The premise of this book is a reaction to some of the prevailing notions of pastoring in the present church. Much of the role of the pastor has been captured by psychology and social work. The author responds to this mistaken focus by re-centering the work of the pastor back on theology. Even though he uses the term “practical,” the author does not see this as separate from academic theology because practical and academic are one in the same. Theology should always be practical, or as the author states, “Where the rubber meets the road.”
One of the most interesting and reflective themes in the book is the author’s insistence that “union with Christ is not an imitation of Christ…rather, the Christian life as taught by Paul…is a participation in Christ’s righteousness, holiness, and mission.” The author notes, “Christian life is participatio Christi, not imitatio Christi” (40).
The author continues along missional lines in concluding that the purpose of the church is to be the present form of God for the world, and to this end the church is given the Holy Spirit, and the church communes with the Holy Spirit. This is insightful, as most Christians have assumed the presence of the Spirit is given regardless of whether or not the church is fulfilling the mission of God. However, it is likely that there is more attached to the Spirit with the mission of the church then originally noted. If one looks at the book of Acts, it seems that the Holy Spirit is moving and noting the progression of the gospel to the various subgroupings in the culture. Even in John 20:22, Jesus appears in the room while the disciples are praying, probably for safety, and gives them the mission of being sent as Jesus was sent. But in verse 22, Jesus gives them the Spirit to accomplish this work. The present church might have missed this interrelationship between mission and Spirit.
Throughout the book, the author provides indications of the overall intention of the book. One of these statements notes that he desires to anchor pastoral theology and the practice of ministry “precisely as gospel,” in order that ministry be understood not as an obligation but as a gift. Ministry is discipleship in which we bear the easy yoke of Christ, whose burden is light (44). This is insightful as it goes against the common theme of ministry. Mostly, ministry is seen as a taxing burden on a minister. There are overt discussions of the high burnout rate for ministry because of this perception. Maybe the ideas surrounding ministry should be critiqued since this seems to be the case. It is likely that the model for pastoral ministry is too focused on “felt needs” as the author mentions (45-46). This dynamic is created because pastors are seeking approval from the congregation, instead of rooting their work in gospel.
Once again, the author critiques some of the modern thought concerning pastoral ministry, and roots his next idea in the union with Christ. He notes, “We are awakened from the sloth of self-interest to a life that longs for a deeper conversion to God and more faithful service” (94). Though the author has these positive insights into the current culture of pastoring, in the book he occasionally seems to take this too far. In one of these insistences, he seems to critique all aspects of the pastoral skill set. He mentions that counseling, systems theory, and human development can be helpful, but these must not replace the gospel of pastoral theology (96). In this case, it seems that the author is bent on reacting to the culture of being a pastor. Most likely, few pastors would ever claim that these methods take the place of being led by the Word of God on pastoral issues. This is one of the major criticisms of the book. In the author’s desire to rebalance or restore pastoral theology, he seems to go too far. One would certainly agree that the work of the pastor must be rooted in the Biblical text, but this does not mean a complete rejection of some of the human sciences that can be beneficial to the pastor in accomplishing the work of God.
Another area of concern was the author’s view of the atonement of Christ. He moved away from a penal concept and toward a continual atonement. The author states “He continues eternally to give a self-offering of his life on our behalf in heaven” (118). Maybe the author does not understand the seriousness of this, or perhaps he is attempting to react too much or is creating doctrine to fit his purpose in creating a pastoral theology, but he seems to be confusing the need for continued sacrifice of Christ on the cross and Christ’s ministry of “being with you always, even to the end of the ages.” To attribute the death of Christ, over and over again, seems to miss the point of the death of Christ, and possibly even trivializes it. Christ is continually acting as man’s advocate, but he is not being put to death on the cross for eternity. Of course the Hebrew text is not directly speaking to this issue, but it seems applicable as it states that Christ was sacrificed “once and for all.”
Overall, this book has some helpful and insightful thoughts on the work of the pastor. The author does an excellent job of rooting the work of the minister in the story of God. The book provides a helpful commentary on some of the imbalances of pastoral function in the present church. But the author never brings the theology down to “where the rubber meets the road.”
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