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The Shape of Pastoral Ministry

Yesterday was the first official day of my Summer-long internship at an OPC church in Northern Virginia.  One of the privileges I have is to complete a number of readings over the course of the Summer.  The first thing I’ve read is from Joel Beeke and Terry Slachter’s book Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the PuritansFor this book, I read Section One on the Pastor’s piety.  The assigned reading helped to tie some things together for me.  I’ve tended to think about the work of the Pastor as falling under one of two basic categories: either pulpit ministry or parish ministry (though of course, there is significant overlap between the two).  I still think this is basically a sound framework, but on its own it doesn’t go far enough.  What this book does so helpfully is to draw out the vital necessity of the Pastor’s ministry of piety as well.  Together, these three areas (piety, pulpit, & parish) capture the heart of a minister’s duties.

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The picture that’s taken shape in my mind is a railroad track.  There is a rail on each side which allows the train to move forward.  On the one side is the “rail” of pulpit ministry (which would encompass the Pastor’s teaching and preaching) and on the other side is the “rail” of parish ministry (which would cover all the shepherding, counseling, and even administrative tasks).  These two rails provide the basic framework for ministry and are what people would see if they look at a train driving down the tracks.  But there is another vital component.  Although it isn’t as visible, what holds these two rails together are the wooden crossties of pastoral piety.  Without those crossties the rails will shift as the train moves and the railcars will careen off the tracks and crash.  With the crossties, the rails stand firm and the train can move safely and swiftly.

It’s the same way with the ministry.  The public work of the pastor is seen in the twin rails of pulpit ministry and parish ministry.  But holding those rails together are the crossties of pastoral piety.  Without a zeal for the Lord, without frequent and fervent communion with God, and without a steadfast dependence on God’s promises the public ministry of the pastor will shift and slide with often disastrous results.  But when the crossties of piety are firmly in place, the public ministry of the Pastor can stand firm.

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Review & Reflection: The Spirit of the Age

I just finished reading9781610785725__18478.1508167096.315.315[1] J.V. Fesko’s new book – The Spirit of the Age: The 19th Century Debate Over the Holy Spirit and the Westminster Confession.  It’s a little book (just over 100 pages) with a big title and big themes to match.  His project can be viewed as two-pronged.  First, his goal is to describe the background behind the 1903 revisions of the Westminster Standards that were adopted by the mainline Presbyterian church.  Amongst these revisions was the adoption of a new chapter Of the Holy Spirit.  (There was a second new chapter as well – Of the Gospel of the Love of God and Missions – but Fesko’s focus is on the the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.)  He spends the bulk of the book (the first four chapters) addressing this issue.  The second part of his project is to show how this debate connects with current theological debates which he does in the final chapter.

I’ve always wondering about what prompted the liberalizing mainline church to compose these new chapters and Fesko did an able job of describing that story.  Along the way, he demonstrates the robust pneumatology of the Westminster Divines and locates their work in the context of catholic Christian thought.  He shows their careful attention to exegesis, their masterful grasp of Patristic and Medieval insights, and their mature doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

He tells a fascinating historical tale so I won’t spoil the story by going into the details of his argument.  Suffice it to say, I found the book engaging and fascinating historically while also deeply edifying theologically and personally as well.  This little volume is a model of scholarship with a thorough bibliography and many fascinating footnotes.  Fesko is obviously well-versed in current scholarship and leans heavily on the work of Richard Muller to advance his arguments.  This is a book that will probably be of greatest interest to Pastors and seminarians but historically and theologically inclined laypeople will find it accessible as well.  If there was a criticism, it would be that his account of this debate seems to put diverse figures such as Philip Schaff and John Williamson Nevin in the same camp as Charles Briggs without acknowledging key areas where they disagree.  That said, there was much helpful information here that was new to me and I continue to find myself enjoying Fesko’s writings!

 

 


Review & Reflection: Irenaeus

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I have written about Simonetta Carr’s wonderful books for young adults before.  Reformation Heritage Books has been faithfully publishing titles in a wonderful series called Christian Biographies for Young Readers which introduce older children and young teens to some of the giants of the faith.  The text is always well written and well illustrated.  One of the things that I have appreciated about the series is that Carr doesn’t just write about the popular figures like Augustine or Luther but also draws our attention to lesser-known, but no less significant, figures like Marie Durand or Peter Martyr Vermigli.  This newest title in the series continues that trajectory by introducing modern readers to a figure that may not be familiar: the early Church Father Irenaeus.  Irenaeus was a bishop in the early church who both discipled and defended God’s people.  He was the leader of the church in Lyon, France during a time of intense persecution.  He also wrote extensively in response to the early heresy of Gnosticism (a teaching which is ably and simply explained by Carr’s book).  As with her previous work, Carr does an admirable job of making ancient figures accessible and of providing gripping narrative without sacrificing historical nuance.  This title is a worth-while addition to the series and I hope that there will be more to come!

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


Review & Reflection: Beyond Calvin

The Reformed51enbd-dhyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_ tradition has endured many stereotypes over the years.  Perhaps one of the most common in our own day is that of the angry Calvinist (what some jokingly call a “cage-stage Calvinist”) who is always on the lookout for theological dissension and debate.  As W. Bradford Littlejohn of the Davenant Institute writes in the introduction to the book Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition:

“If Reformed theology is associated with anything nowadays, it is often with a factiousness and dogmaticism that seems ready to leave a church or denomination (or better yet, kick your opponents out of one) over almost any offense, real or imagined.  But it was not always so.”

Part of the burden of this book is to show another way forward for the Reformed tradition.  By hearkening back to the irenic theology of leading Reformers the authors seek to explore and model the kind of theology we should pursue in our own day.  They do this without postulating a golden age or pretending that our forefathers always attained to peace in their own day.  As Carl Trueman writes in the forward to the book:

“[T]he past is the church’s past and something from which we need to draw help for the present in an appreciative, thoughtful, and critical manner.  These papers individually, and this collection as a whole, exemplify how this can be done.  Read, learn and go and do likewise.”

As Truman mentions, Beyond Calvin, is a collection of papers each of which explore the topic of diversity in the Reformed Tradition.  Some (such as Andre Gazal’s essay George Carleton’s Reformed Doctrine of Episcopal Authority at the Synod of Dordt, and Michael Lynch’s essay Confessional Orthodoxy and Hypothetical Universalism: Another Look at the Westminster Confession of Faith) explore the theological diversity of the Reformed tradition.  Other essays (such as E.J. Hutchinson’s excellent essay Written Monuments: Beza’s Icones as a Testament to and Program for Reformed Humanism) explore the diverse mediums in which Reformed Theology was discussed and disseminated.  Still other essays (such as Stephen Wolfe’s Pagan Civil Virtue in the Thought of Francis Turretin) consider how traditional Reformed theology can differ from it’s contemporary expressions.  Each of the essays in the book are scholarly and stimulating.  Not all were convincing (to me) but all were constructive examples of sound historical and theological reflection.

There is little doubt that the issue of defining the limits and boundaries of the Reformed tradition will continue to be a pressing task.  With so many applying the term “Reformed” to their churches, ministries, and theologies there will no doubt be rigorous ongoing discussion about what can, and cannot, rightly be known by that name.  This book falls short of resolving such weighty questions, but it does point us towards some productive paths in search of an answer.

 


Review & Reflection: Reformation Women

785329_f450The 500th anniversary of the Reformation has prompted a publishing bonanza of all things related to the Protestant Reformation.  Many of these books have understandably focused on the life and legacy of towering figures such as Martin Luther.  Others have traced the broader themes and trajectories of the various reformations which swept across Europe in the 16th century.  Relatively few books, however, have offered the kind of accessible, interesting, and unique writing found in Rebecca VanDoodewaard’s new book Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth.

One of the things I most loved about the book was it’s commitment to introducing the reader to new faces and figures.  As VanDoodewaard says in the preface:

The subjects of this book are limited to women who are not household names in modern evangelicalism.  Today, many Christian women are familiar with figures like Lady Jane Grey, but few know about Louise de Coligny.  One of the goals of this book is to introduce today’s Christians to believing women who helped form our Reformed faith but who are largely unknown now.  Biographies of women like Katherine Luther are available, but biographies of equally influential and godly women are not, and the church needs them; these women form a large section in the cloud of witnesses.  Women from this seminal century of Protestantism have much to teach us.

In pursuit of this goal, VanDoodewaard offers us brief biographies of the lives of twelve women of the Reformation.  Some were the wives of famous reformers while others were scholars and theologians in their own right.  Many were members of the aristocracy who used their influence to further the cause of the Reformation and protect the persecuted.  These women hailed from different places – France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands – yet they shared a common love for Christ and His church.  Each biography is short but all of them left me with a desire to learn more about these great women who lived through grave times.

VanDoodewaard’s study helps to fill the gap which exists at a popular level regarding the role of women in the Reformation.  Her study is helpful and engaging and I found each chapter to be better than the last (the chapters on the Frenchwomen Jeanne d’ Albret & Luise de Coligny were particularly riveting).  Hopefully this book will help to provide the church today (and perhaps especially the daughters of the church) with models of feminine faithfulness.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


Review & Reflection: Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted

414hrgouosl-_sx322_bo1204203200_One can hardly open a newspaper or scroll through a blog without seeing someone’s opinion about sexuality and gender.  For the Christian, the challenge is to find solid resources that actually reflect the Bible’s teaching on the subject.  Fortunately there are a number of helpful books that have been written which explore the rights and wrongs of hot topics such as homosexuality.  However, there has been a shortage of good resources which dive into the practical nuts and bolts of how to live with same-sex attraction in a way that is faithful.  Ron Citlau’s book: Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted goes a long way towards meeting that need.  Ron writes as a Pastor who has struggled with same-sex attraction himself.  He brings this experience to bear in his book to help guide struggling readers to know what obedience looks like in this context.  As he puts it in the introduction:

“We need to be able to show same-sex-attracted Christians how they can live out their sexual and relational lives in ways that honor Jesus and fulfill the deep aches of the heart.  If we believe that same-sex strugglers must refuse to act on their same-sex desires for the sake of following Jesus, then I think it is up to the church to show the ways they can find relational fulfillment in Jesus and his church.  Until we do this, the good news will not be very good to the same-sex struggler” (pg. 14).

Ron does this by first considering three dead-ends (or what he calls “obstacles”) to living a fulfilling Christian life with same-sex desires.  First, he challenges the proponents of Gay Christian identity.  Second, he considers the false hope of Gay marriage, and thirdly he offers a helpful critique of the “Spiritual friendship movement” as advocated by figures such as Wesley Hill.

Having shown why these paths don’t lead to happiness or holiness Ron seeks to guide his readers towards patterns of obedience that will bring fulfillment.  He starts by discussing the gift of the Church, followed by chapters on the gifts of healing communities and Christian therapy, the gift of singleness or Marriage, and a striking chapter on the gift of prayerful lament.  The book concludes with some final words to Church leaders and to the Christian who is struggling with same-sex desires.

Considering the lack of resource which cover this terrain, I found Citlau’s book to be a helpful guide.  The book is not without its defects.  There were places where his reasoning seemed rushed and Citlau reflects an eclectic theological diet (quoting positively from figures as diverse as Herman Bavinck, Pope Benedict, and the IHOP movement).  I’m uncomfortable with the way he used the doctrine of the Trinity to undergird the Bible’s rejection of gay marriage and I think he overemphasizes the centrality of testimonies for faithful church life.  Nevertheless the book really is very helpful in thinking through these issues.  It is certainly a resources that I will both use and recommend to those either wrestling with these issues or looking to come alongside those who struggle.  May there be more books like it in the years to come!

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


Review & Reflection: Man of the House

PrintThere are many different types of books which one might read. For example: if you’re reading a book that talks about things like covenants and the church then you’re probably reading a book on theology. If you’re reading a book that talks about family life, fatherhood, and children you’re probably reading a book on parenting. If you’re reading a book that quotes regularly from Aristotle, Plato, and the Western intellectual tradition you’re probably reading a book on philosophy. If you’re reading a book that talks about economics, property, and using tax structures to increase your prosperity you’re probably reading a book on business or entrepreneurship. If, however, you’re reading a book that does all of the above, chances are that you’re reading C.R. Wiley’s new book Man of the House: A Handbook For Building a Shelter That Will Last In a World That is Falling Apart.

Man of the House is a unique book. In some ways, Wiley’s project is remarkably simple. As Leon Podles says in his foreward to the book: “Chris Wiley provides practical advice for a man to live up to his role as father. […] Wiley helps us see what is necessary to manage a household and its economy well, to provide and protect for a family and to ensure its stability generation after generation.” The idea of “the household” is vital to Wiley’s project. While we tend to water down the concept to reflect some benign image of family life as pictured in The Cosby Show or Leave it to Beaver, Wiley is thinking about something more robust. To comprehend how Wiley uses the term we have to understand how the household has changed over the last 200 years. To quote the book: “We don’t think of our households as centers of productive work. That’s because the economy has largely moved out of the house. During the Industrial Revolution steady work in factories replaced the home economy, and many people were forced to leave home to make a living. In the process the household was reduced to what we think of today – a haven in a heartless world – a place to sleep and eat and maybe watch television” (pg. 30-31).

As he explains elsewhere in the book: “To the old way of thinking, a house was more than a physical building. It’s bricks and sticks were a metaphor for something immaterial, but still very real. […] We don’t think of houses that way any more, largely because the economy has moved out of the house. One thing we can say for modern life is that it has a way of cutting things up. We work downtown, we get our food a the grocery store, we go down the block to learn at school, and we get on a plane to go somewhere and relax. Our lives are divded up among highly specialized institutions. But a household is a general-purpose institution. Before we segregated everything in the interest of efficiency, houses were not only economically productive; they were schools, and nursing homes, and dozens of other things. This is a book about building an old-fashioned, general purpose shelter – a real house – not a house made out of sticks and bricks. This is a good time to build one too; the conditions haven’t been this favorable in a long time” (pg. Xvi-xvii).

Wiley’s book is as much prescription as it is description. He goes beyond mere analysis to provide a road-map for action. This is a paradigm-shifting book. It provides an entirely new (though actually very old) way of looking at households, fatherhood, family life, and work. Though short the book is packed full of solid content. Wiley’s writing is pointed and persuasive. Each chapter is brief but profound. Few will agree with everything Wiley says, but few will be able to walk away from the book without having their ideas challenged and changed by what they read.

Man of the House is a book I want to give to every young man I know who is transitioning into manhood. I’ve never read a book like it, but if Wiley’s ideas can be picked up by a new generation perhaps they won’t seem so unique after all.


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