The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Pastoral theology

“The office of the Christian ministry”

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NPG D4124; John Collett Ryland published by Carington Bowles, after  John RussellIn 1781, John Collett Ryland (father of John Ryland Jr.) republished a book by Cotton Mather called Manuductio ad Ministerium: Directions for a Candidate of the Ministry. Mather originally published the work in 1726. Ryland came across it in Bristol in the mid-1740s, and esteemed it highly ever since. Ryland provided a foreword for his new edition, which is reproduced below. Mather’s work is instructive; Ryland’s foreword is thrilling. In it, he emphasises both the privilege of the work, and the work involved in the privilege.

To the gentlemen and other several Christians, in London and the country, who have the cause of Christ, and the honour of the Christian ministry at heart.

The office of the Christian ministry, rightly understood, is the most honourable and important, that any man in the whole world can ever sustain; and it will be one of the wonders and employments of eternity, to consider the reasons, why the wisdom and goodness of God assigned this office to imperfect and guilty man!

It is an office and character that are deeply interested in the highest concerns of God’s perfections and glory. It is an employment that obliges a man to the closest attention, to find out the true mind of God in the holy scriptures. It is a work in which we are called, to instruct the minds of men in the noblest knowledge, and teach them to adore and love God. The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher, are, to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men; to display in the most lively colours, and proclaim in the clearest language, the wonderful perfections, offices, and grace of the Son of God; and to attract the souls of men into a state of everlasting friendship with him.

It is an office and work, the grand design of which is to turn the sons and daughters of Adam, from darkness to light, from guilt to pardon, from corruption to holiness, and from ruin to eternal happiness. It is an employment that, when finished with wisdom and faithfulness, will be crowned with higher honours than were ever bestowed on the best kings, the most renowned heroes, the most celebrated philosophers.

It is a work which an angel might wish for, as an honour to his character; yea, an office which every angel in heaven might covet to be employed in for a thousand years to come.

It is such an honourable, important, and useful office, that if a man be put into it by God, and made faithful and successful through life, he may look down with disdain upon a crown, and shed a tear of pity on the brightest monarch on earth.

It is a work, that, when a man is called to it by the providence of God, should be entered upon with fear and trembling. It should be approached with a mixture of terror and joy, of awful reverence, and holy pleasure. No man should dare to rush into it, uncalled by God, or unqualified by the gifts and graces of the holy Spirit.

There are requisite to this office, an enlightened mind, a renewed heart, very tender affections; a fervent love to the souls of men; a fixed attention to, and delight in, the holy scriptures, and a peculiar love to Christ; an ability to speak in proper instructive words; a firmness of mind, to resist all opposition; and the utmost care to preserve a good moral character in the church and the world.

To all the above qualifications, it is necessary and of great importance, that young men, before they enter upon the full work of it, should have a very considerable length of time to be separated from all the business and cares of the world, and in a great measure from the conversation and company of most christians too; in order to acquire a habit of thinking closely; to exercise themselves in contemplation and prayer; to converse much with God, and their own hearts; to study the sacred scriptures in the original languages, with the utmost diligence and attention; and, especially, to improve by them in a way of devotional exercise.

For want of this useful and necessary preparation, many young men, of promising gifts, have been pushed too soon into public and stated work; and what has been the consequence? The churches know the consequence; but the young persons themselves have most severely felt the fruits of these hasty proceedings; they have to their cost and pungent sorrow, felt the loss to the end of life.

On the other hand, there may be an extreme likewise; not in the length of time allotted for their preparatory studies, but in the misapplication of that time; or wasting too much of it in studies, that have no tendency to form a solid and judicious minister of the gospel.

Certainly every thing should be made subservient to divinity; and the best hours of every day, from the first moment to the last, should be employed in gaining, by close attention and prayer, a masterly knowledge of all the great doctrines of the gospel, and the richest methods of improving them in a practical and devotional manner. And if this be done to purpose; be assured, sirs, there will be no time for trifling, in the space of four, five, or six years. This is the highest work, and the noblest employment of a young student; and if he has the strong, the capacious mind of an Owen, a Charnock, or a Witsius, he will find full work for it, not only in the course of his studies, but all the days of his life.

The scarcity of serious and evangelical ministers of every denomination, has been long complained of. If the Lord should remove a few of our aged and useful fathers, their loss will be most severely felt. The places of good and useful servants of God, are not soon filled up; an able minister of the New Testament, is not formed in a day or a year; no, not in seven or ten years: happy is that young man, who arrives to any degree of maturity, and strength of mind, in the compass of twenty years! I am sure it is worth twenty years study to be able to state clearly, and defend and improve practically, the truths of our holy religion. I dare affirm, that I have the concurring sentiments of all those, who are best able to judge in this matter.

If these things are true, then how careful and zealous ought we to be, to encourage and assist young men in our churches, who appear to be endued, not only with grace, but gifts for the ministry; or shall we sit still and say, “The Lord Jesus will provide, (by a miracle,) for all the wants of his people and churches, and there is no need to use any means at all?” But, my friends, does he do so in providence for your bodies and families? Did he give you all your wealth, and trade, and spacious houses, by a miracle?

Does he act thus in his dispensations of grace, in order to your growth in knowledge, and holiness, and the comforts of religion? Are you not obliged to use diligently all the means of grace, and constantly too, in order to have the comforts of grace?

Now ought serious christians to use time and pains to grow in knowledge and grace; and have not ministers, who are to preach the great truths of God every week to many thousands of immortal souls; have they not need of all profitable assistance from heaven and earth? And can we have the heart to refuse them any encouragement in our power, especially in their preparations for this glorious work? No; my honoured friends, and gentlemen, let us no longer lie in a state of indifference and disunion; but let us all, to a man, join our hearts, our purses, and our prayers, in this dearest and best of all causes; and, instead of starting frivolous objections, to diminish or Coll the generous dispositions of any, let us rather fan the fire into a brighter flame, and love those persons best, who are the most able and ready to promote so good a work!

And now, my dear and honoured friends, are these things so? Is the design of the christian ministry the greatest and noblest that God ever decreed, to put into the heart of man? Is it the end of the christian preacher’s office, to bring millions of immortal souls out of the ruins of the fall, into the riches of eternity; to recover souls from sin to holiness, from rebellion to obedience; from filthiness to purity; from the most horrid deformity, to the perfection of beauty; from guiltiness, to full justification by a divine and infinite righteousness; from misery to happiness; from the curse of God, to eternal blessings; from the deepest disgrace, to the highest honour; from extreme poverty, to unbounded riches; from slavery to the devil, to liberty in Christ; from the spirit and temper of a wicked world, to the spirit and dignity of the sons of God; from the ravages of moral death, to the pleasures of eternal life; from the darkness of hell, to the light of heaven; from violent enmity, to the most intense love of God; from the attachment of the passions to lust, to the full flow of affections to Christ, as the supreme beauty and good; from bearing the image of the great apostate spirit, to resemble God in a brighter manner than the angels in heaven?

Are these the sublime ends of the christian ministry? And is this to the continual and noble work of every true christian preacher?

Then, my dear friends, what encouragements should you give toward the regular education of pious and sensible young men, for his noble and divine office!

Permit me, my honoured friends, to proceed a little farther, to awaken your attention, and to rouse your generous zeal to encourage all serious and sensible young men who appear fit to be ministers of the gospel. Let me propose the following queries to your serious consideration.

Is not a wise christian minister the greatest character under heaven? If we compare him with all other characters in life, will not his shine brighter on the comparison, as much as the sun in the expanse of heaven, outshines a poor glow-worm in a ditch? If you compare him with a physician in a hospital, a counsellor in his chambers, an advocate at the bar, a merchant in his commerce, a judge on his seat, an ambassador in the court of kings, a banker amidst his treasures, a general at the head of an army, a representative of his country, a lord in parliament, or a monarch on his throne—yea, to go higher still, compare him with the stars of heaven, or an angel in glory; and a gospel minister will shine brighter on the comparison, and appear far above all the offices and characters in the whole world.

The greatest men that ever lived, were preachers of the gospel; witness Enoch, the seventh from Adam; witness Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, and Paul; and let me dare so far to magnify the office, as to affirm, that if kings did but know and feel the dignity, importance, usefulness, and ends of the christian ministry, they would descend from their thrones, to ascend the pulpit, as a throne of much greater glory.

What preparation then, does this office deserve and demand; and how serious, how attentive, how active, and unweariedly diligent, ought every student to be, who desires and designs to employ himself in this glorious work to the end of his life! With what ardour and gratitude should he seize every help and guide, to his highest end! With what eagerness and delight should he embrace every means, and every friend, who is wise enough, and able to help him forwards in the grand design of preaching the glorious gospel!

My dear young friends, let me now address you. Do not your hearts burn with celestial fire, to be employed in the noblest work under heaven? Yea, let me not be thought extravagant, if I affirm that it is such a manner of serving and glorifying God, as cannot be practiced, even in heaven itself. It is such a work as, in some respects exceeds the work of heaven. There are no sinners to be converted there; no devils to be resisted; no conflicts with internal corruption; no living by faith on an invisible God and Saviour; no scorn to encounter; no persecutions and cruel mocking to be borne; but here we have them all; so that we have such graces to be exercised, and such difficulties to be encountered, as will never be found in heaven to eternity.

Amongst all the various books which have been written for the use of students of divinity, and christian preachers, I know of none equal to the Manuductio of Dr. Cotton Mather, especially if you consider the smallness of the treatise, and the peculiar pertinency and pungency of the thoughts contained in it.

I have been intimately acquainted with this excellent little book, for thirty-six years past; I first met with it in the study of my dear and honoured friend and father, the Rev. Mr. Hugh Evans, of Bristol, when I boarded at his house, in the years 1744, 1745, 1746. The book has been of exceeding great use to me ever since. I am sorry I did not publish it sooner, for the benefit of the risen generation of gospel ministers. It is with great satisfaction and delight, that I have done it now. Sensible, inquisitive, and pious young students, lie very near my heart. I feel a strong parental affection for them. I earnestly pray that they may rise to superior eminence in every part of their glorious employment. I shall rejoice to see them actuated with a noble and divine ambition to excel their predecessors, in wisdom, dignity, zeal, and diligence; and to see them glorify Christ, and allure a vast number of immortal souls into a vital union with the supreme truth, goodness, and beauty, and thus be for ever happy in his glorious presence, and infinite love.

To my own dear son, I do peculiarly present this treatise, with my additional notes and observations; and through his hands, I devote it to the service of modest, pious students, of all denominations. I leave it as a monument and proof of my tenderest affection to the churches of Christ, who are deeply interested in its contents; and shall rejoice to find that wise and religious gentlemen of property, are stirred up to do their very utmost towards encouraging a learner and evangelical education of worthy young men, who shall be ministers of the glorious gospel, when our heads are laid in the dust, and our souls adoring the Son of God, in the realms of light and glory.

John [Collett] Ryland

October 7, 1781

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 27 April 2020 at 03:00

Lockdown: pastoral and preaching conundrums

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Various friends in ministry wrestle with the pastoral implications of the lockdown, as they serve in difficult circumstances locally, nationally, and almost globally. They are facing some particular questions, some apparently less substantially, many more so. Of course, many of those concerns and the responses to them are going to hinge, in large measure, on your sense of what preaching is and ought to be. Low and flat views of preaching are likely to prompt fewer and shallower questions. High and rich notions of preaching are likely to stir more and deeper concerns. Here are some of the common issues so far, with some thoughts toward answers.

Q: What vocabulary do I use to describe my activities when what I do falls short of the full-orbed reality?

A: I would not tie myself in knots about it. We have a common frame of reference for certain kinds of things, and we know when we are using a word for the right kind of thing without pretending it is the whole of that thing. For those of more tender conscience, I do not think you need to get wound up about whether or not you are using the right nouns and adjectives for certain activities e.g. if it is online, can you still call it a gathering or meeting, or do you need to keep qualifying it? If there is no congregation, must I avoid referring to it as preaching? There is some value in precision, as we shall see, but use the normal vocabulary and make the proper distinctions and qualifications when needed either to avoid confusion or make a point.

Q: How do I preach to a camera?

A: This is one of those examples where our casual use of vocabulary needs some particular nuance. We understand the question, but greater precision with our language assists with the answer. You do not preach to a camera. At the best, you are trying to do something as close as possible to preaching to the people who are through or behind the camera. The typical answer seems to be, “With great difficulty!” Some brothers broke down in tears the first time they tried to preach in an otherwise or largely empty room. Some found the pain got worse the second or third time, or the second or third week. Others found it shifted quickly to a kind of a dull ache. Some feel a near-perpetual flatness in preaching without a congregation, missing all the personal, pastoral prompts that keep a sermon lively in its delivery. We do not know how to adjust and to adapt in the act of preaching without the hints and tips that congregational posture, gesture and expression, those little prompts to shift our tone, pitch, and volume, or to tweak our substance to gain or keep the attention.

For some, the answer has been to shift more into teaching mode, delivering something more like a lecture from behind a desk or table at home, or standing in a living room. Others have tried to make that environment more ‘preacherly’ but have found it difficult to do so when accustomed to a very different environment. Those more accustomed to preaching and teaching in homes and other such venues have had an advantage here. Some are recording or broadcasting from a church building still, and have found the dynamic of being in a place where there is usually a congregation very hard. One or two have taken a wife or whole family along, and tried to preach as to a bigger congregation. This has proved hard for the preacher and for his wife and family, who also struggle with the unusual circumstances of hearing (especially younger children). One brother insisted on having no one else in the room, so that he could focus entirely on the camera, and speaking effectively to those who were or would be on the other side of it. This, he felt, gave him a more immediate focus and the closest thing to direct contact with his congregation. For myself, I have tried several different things, and confess again that nothing fully replicates or properly replaces the reality of a living man preaching the living Word among living people before the living God.

One could plot a graph along two axes: one is from livestreaming to recording, the other from a more intimate or informal to the more formal environment. So livestreaming in a more intimate setting will provide something of the immediacy of engagement but likely strip down some of the preaching dynamics, whereas livestreaming from a more formal setting (e.g. the pulpit of a largely empty building) will probably create a more ‘preacherly’ feel for the minister but less contact with those to whom he preaches. Recording from a study chair, or whatever, is likely to provide a measure of care in the instruction but cuts us off from the congregation almost entirely, making a sermon more like a shared private devotion; recording in a church building risks something of a performance but gives the preacher some expansion of soul, so long as he can remember that there are real people on the other side of the lifeless lens.

The congregational corollary of this, naturally, is, “How do I participate through a screen?” This, too, is a real challenge because so many of the normal constraints are lifted. I know some people are accustomed to wandering in and out of the services of worship on the whims of their children or the whimpers of their bodily functions, but to listen at home suspends so many of the normal and profitable disciplines of good hearing. Watching or listening on a device opens you up to the usual stream of device-based distractions, you can pause the preacher while you grab a drink, get a snack, use the toilet; you can adjust the volume, fast forward the ‘boring’ bits, replay the stuff you weren’t listening for, or just switching off. Some platforms tell you not just the number of views, but the length of views. It can be tough to see that a preacher captures most hearers for an average of about two minutes! More of this later.

It is massively difficult to ‘preach’ to a camera, and can be equally painful to watch or listen via an electronic device. I do not think there is an easy answer to this. To some extent, it will reflect the preacher’s own constitution and capacity, his previous experience of what it means to try to preach, and the kinds of responses that he is accustomed to from a gathered church. Most preachers have reported a distinct kind or unusual measure of exhaustion in different aspects of their humanity because of the intensity of concentration and focus required to communicate clearly and earnestly through this medium.

The short answer, then, is this: you do not preach to a camera. You preach to people. You might attempt to do something like preaching to people through the camera, and you will have to adapt many of the normal expectations and considerations.

Q: Am I performing when I am moved in preaching to no-one physically present?

A: Not necessarily, but it often feels like it. Typically, emotion involves reaction. We are often moved when we enter into the experience of others, whether joyful or miserable. Much affection is shared. Again, some of your responses may differ depending on your environment and your congregation (normal preaching place vs. other place, no live congregation vs. some live congregation, recording vs. livestreaming).

So, what is it that is moving us? Of course, we are not talking about the kind of preacher of whom Spurgeon spoke, who had the words, “Weep here,” scrawled in the margins of his sermon manuscript! We are interacting with God as we speak, and interacting with the truth. That truth is having an impact upon our own soul, or should be, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. That affectional force is usually heightened or amplified as it reverberates through living souls, and eye meets eye, and heart meets heart, and deep speaks unto deep. In the absence of such a spiritual echo chamber, we might still be deeply moved, especially as we consider the people who are not there.

So, you must know yourself. If, engaged with the truth of God and the God of truth, you are moved in the depths of your own being, then that is perfectly legitimate. If you are in your normal preaching place, you may forget yourself in the act of ‘preaching’ as you enter into something persuasive or pressing, visualising your usual congregation. Bear in mind, though, that—as ever—the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets. The presence of a living congregation can sometimes act as something of a healthy check on a preacher, on which more below.

Q: Why do my speed, pitch and tone change (typically flatten out) in the absence of a congregation?

A: Because the impact of his congregation on the preacher is quite earthy. Several are finding that they speed up and flatten out without a congregation to push them into a normal cadence with proper variation, and a healthy variety of pitch and tone. In the absence of such prompts, both of acceleration and braking, rising and falling, you will need to labour that much harder to be both measured and engaging, bearing in mind that the challenges of listening to you on a screen are only likely to intensify the challenge of hearing your high-speed monotone! That kind of self-awareness may prove a blessing, though, once you are back in the normal course of things, God willing. Certainly it forces us to ask questions and learn lessons about our public preaching.

Q: Am I bolder or more direct when preaching through a screen, and is that a defect in my regular preaching or a function of the medium? Am I discovering that I am, in fact, a pulpit coward, willing to say things in the absence of a real person that I would never say with them sitting in front of me?

A: Part of the answer to this lies in a fair comparison with your regular pulpit ministry. Part lies in an awareness of the way the medium works, and how it can betray you or assist you.

Perhaps it is not unlike the difference between the man who regularly preaches to fifty and the man who regularly preaches to five hundred. On the one hand, Mr Fifty can bring the word of God tellingly to all the flock, while needing to make sure that he does not so single out one or two that the rest of the congregation immediately know who or what he is talking about, while he hides behind the pulpit. On the other, Mr Five-Hundred may be obliged to be broader in bringing the Word of God to a greater variety of circumstances, but might also be more direct with regard to certain matters, striking hard at certain sins without being in a position to single out individuals, or loosing his bow at a venture and allowing the arrow to fall where it will.

However, distance also breeds coolness, and the camera and the screen impose a measure of distance. Again, take into account the lack of congregational, personal prompts. For example, many pastors know what it is to go to have a hard conversation with a member of the church, and to semi-script their difficult words beforehand, only to find that sitting down with that person introduces a compassion and a tenderness that was lacking in the imagined interaction. The same can happen in the pulpit. The ebb and flow of the sermon is influenced, under God, by those kinds of engagements with the real people sitting in front of you. You remember their humanity more readily.

Furthermore, consider that a certain hardness seems to be one of the typical functions of the hiddenness of so much online interaction, either a kind of perverse ‘digital courage’ or a lack of the empathy and responsiveness that should develop when face to face. People seem willing to say things or write things to or about others when they are at an electronic remove that they would not, one hopes, dare to say face to face. Could that be creeping into our preaching when there is an invisible congregation? We certainly need to take account of that.

But it is not only the preacher. As we shall discuss more below, online gatherings for instruction or prayer can be derailed by either a simple lack of awareness, or—worse—that same kind of digital courage manifesting itself in words and phrases that a more immediately personal interaction would not draw out.

So, yes, it is a good question to ask. Perhaps you could ask it of your fellow-elders or other mature saints? “Is the tone and range and thrust of my ministry noticeably different than it was a month ago? Is there any harshness or insensitivity creeping in?” Do not let the medium betray you into a coldness and a hardness, nor lull you into a dullness and a vagueness.

Q: How can I effectively communicate with and care for Christ’s flock under my charge in these circumstances?

A: With difficulty. ‘Pastoral visitation’ becomes much more limited when you cannot sit down and talk with someone in depth. You realise how much of the occasional and incidental business of pastoral care is carried out in the margins of church meetings, a word here or there, someone who catches you while you or they are coming in, going out, or hanging around. Those snatched moments, in person, when taken together, weigh quite a lot. The value of the written note should not be underestimated, nor of the simple text or email. Some of these can be general, others might be more personal. I think that trying to call round the congregation, if necessary dividing up the workload between elders, is a valuable process. Do not be surprised to find that it takes a great deal longer than you anticipated. Urge your ready availability upon God’s people: some will come and find you out, others will need to be dug out. Bear in mind how the extra dimensions of a video call might be a help in some situations, or a threat in others. You might quickly become aware of some who are more vulnerable than others—not necessarily susceptible to physical disease, but to spiritual or emotional or mental malaise as a result of their circumstances. Some of those suffering might surprise you, as might some of those lasting the course quite readily. Engaging the deacons of the church will be vital, because—under these circumstances—there will be a lot of investment that straddles that line between pastoral and diaconal business, with perhaps quite a lot of handing back and forth as a situation shifts, or parcelling out specific aspects of care. As key workers, you may have a little scope to visit personally, as even a cheerful face and voice through a window or at the end of a garden path can be a tonic to the soul. Remember, too, that in many congregations there will be members who have effectively been in something like isolation for weeks or months: members physically incapable of attending services, brothers and sisters with compromised immune systems who have been having to live at a distance during periods of illness or treatment. Some of them might have developed a certain resilience, and might help you understand what others are now facing. Others might find that this situation becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back. There will be a lot of poised reactivity, of prepared responsiveness, that is required.

Q: Is shifting to ‘online church’ the easy answer?

A: Leaving aside the fact that ‘online church’ is a contradiction in terms, the short answer is: By no means! In fact, several using typical and typically average equipment and facilities have found at least as many problems online as offline, if not more. Again, it is not only pastors whose sensitivity and awareness suffers when contributing or participating online. Some report real insensitivity in prayer, because of a lack of awareness of who is digitally ‘present.’ Some of the problems are more basic: barely- or non-existent internet access for people, or faulty or older equipment, often leading to buffering problems with lags in video and audio. (You can tell when everyone else leans in to hear what, if anything, is being said.) Some people have never had to use their equipment in this way before, and all the settings and many of the functions are a new world. Some people, apparently fine with normal face to face interaction, cannot bear the idea of being in front of a camera or appearing on a screen. I imagine that some people are dressing for the occasion! Some either don’t or won’t turn of their microphones, or do not realise that once they are online we can all see and hear them leading to some interesting things heard and seen. (I got a beautiful comment on my appearance the other day, blithely broadcast to the entire group online.) Some people start spoken conversations, not realising that everyone is in on them, or that no-one knows to whom they are speaking. Some dominate online conversations because they can do so more easily, perhaps without realising. Some find the feel of people being in their home by device quite invasive. Some are persuaded that we are infiltrating their computers and causing permanent damage. Some find the feeling of half-connecting painful enough that they would rather not connect at all. Some preachers (and many others) struggle with the basic idea of framing a shot to be seen normally, and we end up with countless shots of one nostril and a lot of ceiling.

So, in addition to everything else that is lacking in terms of basic spiritual communication (see above), the online realm is just as fraught with issues as offline.

Q: Am I reaching a wider audience with ‘online preaching’?

A: Perhaps, but a number of men without a developed online audience have found that the numbers have rapidly declined after an initial burst of interest. In addition, some platforms allow you not only to see how many people have watched, but for how long. It can be a rather painful lesson to learn that the average time that your two watchers spent watching was about ninety seconds. Others have said how wonderful it is to have fifty or sixty people rather than twenty or thirty, but when it drops to fifteen or twenty, that can be disheartening. It is one of those situations in which we must weigh rather than count, or—if we do not have the tools to do either—to leave the matter with God. It may be a matter of casting your bread upon the waters (Ecc 11:1), and hoping to find it after many days. Perhaps some of those thirty second bursts of listening might stick in the soul and produce an abundant harvest in due course. Certainly, it is worth considering that there may be more gospel content online in real time and recorded formats in the last month than in the previous few years.

Q: So how much of this should we maintain when we get back to normal?

A: Who knows when that will be or what will be normal by then! Going back to the last question, how readily might people who have only heard the gospel online, and perhaps come to know Christ, come to make the transition to ‘real church’ rather than some sort of online pick’n’mix? How will we reach them, and bring them? Will they come of their own accord? What might be the fallout for church members who decide that actually they prefer a more remote life in which they can do what they want when they want with whom they want? Will this lead to a sifting as well as a gathering?

Will we have the opportunity to revisit our ecclesiology, and both emphasise and demonstrate some of the realties which, up to this point, were little more than theories in the minds of Christian men and women? It may be that the situation will have already enforced certain aspects of our churchmanship that before lay on the surface, but have now been driven deep into our souls. Our ecclesiology, not least our theology of a gathered church in a particular locality, might be either damaged or enriched, or perhaps both.

One brother said he was ready to drop all the online stuff like a rock once the situation was back to something more normal. He was expectant that most people would come eagerly back to the normal means of grace, and a little concerned that some would settle for what they considered was a ready replacement. I hope for the former, and I fear the latter. But I am also left thinking, with something of shame, that we have moved quickly and robustly when the whole church has faced these challenges. But, for many of us, there are men and women who have been and will remain isolated by physical circumstances. There are people who would drag themselves to church meetings by their teeth if they could only get there. Having been so quick to provide for ourselves under these circumstances, and without pandering to those who might abuse the opportunities, have we learned some lessons about how we can more effectively minister to those who will remain cut off when everyone else is drawn back in? Which of these modes and methods might remain in use, perhaps tailored to the dynamics of the new situation, so that we are not providing a short-cut to people who would rather not make the effort while still providing an escape route to people who would if they possibly could?

And, as we said, what will normal look like in a few weeks or months time? Who knows what sort of economic or social impacts will result? We cannot easily predict what the church might have lost or gained over that time, and what we will need to do in order to reset our corporate life. Those first meetings back might be difficult. There might be some gaps in the congregation that were not there before. There might be some new faces which were not there before. We might gather again in the house of feasting. We might gather in the house of mourning. Perhaps, as in the days of Ezra, we shall struggle to “discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping” (Ezr 3:13). I trust that we shall learn many lessons, and the end of a thing will prove better than the beginning.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 16 April 2020 at 15:23

Review: “Lectures to my Students”

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So, let me urge you, if you have not already done so (and even if you have), to get to grips (perhaps, again) with Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students. To open the pages is to walk into a family gathering, and to listen to a spiritual father among his labouring sons, an older pastor among his younger brothers. It will not be long, I hope, before you are made to feel thoroughly at home, and – listening in to that rich voice from a warm and full heart – start to obtain a blessing.

A review of “Lectures to my Students” at Reformation21.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 2 January 2013 at 16:34

Choosing your battles

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Brian Croft is part of a denomination that has undergone significant changes, often at congregational level, over recent years. He offers some thoughts on how a pastor might choose his battles:

Pastors who walk into existing churches are quickly burdened by needed changes to improve the church. Where the challenge is for most of us is when and how those changes need to be brought. If you are wondering how to choose those battles wisely, first receive this most excellent counsel I received as I entered my first Senior Pastor position at a church clearly needing change and revitalization, “Preach the Word, sacrifically love those people, and do not change anything for a while.”

Three particular counsels follow.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 3 July 2012 at 12:47

Posted in Pastoral theology

Tagged with ,

Ten preachers preaching

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 8 June 2012 at 11:31

Pastoral character

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Wilhelmus à Brakel on the man of God at Ref21:

He must have the heart of a preacher; that is, he must stand in awe of the God in whose Name he preaches, and with love seek the welfare of the souls to whom he preaches. He must know himself to be entirely undone in himself and have a lively impression of his own inability, so that he will not trust too much in having studied properly. He ought to pray much beforehand, not so much to get through the sermon, but for a sanctified heart, for a continual sense of the presence of God, for suitable expressions, and for a blessing upon his preaching to the conversion, comfort, and edification of souls. His concern ought not to be whether the congregation will be pleased with him and will praise the sermon, but his motive must rather be a love for the welfare of the congregation.

The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 2:138

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 17 February 2012 at 09:15

Review: “The Way of the Preacher”

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The Way of the Preacher

John A. Kern

A variable volume, a little wordy, romantic and philosophical at points, without grounding all assertions in Scripture, and therefore being very much of its time. Furthermore, from my reading, Kern is no Calvinist, and a little too dismissive of doctrinal definition. These shortcomings are a shame, because scattered throughout there are chapters of real power and insight, and some superb gems in sentences or phrases. Certainly not the first volume to seek out, but – for someone looking to be provoked outside of the regular realm of things – very stimulating, but to be handled carefully.

(Westminster / / / Monergism)

For all pastoral theology reviews . . .

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 9 February 2012 at 14:17

Points of note

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For those who may be interested, and who don’t snigger at what might charitably be called “late adopters,” this blog now has a Facebook page (see sidebar also). If you have a moment, please hit the like button on the sidebar or the page to follow the blog.

Also, I have continued to chip away on the pastoral theology page, and I have half a shelf of new books to work on, so please do check out the list of reviews from time to time.

Speaking of books, The Brokenhearted Evangelist is due to be published in a few days (the whisper is that it should be on the shelf either on 10th or 20th of this month). RHB have it available on their website for $11 at the moment. Might I encourage you to bag a copy at some point? More news will follow when I have it.

Mike Riccardi does a good job of herding the elephants, providing a useful chronological outline of the events and discussion before, during and after Elephant Room 2. This may yet prove to be a defining moment in the New Calvinist movement, as men are obliged to walk in the right direction or the wrong one (whether by plain approval or by fudging the issue). If you still care about the nitty-gritty of the process, as opposed to the principle, it’s worth looking at. What is slightly interesting is the re-emergence of the word ‘trajectory.’ A couple of years ago, when invited to comment on certain big players, other big players backed off and endorsed – if not quite the man and his ministry in its entirety – at the very least the “trajectory” they were on, which at the time might have been considered fairly positive. What is noticeable by its absence in some is a refusal to track the current trajectory of some men and say that it is either absolutely unacceptable or that it bodes much ill. It would be tragic to see men who have earned a reputation for the defence of the faith in recent years go down as the men who failed to draw the lines when the lines needed to be drawn.

UPDATE: Messrs Carson and Keller have provided a lengthy, interesting but largely inconclusive overview of issues they believe to be related to this debate here. I appreciate the information, and they have certainly demonstrated their erudition, but I am left a little confused about what they are trying to achieve. It is a substantially boneless piece, providing no definition, drawing no lines, reaching no conclusions. It is disappointing to see men who have a platform of unusual influence, and from whom a robust declaration of what matters and why it matters might have been expected, appearing to fudge the opportunity. I hope that more will be forthcoming upon further reflection, and that there will be some acknowledgements of failure and disappointment as well as some pontifications about dichotomies and tensions.

Finally, I thought that some might be interested to know of a recent introductory series on the church of God which I completed in the church here in Crawley. You can view the whole series here or check out individual sermons as follows:

  1. The nature of the church
  2. The identity of the church (1)
  3. The identity of the church (2)
  4. The identity of the church (3)
  5. The purpose of the church
  6. The calling of the church (1) Principle and pattern
  7. The calling of the church (2) Pursuit and process
  8. The worship of the church (1) Its object and spirituality
  9. The worship of the church (2) Its boundaries and liberties
  10. The government of the church
  11. The mark of the church
  12. The bond of the church
  13. The privilege of the church
  14. The discipline of the church (1)
  15. The discipline of the church (2)
  16. The rule of the church
  17. The delight of the church
  18. The gathering of the church (1)
  19. The gathering of the church (2)
  20. The vigour of the church
  21. The mission of the church
  22. The destiny of the church

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 3 February 2012 at 10:09


with 3 comments

Greetings, sports fans!

As some of you will be aware, over recent months I have been working up a list of pastoral theologies with the intention of providing a helpful resource for pastors, prospective pastors, interested non-pastors, and so on and so forth. So far there are nearly ninety titles briefly reviewed, with about ten more to come in the not-too-distant future, and perhaps others to follow.

Anyway, as promised when I reached the end of the initial survey, herewith a competition! Unfortunately, I was not able to get all the prizes I wanted (some of which are in the process of reprinting), but it means that I might be able to run another competition in the next few months. We wait with slightly bated breath (only slightly, though, because it might take a while and I should wish no reader to feel faint in the interim)!

So, the requirements and rules are straightforward, and as follows. To enter the competition:

  1. Please subscribe to this blog either by using the RSS feed (or the big green icon in the sidebar) or by using the “Follow” function (WordPress users will find it in the top bar, others will see a grey button in the bottom right of the screen). Current subscribers can obviously skip this item.
  2. Once you have subscribed, please go to the pastoral theology page and leave a comment (taking care to include your email when submitting the comment – you do not need to leave it in the body of the comment). While a cheery greeting will suffice, you may find it more profitable to leave a longer comment (for reasons which will become clear). For example, a brief note stating which volume you particularly commend, or which volume sounds most attractive and/or useful to you, your pastor, or pastors generally would be ideal.
  3. The competition closes on Saturday 31st December 2011. Subscriptions must be made and comments must be completed by close of play on that date, but I shall repost this invitation two or three times before then.


Once all that is done and dusted the fun begins.

I shall print off all the competition comments and tape them to a wall (or window). My sons will then shoot two sucker guns at the wall of comments, each with a sucker dart tipped with some colourful substance (my wife does not know about this yet, and I urge you to enter only to enhance the possibility of the darts hitting paper rather than anything else). The two comments which are struck will receive the two prizes (either colour-coded or in order of striking). If I remember to do so, and for the fun of it, photographic evidence will be obtained of the process if not the result.

The first prize will be a set of three pastoral theology volumes: Charles H. Spurgeon’s An All-Round Ministry, Robert L. Dabney’s Evangelical Eloquence, and James M. Garretson’s Princeton and Preaching.

The second prize will be a set of George Smeaton’s Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement and The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement.

I will contact the winners by email in the first week of the new year, and send the books with all possible despatch. Winners are free to use the prizes for themselves or to pass them on to the deserving pastor or other friend of their choice.

So, crack on with the competition, and may the best comment be struck with a sucker dart!

PS: Following a slow start, it strikes me that the Christmas holidays may not be the best time for a competition. If that proves to be the case, I might relaunch this with a new closing date in the new year. All entiries up to that point will be rolled over.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 19 December 2011 at 12:00

Posted in Competitions

Tagged with ,

Review: “The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church”

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The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church

Timothy Z. Witmer

Presbyterian & Reformed, 2010, 240pp., paperback, $17.99 / £13.99

ISBN 978-1-59638-131-5

This is, of necessity, substantially an inward-looking book, concerned most directly with the care of the flock of God. It is a bold call for bold shepherding of a close, personal and specific nature, with much good counsel as to how to accomplish the task, and as such is warmly commended. The principles that our author sets out are clearly and Biblically delineated, but the assumed standards (the present norm) and the designated targets (the shepherd’s aims) in their outworking reveal the tragically, cripplingly low level of churchmanship that is practiced in the West today (this is not an inherent criticism of the author; I do not know his own practice). Some of his systems and recommendations can appear a little mechanical. The problem is undeniable, the principles are excellent, but the practice could do with a course of steroids.

All pastoral theology reviews can be viewed here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 19 December 2011 at 08:04

Wrapping up pastoral theology

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Well, here we are.

This is the last batch for the present of the alphabetical run-through of some pastoral theology volumes. It is by no means intended to be exhaustive. Indeed, since I began there are already another two or three volumes in my hands which need to be added (I hope to do so shortly), and countless others that might be considered.

The full list to date continues to be available here or from the sidebar under “Pastoral theology.” Comments and further recommendations are appreciated , and if you could put them on the full page, I will be able to keep track of them more readily.

A couple of things to watch out for: I am still planning a competition associated with the list, but need to get a couple of things in place first. Also, conscious of how much else is out there of enduring value in terms of pastoral theology but not formally found under that heading (perhaps hidden away in other collections or under cover of a different theme), I hope to begin a list of ‘pastoralia’ that may be helpful to gospel ministers in understanding their calling and developing their craft.

However, for the time being, I trust that these are useful and that the brief overviews might provide pastors and students for the ministry with some hints and helps toward a filling out and filling up of their work.

Thomas, Geoffrey. Preaching: The Man, the Message, the Method. Geoff can be utterly scintillating, and his credibility as a man who has laboured in one place for over fifty years gives him a solid platform for what he has to say. Sweeping, properly assertive, and full of insights, this again is one of those foundational treatments that it is good to revisit from time to time to recalibrate our efforts and expectations in our work. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Taylor, William M. and Plumer, William S. The Ministry of the Word & Hints and Helps in Pastoral Theology. I bundle these together because my edition is two-books-in-one. I really appreciate Taylor. His primary concern is preaching (although there is some good material on private pastoral ministry), and with a robust style he deals with his topic in a way that utterly exposes carelessness and lukewarmness. Taylor abounds with solid Scriptural sense and a bracing tone presses his advice deep into the soul. Plumer is another favourite, though his style is very different. He has a slightly broader scope than Taylor, taking up a variety of more circumstantial topics (such as religious excitements, revivals, visiting the sick, whether to become a foreign missionary, and so on) and is pithier, covering his ground more quickly. In typical style, he also provides a chapter of sayings for ministers, showing some of the gleanings of his own studies. Apart, these would be formidable; together, we are in the presence of Boanerges! (Westminster / (Taylor/Plumer) / / Monergism)

Tyng, Stephen H. The Christian Pastor: The Office and Duty of the Gospel Minister. A very devotional little treatment, breathing a heavenly atmosphere and explicitly taken up with the preacher as a gospel minister. Much to say about the Christlike character of the man of God, and the Christlike way in which he goes about his duty, all borne of long pastoral experience and plainly the product of careful, prayerful consideration. One of those volumes that will do as much if not more to engage the heart for the work as it does to instruct the mind in it. Such always do my soul good, even if I am told little new. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Ventura, Rob and Walker, Jeremy. A Portrait of Paul. This book attempts to provide a portrait of the apostle as pastor and preacher grounded in his dealings with the Colossian church. It considers some of the elements of the apostle’s character and endeavours in a way intended to help the pastor-preacher, those who hear him and are served by him, and those seeking a faithful undershepherd for their souls. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Wells, John D. The Pastor in the Sick Room: Ministering the Gospel to Those on the Brink of Eternity. Really a plea not to neglect those on the borders of the world to come from a sense of despair at their prospects, together with a desire to ensure that flawed sentiments and feeble convictions do not breed false expectations and hopes in the minister or those to whom he ministers. In our society, death is sometimes considered a little further off, or held at arm’s length, but this is full of useful counsel for the moments when it presses near. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

White, James R. Pulpit Crimes: The Criminal Handling of God’s Word. White’s blending of quite highbrow or technical language with more earthy or popular phrases can take getting used to (e.g. a chapter on “Felonious Eisegesis” followed by one called “Cross Dressing,” a sort of cross-dressing in itself!). In a bracing style that can sometimes feel a little aggressive and self-confident, White comes close at times to absolutism and oversimplification, but it is the fruit of his deeply-held convictions and concerns. He has a righteously high view of the pulpit and of preaching, and begins by establishing these Scripturally. Then he brings his charges against modern mishandlers of the Word, considering each one in turn. I appreciate many of his concerns, and hope that he will be well heeded. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Witmer, Timothy Z. The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church. This is, of necessity, substantially an inward-looking book, concerned most directly with the care of the flock of God. It is a bold call for bold shepherding of a close, personal and specific nature, with much good counsel as to how to accomplish the task, and as such is warmly commended. The principles that our author sets out are clearly and Biblically delineated, but the assumed standards (the present norm) and the designated targets (the shepherd’s aims) in their outworking reveal the tragically, cripplingly low level of churchmanship that is practiced in the West today (this is not an inherent criticism of the author; I do not know his own practice). Some of his systems and recommendations can appear a little mechanical. The problem is undeniable, the principles are excellent, but the practice could do with a course of steroids. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

A pastoring essential

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As a teacher of seminary students, I find it’s getting easier to identify those whom the Lord is most likely to use to bless and build his church in pastoral ministry. The Lord is sovereign, of course, and can blow all our analysis and predictions out of the water, but usually He uses “ordinary” means.

David Murray identifies what he calls a “must-have pastoral skill” – find out what it is here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 19 October 2011 at 09:26

Some superb stuff supporting shepherds’ sincere strivings

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As I mentioned previously, the Ss are in danger of being over-represented in pastoral theology authors (come on, authors beginning with other letters!). So, in addition to last time, where we introduced the letter (is this starting to sound a little bit like a surreal episode of Sesame Street?), here is a bevy of Ss to keep you occupied for a while.

The full list to date continues to be available here or from the sidebar under “Pastoral theology.” Comments and further recommendations are appreciated , and if you could put them on the full page, I will be able to keep track of them more readily.

By the way, keep your eyes open for a competition which I hope to have in place shortly after completion of the list.

Spencer, Ichabod. A Pastor’s Sketches (2 vols). I suppose you could call these volumes an exercise in pastoral casuistry. They are really vignettes of pastoral interaction, covering a wide range of circumstances and character. One of their particular advantages is that – for young men who may have little experience of dealing with seeking souls, tortured consciences, arrogant hearts, or troubled lives – these give us an experiential head start until we have had some experience of our own. These books abound with practical pastoral wisdom for dealing with men and women in various stages of spiritual agitation and concern. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Spring, Gardiner. The Attraction of the Cross. “Nothing will interest you like the cross. Nothing can do for you what the cross has done.” So says Spring, having surveyed the narrative of the cross, and he then sets out to demonstrate his point by giving counsels concerning the cross of Christ. A feast of good things, a treasury stored with healthy and helpful thoughts concerning those matters which stand at the heart of faith. Somewhere between pastoral theology and pastoral practice, this book teaches the man and instructs the minister simultaneously. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Spring, Gardiner. The Power of the Pulpit: Thoughts Addressed to Christian Ministers and Those Who Hear Them. Distinctive not least because it is pastoral theology for the pulpit and the pew. After developing at length the principle of a powerful pulpit, Spring then ranges fairly far and wide over some typical topics of pastoral theology, as well as taking up some of the responsibilities of hearers of God’s Word. Spring always flows with sound advice and his words clearly gush from an ardent heart. I like him. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Spurgeon, Charles. An All-Round Ministry. Some of Spurgeon’s presidential addresses to his Pastors’ College Conference, these were the times when he sought to put an edge on the blade. These words stir the soul, engage the heart, humble the mind, and draw out the strength. For all Spurgeon’s personal and cultural distinctives of style, the man knew how to deal with the heart, and his love for Christ, for his church, and for the lost simply overflows in these sparkling pages. Read it often. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Spurgeon, Charles. Counsel for Christian Workers. A series of more generic addresses to those engaged in various spheres of distinctly Christian labour, these have much to encourage and direct the time and energy of labouring saints. We might wish we had more workers of finer temper, but this will both exhort us to be such ourselves and help us to forge those we have into more effective tools for the Master’s work. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Spurgeon, Charles. Eccentric Preachers. Instructive, hilarious, cathartic. If nothing else, this will release a man to be unashamedly himself, to be whatever God has made him, and to serve God accordingly. The man who reads it and decides to behave eccentrically is not being eccentric but foolish; I should hope that no-one of sense would fall into this trap. Given that many effective ministers do not necessarily fit a mould, I think that this is more helpful in enabling us to get on with our work than many might assume. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Spurgeon, Charles. Spurgeon’s Sermon Notes. I cannot say that I have ever actually used this for a sermon, though it is nice to have as an emergency (that said, I have more often than not cribbed something from Spurgeon’s printed sermons, so I am not claiming to be entirely independent!). Good for a crisis, so long as a man has learned to preach as his own what he necessarily borrows from another. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Spurgeon, Charles. Lectures to My Students. A beauty! Spurgeon goes places that others do not with a wit and insight that others lack. A wealth of counsels on countless topics, all breathing an atmosphere of true devotion to Christ and his people. I think this is a splendid book. Be aware, though, that in common with some of the other books of great men on such topics, they sometimes make assumptions that hold good only for men of similar gift, or give counsel that works best if you have their capacities and abilities and must be adapted for others. He does not often fall into the trap of laying down rules that we are not obliged to follow, but we must remember that Spurgeon is Spurgeon, and that he might wisely do what for us would be a mistake. For all that, make it a regular companion. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Spurgeon, Charles. The Soul Winner. Reveals the beating heart of Spurgeon the evangelist. I love this book and only wish I could show more benefit from it in practice and enjoy it by experience. I honestly think that Spurgeon can see what too many others have lost sight of, and he calls us to cultivate the character and the capabilities that will make us winners of souls, and then go out with earnest endeavour to accomplish our God-given ends. When our public and private labours are in danger of becoming tepid or aimless or meandering or merely academic, this will invigorate our souls. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Stewart, James S. Heralds of God. A curious book this, containing many good counsels but not grounding them to great degree in the Word of God. Many entirely right and healthy convictions come across masked in the language of philosophy or sociology. The tone is quite conversational and the whole is fairly urbane and cultured. By all means worthy of a read, and contains much to stimulate, but feels like it relies more on the light of nature than of revelation, and so lacks the cutting edge for which one looks in books of this kind. See also here. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Stalker, James. The Preacher and His Models. Taking his cue from the Old Testament prophets (including a fascinating treatment of false prophets) and the New Testament apostles, Stalker reviews the material under eight headings in which the character of a true preacher is set forth (sometimes by contrast). Stimulating, demanding and engaging, this book presses the Scriptural models into the soul of the modern minister. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Still, William. The Work of the Pastor. A shorter volume, but abounding in wit and sense. Willy Still was one of Sinclair Ferguson’s mentors, and this book focuses on the preaching and teaching of the Word as the pastor’s main concern and most effective tool. There are some very invigorating counsels here, delivered without punches being pulled, and with a minimum of fuss and extravagance. Good stuff! (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Stott, John. Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today. Some excellent counsel here from our Anglican friend, with lots of sound advice grounded in principle and long practice. One need not agree with every assumption or argument to find much to appreciate. Particularly engaging is his wrestling with the challenges of preaching in today’s world (it would be disappointing, given the title, if this were not so!). He helpfully identifies many of the problems, even if we might fine-tune some of his solutions. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Stott, John. The Preacher’s Portrait. To say that this is not much more than a series of word studies would be both to speak truth and to undersell the book terribly. Stott examines the language used of preachers and preaching in the New Testament to develop a composite portrait of the labours of the man of God. Handled with insight and conviction, these studies give a healthy roundedness to our notions of being a preacher of God’s Word. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 22 September 2011 at 09:05

A shepherd’s reading

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S being another popular initial initial, as it were, for writers of pastoral theologies,today I offer you the Rs from the list and the first smattering of Ss (esses? Ssss?). The full list to date continues to be available here or from the sidebar under “Pastoral theology.” Comments and further recommendations are appreciated , and if you could put them on the full page, I will be able to keep track of them more readily. Enjoy and profit!

Reymond, Robert L. The God-Centered Preacher: Developing a Pulpit Ministry Approved by God. Coming from a slightly different stable to some of the other volumes, this book comes in two parts, the former a survey of eight needs for the modern pulpit, and the latter a selection of ‘approved’ sermons intended to demonstrate the model established in the first part. Fairly technical at points, and interacting with some significant opponents, this Scripture-saturated, theologically acute, historically aware volume has much to offer. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Reynolds, Gregory Edward. The Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age. Essentially a homiletical work developed out of some post-graduate research (I think), Reynolds sets out not to rehash some of the older classics, but to supplement them taking into account the rise of modern media. The bulk of the book is fairly typical academic hoop-jumping, all good stuff and very interesting, but interacting by obligation with things for the sake of racking up some scholarly points. In the latter portion of the book the pastor-preacher takes over and scores some good hits. Despite it being ten years old (and therefore not taking account of a decade of high-speed development) it covers a lot of ground and brings out some excellent principles. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Ryle, J. C. Simplicity in Preaching. Reminding us that in his collections of essays and addresses Ryle has a wealth of sound advice on preaching, this little booklet is concerned with simplicity, and – modelling its own counsel – gives us a series of pointed counsels as to how to develop it. Many a seminarian who has yet to discern the difference between his classroom disquisitions and his pulpit productions would benefit from this. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Shaw, John. The Character of a Pastor According to God’s Heart Considered. An ordination sermon grounded in Jeremiah 3.15, this is one of those more Puritanical treatments which drives at the heart of the ministry: the character of the minister. Short, simple, searching, will flush the spiritual system out. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Shedd, W. G. T. Homiletics and Pastoral Theology. Boy, how these 19th century gents liked to churn these things out! This one combines a series of lectures on sermon preparation and delivery and a survey of pastoral theology as it has to do with the various spheres of ministerial character and labour. Again, the style is of its time, but the counsels, directions and warnings are always substantial, Scripturally solid, often sweet, sometimes righteously severe, and properly searching. Will cover much of the ground that others cover, but these men have flashes of insight and turns of phrase that can make each individually valuable. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Smith, Steven W. Dying to Preach: Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit. A passionate and persuasive plea to preachers that they must embrace the cross in their pastoral ministry, dying to self so that others might live in imitation of Christ and, following the Lord, Paul. The focus is really on one’s theology of preaching. The author’s vigorous spiritual probing calls us back to self-examination as to whether we preach a crucified Lord in a crucified style. Review. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 14 September 2011 at 17:05

More books for shepherds

with one comment

Brief reviews of pastoral theology texts can be found below, taking us from O though to P. The full list to date can be found here or from the sidebar under “Pastoral theology.” Comments and further recommendations are appreciated , and if you could put them on the full page, I will be able to keep track of them more readily. I presume that commenters are simply waiting until I have finished the list until they can gloatingly point out classics that I have missed and newer works that are considered indispensable. I wait with bated breath . . .

Olyott, Stuart. Ministering Like the Master: Three Messages for Today’s Preachers. Stuart’s gift for clarity and ability to make a point serve him well in this little jewel. In terse, tight prose, we are informed that our Lord was not a boring preacher (with instruction on how to emulate him), that he was an evangelistic preacher (with counsel on how to follow him), and that he was more than just a preacher (with his example held before us). Sweet, practical, stimulating. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Olyott, Stuart. Preaching Pure and Simple. Once he has defined what preaching is, Stuart tells us what it needs to make it good: exegetical accuracy, doctrinal substance, clear structure, vivid illustration, pointed application, helpful delivery, and supernatural authority. Whether as a primer for a preacher finding his feet, or a refresher course for a man who needs to strip down his work to the essentials for an evaluation of his labours, this is superb. Highly recommended. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Newton, John. Ministry on my Mind. This booklet is simply a record of what were intended to be the private thoughts of John Newton as he pondered whether or not he was being called to the ministry. Valuable largely because it is so personal – and, it should be noted, potentially tricky for the same reasons, because Newton was not self-consciously establishing a general model for others – this is a wonderful help to a man wrestling with the same issue, and a sobering reminder that many of us do not take what we are already doing with sufficient seriousness. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Piper, John. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry. Full of familiar Piper themes and phrases (the reader must judge of their usefulness) the substance of this work is genuinely helpful. Brief chapters make it excellent for occasional or sequential meditation as a way of considering whether our pastoral compass is set true, and the range of topics allows Piper to take on a variety of aspects that will either liberate or cripple pastoral ministry. A good refresher. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Piper, John. The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Trinitarian and Edwardsean – that will tick plenty of boxes! The first comes out in a more general review of the goal, ground and gift of preaching, and then the latter begins to advance as we turn more to learn lessons from Edwards as theologian and preacher. A profitable call to the main things, with plenty of practical helps. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Prime, Derek and Begg, Alistair. On Being A Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work. Covers familiar ground but with a contemporary feel, surveying the various aspects of pastoral work with a sort of meditative tone at points. My edition, in which Prime and Begg almost engage in a conversation based on a revision of Prime’s own earlier work, provides lots of personal insights – listening in, as it were, while these men chat – but can disrupt the flow a little. Profitable, insightful, although with a bitty feel at points. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 6 September 2011 at 08:49

Still plundering pastoral theology

with 5 comments

On we go with pastoral theology texts. There seems little doubt that a significant advantage is obtained by the prospective author in this field by having a surname that begins with the letter M (Bs also give a pretty good leg-up). Why this should be so, finer minds than mine must determine, but sheer weight of numbers seems to support the thesis.

Anyway, the full list to date can be found here or from the sidebar under “Pastoral theology.” Comments and further recommendations are appreciated , and if you could put them on the full page, I will be able to keep track of them more readily. Thanks, too, to Paul Levy at Reformation21 for his backhanded recommendation, and to David Murray for promoting the list.

MacArthur, John, et al. Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry: Shaping Contemporary Ministry With Biblical Mandates. Effectively written by a conglomerate, this is a curious mix. There are some sterling chapters, and others that are wordy and bland. Once or twice I think you could argue about the claim for a precise Biblical mandate for all the assertions and practices made. All told, helpful in parts. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

MacArthur, John, et al. Rediscovering Expository Preaching: Balancing the Science and Art of Biblical Exposition. The same unevenness as the former volume, but with more focus, and a generally balanced, sane and instructive treatment of what it means to open up and apply the text. Occasionally falls into the same trap as many such volumes of establishing rules that not all are obliged or able to follow, but worthwhile for a comprehensive overview of the issues. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

McIlvaine, Charles P. Preaching Christ: The Heart of Gospel Ministry. Addressing himself primarily to men setting out in the ministry, this is short and sweet, identifying errors and shortcomings in the preaching of Christ before, in pithy form, exhorting us truly to preach the Lord Jesus as we find him presented in the Scriptures. Good stuff, and a good gift to a young preacher. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Marcel, Pierre Ch. The Relevance of Preaching. This from a French gentleman is a fine and stimulating little book. Marcel does an excellent job of maintaining the universal and abiding relevance of the Word of God preached while pleading for the cultivation of those qualities which demonstrate its relevance at any particular point of time and space. Very encouraging and instructive. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Marshall, Colin and Payne, Tony. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything. Considers the relationship – and often the imbalance – between the structures and supports of church life and the conversion and growth in grace of the people who make up the church, pleading for an appropriate focus on the latter. Rightly concerned to prompt Christian maturity that enables disciples to invest in the lives of others, but with a few false dichotomies and self-contradictions and a danger of flattening out Christ’s own structures in the church, especially when the notion of vocation (pastoral or otherwise) is fairly swiftly dismissed. Review. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Martin, Albert N. Preaching in the Holy Spirit. If you have heard Al Martin preach at least twice, then – even without knowing the author beforehand – you would be able to identify him after reading the first paragraph of this book, not to mention the rest of it. The material – the substance of two sermons to pastors – addresses the agency and operations of the Holy Spirit, his indispensable necessity, his specific manifestations, and the restrained or diminished measure of his operations, all focusing on the act of preaching. The author brings the fruit of his study, observations and experience to bear on this topic, giving the reader an appetite for the reality he sketches. It is stirring and necessary stuff, and a powerful corrective to dry, dull, predictable sermonising. Preachers should read this. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Masters, Peter. Physicians of Souls: The Gospel Ministry. This is really a sustained plea for definite, distinctive, evangelistic preaching, and – as such – has a lot of good counsel. The author has his own distinctive writing style, and his personal convictions come out strongly, as along the way he snipes at several of his bugbears (he takes issue, for example, with the idea of an instantaneous regeneration, preferring the notion of an elongated experience, and advocates certain approaches to preparation and preaching which would leave a man looking and sounding very much like himself). Within its narrow focus, and taking into account the possibility of differing somewhat at certain points, there is much good and stimulating material. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Mellor, Mike. Look After Your Voice: Taking Care of the Preacher’s Greatest Asset. A sanctified companion to Cicely Berry’s book above, taking particular note of the distinctive demands of the preacher and the specific principles found in the Word of God. A reasonably helpful volume, but needs to be heeded rather than merely read. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Miller, Samuel. An Able and Faithful Ministry. With 2 Timothy 2.2 in mind, Miller takes up the church’s duty to take appropriate measures for the passing on of the ministerial baton. It is very much of its time and place, but his treatment of the text is robust and the principles behind his explanation and applications worthy of careful consideration. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Miller, Samuel. The Ruling Elder. Once you allow for the assumptions of the distinction between a ruling and a teaching elder, you can go ahead and glean a lot of useful material from this volume on the whole principle of rule by elder, especially concerning their character and work. Particularly valuable for being so brief and pointed. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Mohler, R. Albert, Jr. He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World. Helpfully brings some of the timeless principles of proclamation into the postmodern milieu, dressing it up in the kind of language that floats the boat of today’s zestfully intelligent tyro. A high view of preaching, a clear grasp of the present time, and an earnest concern for what is at stake combine to make this an effective treatment of the need to explain and apply God’s Word. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Murphy, Thomas. Pastoral Theology: The Pastor in the Various Duties of His Office. This 19th century Presbyterian divine opens with a most helpful definition of pastoral theology, and then goes on to develop it with regard to a pastor’s private person, his preparation and study, his pulpit labours, his personal parochial work, his wider responsibilities in the church, the progress of the church, the Sunday School, the benevolent work, the session and higher courts of the church (of course, depending on his ecclesiology), and his interdenominational relations. Few other volumes have the scope and depth of this one, as lots of sound, Scriptural sense is brought to bear on the various topics. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

An assessment of preaching

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Hopefully, there will come a point in the life of a church when she is called upon to consider and assess the preaching gifts of men in the congregation. This is not the same thing as considering a man for the office of an elder, but it may be related to it. As the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith says, in chapter 26, paragraph 11:

Although it be incumbent on the Bishops or Pastors of the Churches to be instant in Preaching the Word, by way of Office; yet the work of Preaching the Word, is not so peculiarly confined to them; but that others also gifted, and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved, and called by the Church, may and ought to perform it.

In other words, while it is a particular duty of the pastors as pastors to be preachers in some form, there may be others apart from the pastors of a church who – being appropriately gifted and equipped by the Holy Spirit – have a related obligation to exercise their gift for the edification of the whole body. The assessment of that gift belongs to the gathered church, who, under the oversight of the elders – are to approve and call such a man to the work. (Again, I do not think that this is a formal setting aside, but rather a more formal recognition that here is a man whose gift is to be cultivated and who should be given opportunities for its exercise. Of course, where a man believes he is called to the ministry as a vocational pastor, the same kind of process may be appropriate for the assessment of his preaching gifts as part of the wider consideration of his graces and gifts.)

But how does a church make such an assessment? Is there not a danger of cultivating a wrongly critical spirit, in which the congregation begin to sit as judges upon the preachers rather than come under the Word of God with an intelligent appetite? But is there not another problem of super-spiritualising the process so that the church fails properly to consider the man and his gifts, with a view to a serious consideration and righteous assessment, and utterly suspends the critical faculty, appropriately exercised?

I would hope that, in a healthy church environment, the gifts of the more occasional preacher (awkward phrase, but work with me!) might gradually come to light through his service and demonstration of character in other spheres. For example, his character and disposition are likely to gain him particular opportunities to serve. His measured, earnest, varied, well-constructed and Biblically-sound contributions in public prayer will gain the approval of the saints. Perhaps he will find an initial platform for his gifts in the Sunday School for children of various ages, or in an adult Bible class, and the children will give their usual honest assessment of whether the man has any ability to hold their attention and instruct their minds. There may be some evangelistic work, either on the doors or preaching in the open air, where his zealous spirit cannot be quenched and his heart for sinners is evident. His interaction with other saints will manifest a capacity to instruct. His Bible study and wider reading will show an active mind seeking to immerse itself in the things of God. Perhaps he will contribute to the leading of services, or some other more public sphere in which his gifts, exercised in dependence on the Spirit of Christ, will be evident.

There will come a point at which the elders might give him an opportunity to preach. This should probably be in the most regular meetings of the church, where the saints are gathered with an appetite for the Word and a prayerful anticipation and an eager hope that God will feed them through a gifted man. In other words, the congregation will be willing and expecting the best for and from this brother. The first sermon may be a blinder, humanly speaking, or it may be a complete disaster. In either case, it is too soon to make a decision. The pressures of the pulpit do not allow for a single essay into the labour of public preaching to determine whether or not a man has a gift for some kind of ministry. So he stands again, and perhaps the blinder is followed by a disaster, or vice versa. More likely there is a gradual development, for few men spring fully-formed as preachers into the pulpit. The pastors give feedback, and perhaps a few mature saints are called upon to provide some insights personally to the would-be preacher and to the elders. The pastors seek to cultivate the man’s gifts, honing his attitude to and aptitude for the work. There are many rough edges to smooth off, there are at least as many idiosyncrasies and shortcomings as there are in a more seasoned preacher, but – over time – there is discernible progress. Eventually, the matter comes to the church: the point has come at which the gathered congregation must assess whether or not this is a man that they are ready to recognise as gifted in some capacity to preach, and to what extent that gift should be exercised. What frame of reference do they have for making such an assessment?

Without imagining that this is the final word, here is a framework that we have employed in the church which I serve. It seeks to draw on the Biblical data concerning and examples of preaching, as well as some of the wisdom of gifted men through the years. It has been useful not only for looking at developing preachers, but also for mutual and self-assessment by the existing pastors of our own pulpit labours. In the hopes that others find it useful, I offer it here.

Are the following things present in the bud if not in the bloom? If they are not present all the time, are they regularly and increasingly in evidence?

Personal integrity: Do his character, behaviour, and family life make him credible in the things he preaches? Do his family and employment circumstances allow him to give the time and energy required for preparation and delivery of sermons?

Spiritual authority: Does the Word of God come with a degree of power? Is the preacher gripped by the truth? Are you conscious that you are dealing with the things of eternity? Do you feel the pressure of the truth on your conscience? Do you feel anything of the burden of the man for the salvation of his hearers, their entry into and continuance along the narrow path? Do you believe that he has grasped the true sense of his text and been mastered by it? Is there unction? Is he himself governed by the Word and Spirit?

Homiletical clarity: Is the exegesis (the explanation of the text) accurate and clear? Are the points plainly derived from the text? Is there structure, order, organization, flow, an underpinning and compelling logic to the sermon? Are his illustrations appropriate, accurate, lively and helpful? Can you follow the reasoning in his sermon and are you persuaded by his conclusions?

Theological accuracy: Is there evidence of broader reading and theological meditation? Is the sermon enriched by a genuine understanding of the scope and flow of Scripture revelation as a whole? Is he labouring to acquire a deeper foundation that will support and enrich preaching opportunities? Does his exegesis and application commend itself to you as careful and accurate, in accordance with the wider teaching of Scripture? Are the sermons full of Christ: do they proclaim him and presuppose him?

Emotional profundity: Does he enter into the heart and mind of those depicted in the sermon and its text? Is he connecting with the events and circumstances he describes? Are you made conscious of his concern for you as his hearers? Do you recognise a man who cares for your soul? Does deep speak unto deep? Do you get the sense that he is gripped by his material? Does his spirit rise and fall in sympathy with his material, and does he carry you with him?

Applicatory pungency: Are his applications thoughtful and accurate? Is it a ‘distinguishing’ ministry i.e. does it make necessary, careful and clear divisions between different spiritual conditions and states? Does he address such different groups in a lively and appropriate way? Are the applications searching? Do they go beyond the surface and demand a definite response? Are his applications predictable and avoidable, or urgent and pressing?

Vocal and physical capacity: How easy is he to listen to? How well does he gain and keep your attention? Is there a helpful range of tone, pitch, and volume in his sermon? Do his vocal range and gesture help to communicate the truth in its various aspects and emphases? Is there appropriate and natural expression of face and gesture of body that helps to communicate his meaning? Is there anything static or stunted about his delivery? Does he preach with his whole being?

  • Are your souls being fed by this man’s ministry? Are you being taught, reproved, corrected and instructed in righteousness?
  • Do you believe that God has gifted this man in some capacity as a preacher?
  • If so, to what extent? Would you be eager (or, at least, content) to sit under this preaching on a more regular basis? If so, how often? Roughly once, four times, six times, twelve times yearly, or more or less often?
  • Is he consistently reaching a standard of careful, close, effective public ministry, or is it still a little hit and miss? Do you need more time to make such determinations?
  • Would you be content to have this man go to other congregations and preach as a representative of your Saviour and this church?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 26 August 2011 at 08:22

Ploughing on with pastoral theology

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G through L here. Previous instalments can be found here or from the sidebar under “Pastoral theology.” Comments and further recommendations are appreciated , and if you could put them on the full page, I will be able to keep track of them more readily. Again, I hope that someone might find something here that will help them or someone else to serve God faithfully and fruitfully.

Garretson, James M. Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry. An excellent survey-summary of the lectures of Alexander, drawing together the material into discrete and orderly sections, and weaving it seamlessly into a joint-address in which Garretson provides something of a framework to communicate the cream of Alexander’s substance. Really helpful. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Grossi, Gabriel. Preaching with Biblical Passion: A Scriptural and Historical Study. This self-published work is a demonstration of itself in itself. Grossi pleads passionately for preaching that is informed by the Scriptural mandates for style and substance. (Find it here)

Gordon, T. David. Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers. Why is it that the average preacher cannot preach? The author suggests that a lack of facility in handling words – reading, writing, speaking – have robbed him of the faculties required to do so. This is a brief, impassioned polemical piece, exposing the problem and suggesting a solution in a way that will do many preachers good to consider. Review. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Hughes, Jack. Expository Preaching with Word Pictures: With Illustrations from the Sermons of Thomas Watson. Drawing on one of the Puritan masters of the craft, this is a plea for the use of the sanctified imagination to enliven our preaching and pasturing. Reminds us how effective analogy and illustration can be to communicate truth that otherwise remains clouded and abstract, and teaches us how to start getting it right. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Kistler, Don (ed.). Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching. At once focused on preaching and yet strangely disparate at points because of the range of material, this has lots of wise counsel about different species of preaching. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers. A fascinating treatment of the subject, not least because it is written by a man recognised as a great preacher and many remember and/or can revisit some of his sermons to hear the principles in action. Some of the Doctor’s distinctive views come across, and his personality is stamped on every page. Much to learn here from a master of the craft, even though one might not follow him slavishly. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Logan, Samuel T., ed. The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art in the Twentieth Century. Interesting to look back some twenty five years, see the men asked to contribute, and wonder whether those who remain would still be on the list! The topics covered actually derive from a survey of noted preachers who were asked to identify the primary deficiencies of the contemporary Reformed pulpit, which topics were then farmed out to men considered ideally suited to address them. The result is a book that is in some respects diffuse, but has much profitable counsel scattered throughout. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Pastoral theology: the onward march

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The Cs and Ds having been surveyed, here we are in the Es and Fs. Previous instalments can be found here or from the sidebar under “Pastoral theology.” Comments and further recommendations are appreciated (there are a few other titles I have come across recently that I should like to get my hands on). If you could put such comments and recommendations on the full page, I will be able to keep track of them more readily. Again, enjoy and profit! I hope that you see something that you can get for yourself or for a pastor which will do the soul good and equip for the ministry.

Eby, David. Power Preaching for Church Growth: The Role of Preaching in Growing Churches. Despite a rather awkward and even misleading title, this is actually about the centrality of preaching in the church, using the book of Acts as something of a template. He is concerned for faithful, lively, productive public ministry, and there is much (including helpful quotations to encourage after each chapter) to stimulate the preacher. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Ellsworth, Wilbur. The Power of Speaking God’s Word: How to Preach Memorable Sermons. Focusing on the concept of “orality,” this is really a plea to preach man-to-man, eyeball-to-eyeball, without the potential barrier of reams of notes or pages of manuscripts to hinder communication. Again, our author has a tendency to make an absolute principle of good advice, but I think he takes us in a very healthy direction. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Eveson, Philip (ed.). The Gospel Ministry: Practical Insights and Application. A helpful treatment of present challenges to gospel ministry. There is some insightful stuff here, prompting us to think through the implications and applications of preaching in our own society and culture. The collection is worth having for the two addresses by Ted Donnelly alone. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Eyres, Lawrence R. The Elders of the Church. A high view of the office of elder permeates this slim volume. With clear language and robust reasoning, the author sets out the divine calling, ecclesiastical recognition, Scriptural qualifications, and practical equipping and appointing of pastors in the church. While his Presbyterianism informs and conditions some elements, the essential thrust can be accepted by all who acknowledge the authority of the Bible, and the distinctive forms can be laid aside where conviction dictates, and the Scripture principles behind them adapted and embraced. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Fairbairn, Patrick. Pastoral Theology: A Treatise on the Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor. With its focus on the preacher, this is another little beauty. Putting the pastorate in the context of the church, Fairbairn then considers the nature of and call to the office before considering how generally and particularly its duties are to be carried out. There are counsels for many of the primary responsibilities of life in the ministry, all from a truly pious and learned tradition. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Foxcroft, Thomas. The Gospel Ministry. This is the sermon that Foxcroft preached at his own ordination. It was so good that the men gathered to ordain him urged him to print it. It is magnificent, and all the more useful for being so brief. A great gift for a new minister, and a great reminder for any older ones. Review. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 17 August 2011 at 23:02

Yet more pastoral theology

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Here we are, sliding effortlessly into the Cs and Ds of pastoral theology. We’ve done a couple of instalments already here and here, and the complete page can be found here or from the sidebar. As usual, comments and further recommendations are appreciated, and if you could put them on the full page, I will be able to keep track of them more readily. There are a couple here that are on my shelf without having been read yet. I have noted that, and when I get round to reading them, I will try to update the review. You can also see that I am trying to put in a bundle of links so that readers have a range of options for purchase. Thanks, and enjoy!

Carrick, John. The Imperative of Preaching: A Theology of Sacred Rhetoric. Outstanding material here. With illustrations from preachers of renown, Carrick insists that we must both explain and apply the truth, and he bases his case on a study of Biblical indicatives and imperatives, and their relationship one to the other (as well as exclamations and questions). Helpful in thinking about the why and how of sermons, and a real stimulus to preaching (or trying to). (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Carrick, John. The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards. I recently got it not least in the hopes that it would develop some of the seed-thoughts of the earlier volume (above). From what I can see, it is a survey of some noteworthy features from Edwards’ public ministry, and could be very helpful. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Carson, D. A. The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians. A helpful study of what it means for “the cross” to have a central place in Christian leadership. A reminder of the spirit in which our pastoral labours are to be conducted. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Chappell, Bryan. Christ-Centred Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. This volume sounds some helpful notes, and is worth reading to be reminded of some basic realities in connection with preaching. However, while I know it has had much good press, I found it a little dry and somewhat prescriptive. I think that much of its substance and profitable emphases could be obtained elsewhere without the same constraints being unhelpfully imposed. I may be misreading or misunderstanding it. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Clowney, Edmund P. Called to the Ministry. An excellent and brief treatment of the call to the ministry. Very useful for those wrestling with the question. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Croft, Brian. Test, Train, Affirm & Send Into Ministry. With an easy style and an awareness of modern issues, the author puts the call to ministry right where it belongs, squarely into the context of the local church. Within this framework, the character of the man himself is briefly explored, practical recommendations made, and the ongoing investment of the church in the man under authority is pleaded. Although different churches might wish to adapt what they adopt, this is a solid foundation on which to proceed. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Croft, Brian. Visit the Sick. Again writing to equip men to be genuine shepherds of souls, this book sets out to remind the church and her pastors that the care of the sick is not merely a matter for health professionals, especially in the sphere of the soul’s well-being. Again full of practical advice and the fruit of sometimes painful experience, this book is helpful in rightly setting a pastoral priority. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Croft, Brian & Newton, Phil A. Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals. Many young pastors arrive at their first wedding or funeral having just realised that they have never really seen this done from their soon-to-be vantage point. Going beyond the mere mechanics of the service, Croft and Newton give wise counsel on how to think about and engage with the various aspects of a funeral that honours Christ and declares his truth even as it recognises the pains and sorrows of lost loved ones. Helpful especially for the uninitiated, but a good prompt even for the seasoned. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Dabney, R. L. Evangelical Eloquence: A Course of Lectures on Preaching (previously, Sacred Rhetoric). Another older gem, Dabney begins with the preacher’s commission before surveying a classic list of those elements which together enable a man gifted by God to compose and deliver his divinely-mandated message in such a way as to accomplish God’s ends, with his blessing. Changes in expectations and appetites in the world at large do not take away the usefulness of these basic Biblical principles. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Dickson, David. The Elder and His Work. Written from a Presbyterian perspective, and so dealing more with ruling elders as distinct from teaching elders, this is nevertheless a very helpful, practical survey of the work of elders/pastors generally. While you might tweak it depending on your ecclesiology, if you have (for want of a better phrase) “non-vocational pastors” there is much here that might help, quite apart from the benefit to the preacher of the gospel. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 4 August 2011 at 18:37

More pastoral theology resources

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Yesterday I began posting some mini-reviews of volumes of pastoral theology. Having covered the As, here we hit the Bs. For some reason, there are lots of As and Bs, as well as Cs, but a smattering of Ds and Es, with a dearth of Qs and Xs, will even things out over time. As previously mentioned, the entire list will eventually appear on the pastoral theology resources page (see sidebar), which I hope you will visit from time to time.

I welcome comments on the list (especially on the pastoral theology page, where I can keep track more readily) and would be particularly interested to know of any other older or newer works of pastoral theology that readers might recommend. Thank you.

Baxter, Richard. The Reformed Pastor. Baxter’s sense of his obligations before God weigh heavily upon him and us in this classic text. Although at times you are almost driven to despair by the felt gravity of the calling and its duties, there is much gold to mine from even the deepest caverns. The sensitive man might wish to keep a complementary volume near at hand to encourage his soul, but anyone with ears to hear will be taught, reproved, corrected, and instructed in righteousness by this treatment of the theme. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Berry, Cicely. Your Voice and How to Use It: The Classic Guide to Speaking With Confidence. The voice director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, with some utterly unnecessary but would-be achingly cool vulgarity, gives helpful counsel on the right use of the voice. Quite technical at points, but something like this would help many of us with such things as pitch, tone, diction, variation, and a host of other pulpit failings that make us hard to hear or listen to. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Bickel, Bruce R. Light and Heat: The Puritan View of the Pulpit. Really two shorter books in one, Bruce Bickel mines Puritan preachers (and some of their successors) for their thoughts on preaching in the first part, weaving it profitably together. The second part is really a comparison of two different kinds of evangelism (Puritanism vs. Finneyism, in essence). There is lots here to stimulate, pointing the reader back beyond the Puritans to Scripture to see whether or not our convictions and the practices that flow from them are what they ought to be. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Blaikie, William Garden. For the Work of the Ministry. Setting out to be brief, complete and practical, Blaikie does a cracking job. One of the old school, in the best sense, treating the nature of the ministry, the call to it, the work of it, the character required in it, with all manner of homiletical and pastoral tips and hints along the way. Not all of its emphases and nuances need to be embraced to find this a real gem. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Bonar, Andrew. The Visitor’s Book of Texts: A Vital Tool for Pastoral Visitation. A very different little book, detailing the various cases which a visiting minister may find when he goes into a home or hospital (or wherever), giving some general counsels for approaching each instance, then highlighting a number of relevant texts, sometimes with thoughts or comments upon particular ones, all intended to help the visitor find appropriate Scriptures and well-directed words for ministering. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Bonar, Horatius. Words to Winners of Souls. An exercise in self-examination of a painful and profitable kind. Bonar deals not only with what we ought to be, but also exposes what we too often have been and remain. He searches the heart, probing and prodding, before pointing us to the remedies for many ministerial sins and the reviving of our hearts and the rejuvenation of our work. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Borgman, Brian. My Heart for Thy Cause: Albert N. Martin’s Theology of Preaching. An odd book, this, essentially consisting of the boiled-down essence of Al Martin’s lectures on preaching filtered through Borgman the redactor. While much of the profit remains of close attention to the Biblical material on preaching and pastoring, joined with telling and apposite quotes from past masters, it seems to me a book that loses too much in translation. There is much here that is profitable, and yet the book as a whole seems unsatisfactory because it is much less than it could have been. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Boston, Thomas. The Art of Manfishing. I think that this was the work of the young Boston intended solely for his own benefit. It therefore has the virtue of unfailing honesty, insofar as any man is honest with himself. There is no show, only a man dealing with his own soul. Boston considers the promise of Christ to make us fishers of men, then looks at the ministerial duty to pursue such a calling, before asking himself how to cultivate such an art. Good stuff. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Bridges, Charles. The Christian Ministry (with An Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency). Bridges was ridiculously young to have so much wisdom and insight when he wrote this. With very little of his own ecclesiology intruding, Bridges gives us an overview of the ministry before considering its inefficiency connected with general causes and with the pastor’s own character (guess which bit hurts the most?). He then moves on to give many corrective helps with regard to public and private or pastoral ministry. Deservedly recognised as a classic in its field. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Broadus, John A. (ed. E. C. Dargan). A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. As long as you get the right edition (the Dargan one) you are in for a sustained and meaty treat. A treasure-house of homiletical insights, Broadus ranges far and wide to give us a grand and focused overview of the sermon. Worthy of more attention in an age when the productions of the pulpit are so often bland and diffuse. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Brown, Charles. The Ministry. Another oldie but a goodie. Fairly short and sweet, again he deals with godly character (a signal failing of many newer works), an excellent treatment of public prayer, and some delightful thoughts on pulpit ministry. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Brown, John, of Edinburgh (comp.). The Christian Pastor’s Manual. A collection of addresses by various worthies. When looking at more modern collections, it is striking how some of the same topics concerning preaching come up time and again. Has the virtue of addressing the pastoral calling and character as much as the work of preaching. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Bucer, Martin (trans. Peter Beale). Concerning the True Care of Souls. Bucer is one of the sleeping giants in Reformation studies, and this is the fruit of some twenty-five years of pastoral ministry, in which he sets out the nature of the work of a ‘carer of souls’ in the context of his doctrine of the church. The linking of these two is part of the genius of the whole, which abounds in good things. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

The whole list so far is here.

Pastoral theology resources: a beginning

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When my friend Brian Croft visited the UK several months ago we enjoyed much warm conversation about volumes on pastoral theology. In following up that conversation, and at Brian’s suggestion, I began to build a catalogue of pastoral theology volumes, jotting down a few thoughts about them, and then passed them on to a couple of friends. Brian has since urged me to make the list publicly available as a means of serving others, and I am now pleased to do so.

Here begins, then, a personal survey of books from my library on pastoral theology, concentrating on those about which I am substantially positive without feeling the need to avoid a healthy critical spirit. The comments are comments first and foremost on the books, not on men or their ministries, and should be read accordingly, please. I have not generally bothered critiquing or identifying where differences of conviction would have a noticeable impact or impart a certain flavour, as in the spheres of church polity and ecclesiology. I leave it to the reader to wrestle through the implications of different perspectives, and to do for himself the work of accommodating good principles to his own distinctive convictions.

Because of the time it takes to do the editing for this list, I will be posting this in chunks of varying sizes. However, the entire list will be appearing over time (keeping pace with the gradual posting here) on a new page devoted to pastoral theology resources (and see sidebar), which I hope you will visit from time to time.

I welcome comments on the list (especially on the pastoral theology page, where I can keep track more readily) and would be particularly interested to know of any other older or newer works of pastoral theology that readers might recommend. Thank you.

Alexander, Eric J. What is Biblical Preaching? A little booklet with plenty of pithy and profound thoughts to ingest. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Alexander, J. W. Thoughts on Preaching. Though at points one wishes for a little more topical arrangement, reading his paragraphs as a sort of series of extended aphorisms quickly persuades of Alexander’s great insight. His terse and pithy declarations provide much food for thought. The letters to young ministers and the longer studies toward the end of the book give opportunity for slower and deeper development of his profitable thoughts. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Angell James, John. An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times. Written with the very fervency it recommends, Angell James gives us no place to hide in demanding that if we want others to feel what we preach we must first feel it ourselves, not with an artificial excitement, but with a soul-deep earnestness. Read it before you preach to remind you of how much you need God to help you; read it after you preach to keep you humble; read it between sermons to prompt you in your labours. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Aristotle. The Art of Rhetoric. Old-skool, and why not! Of course, needs to be forced thoroughly through a Scriptural grid, but pushes you towards good questions even if you must go on to find God’s answers. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Armstrong, John H. The Stain That Stays: The Church’s Response to the Sexual Misconduct of Its Leaders. A persuasive argument for the permanent disbarring from the pastoral office of any man guilty of sexual immorality, and in itself a powerful persuasive to purity. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Ascol, Thomas K., ed. Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry. One of the interesting things about these compendia is that you get to see the men considered to be the great and the good in the time, place and circle of the editor and/or publisher. Our contributors here are some of the men you would expect, and they deliver much good material in the form of letters written to a realistically-imagined Timothy in the spirit of a mentor. This focus provides a degree of coherence and a suspected significant degree of editorial oversight prevents the contributors from treading too much on one another’s toes, while the characters and personal styles of the correspondents provides a pleasing variety. A wealth of good advice for young men is here, thought it serves equally as a series of profitable reminders and correctives for those who have been some time in the way. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Azurdia, Arturo G. III. Spirit Empowered Preaching: Involving the Holy Spirit in Your Ministry. I remember an older minister introducing himself to me at a conference, and in the course of his conversation recommending this book as one I must read. I took his advice, and recall being stirred, confirmed and prompted to seek and know more of the Spirit’s work in ministry. A good volume. (Westminster / / / Monergism)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 18 July 2011 at 18:06

Starving ourselves (and therefore others)

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John Wesley’s counsel to a young preacher whose preaching gift was, if not declining, certainly stagnating:

What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is lack of reading.

I scarce ever knew a preacher who read so little.

And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it.

Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought.

Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer.

You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this.

You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian.

Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercise. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant.

Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily.

It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher.

Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow.

Do not starve yourself any longer.

Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether.

Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you, and in particular yours.

HT: Justin Taylor.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 23 April 2011 at 19:13

Review: “Dying to Preach: Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit”

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Dying to Preach: Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit

Steven W. Smith

Kregel, 2010, 176pp., paperback, $14.99

ISBN 978-0-8254-3897-4

This author issues a passionate and persuasive plea to preachers that they must embrace the cross in their pastoral ministry, dying to self so that others might live in imitation of Christ and, following the Lord, Paul. Relying heavily on Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, Smith calls for what he calls “surrendered communication,” demanding with homiletical neatness that the preacher ignite, invite, identify and imitate in his worked-out union with a crucified Saviour. Then, relying heavily on Francois Fénelon’s rhetorical theory, he speaks of surrendering to the text, to the audience, and to the task of preaching. At its heart, this brief volume pleads with preachers to leave questions of preaching style where they belong, and focus on one’s philosophy (we might prefer ‘theology’ here) of preaching. In the lively language of an earnest man, Smith elaborates on this theme, drawing in his helps from a wide range of sources. Although there are Spiritual dynamics to the act of preaching that might be more clearly addressed, and some possible overstatements that might be born of his conviction, this is an excellent, truly challenging volume. Younger preachers who have been ministering for a few years might especially profit from subjecting themselves to the vigorous spiritual probing that Smith provides, asking whether or not we are faithful to the pattern of Christ, and the pattern of Paul, in our embrace of plain truth, plainly spoken, speaking of a crucified Ransomer in a crucified style because we follow our crucified Lord.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 18 February 2011 at 19:22

A pastor oppressed

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I’m not discouraged, depressed, or dulled in my affections for Christ and His Word. My love for this calling and the task to shepherd God’s people has not waned at all, it only grows. I have very little to be discouraged about and so much to be thankful for. So, what is going on? I seem to be experiencing a common, yet often undiagnosed reality for pastors laboring in the day-to-day grind of ministry. It is that slow, subtle process over a long period of time where you continue to add to your plate (or others add for you) without taking anything away from it. All of a sudden, you feel like all you do is work so hard to keep all the balls in the air as you juggle them, thinking if one falls…disaster. As a result, you feel like a dear pastor friend of mine described it to me this past week, “I feel like I am doing so much, that I am doing nothing well.”

I think most pastors can identify with Brian Croft’s honest and humble words. There is plenty of transparency here, giving a profitable window into his own heart, with good advice for seeing this coming where you can and responding to it when you can’t.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 9 December 2010 at 22:15

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