebrew are not used by the pastor he] often contents himself with the general focus or flavor of the text, and his exposition lacks the precision and clarity which excite a congregation with the Word of God. Boring generalities are a curse in many pulpits.

When pastors do not study the Bible in Greek and Hebrew…they, and their churches with them, tend to become second-handers…[which] give us a superficial glow that we are “keeping up” on things…we may impress one another for a while by dropping the name of the latest book we’ve read, but secondhand food will not sustain and deepen our people’s faith and holiness. 

Weakness in Greek and Hebrew also gives rise to exegetical imprecision and carelessness. And exegetical imprecision is the mother of liberal theology.

Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open minded pluralists who don’t put much stock in doctrinal formulations. In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error.

We have, by and large, lost the Biblical vision of a pastor as one who is mighty in the Scriptures, apt to teach, competent to confute opponents, and able to penetrate to the unity of the whole counsel of God.

Hundreds of teachers and leaders put the mastery of the Word first with their lips but by their curriculums, conferences, seminars, and personal example, show that it is not foremost. [Emphasis Piper’s]

We need to recover our vision of the pastoral office-which embraces, if nothing else, the passion and power to understand the original revelation of God. We need to pray for the day when pastors can carry their Greek New Testaments to conferences and seminars without being greeted by one-liners…Oh for the day when prayer and grammar will meet each other with great spiritual combustion!

I have taken this task seriously since reading Piper four years ago. I work on Greek every day and Hebrew most days. My Hebrew is not very good, but in ten years it will be. My Greek is getting better day by day. I have translated Matthew, Colossians, I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus. I am currently working on I Peter.  My Hebrew is restricted to the Psalms right now. Looking back I am ashamed of how much time I lost, how much study I let drain away through lack of discipline and how often I relied on secondary sources instead of the original.

Brothers, I agree with Piper here. If the Word is what we say it is why would we not work at this? Has your Greek and Hebrew gotten rusty? Pick up back up and start again. Have you never learned? Set aside some time to learn. For the congregation, do you consider this important for your pastor? Would you pay to send a pastor for a week long Greek or Hebrew refresher course? Or does that sound like a waste of time? Would your church pay so your pastor could take online courses to learn Greek or Hebrew? Do you think he is proud when he tells you something about the Greek or Hebrew? Or do you view it as a sign of his faithfulness to Christ and His Word?

I doubt that we can see true reformation in our churches without ministers who take this task seriously. We do not have to be experts. But we do need to be progressing. Our love for God’s Word and His people demands it.

Kevin DeYoung on Speaking to Different Groups About Sodomy

I enjoyed Kevin DeYoung’s book, “What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?” More needs to be said and studied, but the book is a good start for the average Christian who needs a primer on what the Bible teaches on homosexuality. One of the problems in conversations about sodomy is different groups require different tones. DeYoung addresses this in an appendix where he gives various ways of approaching different groups. I wish he had fleshed this out a bit more, maybe giving some examples from real life or some possible scenarios. Still it is helpful.

If we are speaking to cultural elites who despise us and our beliefs, we want to be bold and courageous. 

If we are speaking to strugglers who fight against same-sex attraction, we want to be patient and sympathetic. 

If we are speaking to sufferers who have been mistreated by the church, we want to be winsome and humble.

If we are speaking to shaky Christians who seem ready to compromise the faith for society’s approval, we want to persuasive and persistent.

It we are speaking to those who are living as the Scriptures would not have them live, we want to be straightforward and earnest.

If we are speaking to belligerent Christians who hate or fear persons who identify as gay or lesbian, we want to be clear and corrective.  

Book Review: Doctrine of Repentance

The Doctrine of Repentance (Puritan Paperbacks) The Doctrine of Repentance (Puritan Paperbacks) by Thomas Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A really good book on repentance. Uncovers all the false ways we repent, gives a picture of what true repentance looks like, as well as motivations to repent. The only drawback is one can leave feeling like they have never really repented at all. As with most Puritans, they uncover the deceitfulness of our heart, which can leave someone feeling unsure that they are even saved. I am not sure that is such a bad thing. Carl Trueman said when he was in England he had to convince folks they really were Christians. But when he came to America he had the opposite problem. This book is an excellent antidote to the self-assured presumption of many American Christians who think they can follow Jesus without leading a life of repentance.

As an aside, Watson would have been a beast on Twitter. He is one of the most quotable Puritans.

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