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On the Incarnation Analogy Applied to Scripture: Robert Letham Responds to Peter Enns

Those familiar with this discussion know that much ink has been spilled on Peter Enns’s book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old TestamentI won’t rehearse that here, but I did want to share one theologian’s assessment of Enns’s work in his new systematics text. I’m referring to Robert Letham‘s new Systematic Theology, released in November of 2019.

One note about Letham: His scholarly credentials are well-established. He is thoroughly versed in the Trinitarian debates of the Partistic era as well as steeped in the writings of the Reformation, Post-Reformation, and contemporary theologians. Prior to the publication of his systematic theology, his books on the doctrine of the Trinity and union with Christ (among numerous other articles and monographs) established him as a household name among professional theologians and students of theology. Conclusion? Letham has earned the right to speak into this controversy.

Letham’s remarks on Enns’s proposal centers on his incarnational analogy of Scripture. On page 29 of his Inspiration and Incarnation, Enns writes, “as Christ is both God and human, so is the Bible.” Then on the next page he asserts, “The human dimension of Scripture is, therefore, part of what makes Scripture Scripture.”

Here’s Letham’s rebuttal in full:

“Unfortunately, Enns is not aware of the church’s developed Christology. The dogma of enhypostasia does not enter the picture. He cites [The Definition of] Chalcedon but does not understand its context–something he insists should be done with the historical background of the Old Testament. [Paragraph break] The church came to the considered conclusion that the two natures of Christ were not equal entities that came together. When we ask who Jesus of Nazareth is, the church’s answer is that he is the eternal Son of God. Regarding the further question of what he consists of, the answer is that he took into indivisible and permanent personal union a human nature conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Christ is fully human, but it is the person of the Son who takes into union a human nature. Christ is not a composite; the incarnation is asymmetrical. The humanity of Christ is the humanity of the eternal Son of the Father. It has no independent existence. With the incarnational analogy applied to Scripture the movement is from the side of God. So Scripture is fully human, produced in particular historical contexts, but what makes it Scripture is its origination and outbreathing by the Spirit, constituting it canon for the church” (p. 217).

See also the relevant sections in John Feinberg’s massive Light in a Dark Place: The Doctrine of Scripture and Stephen Wellum’s God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ.

Top Ten Books of 2019

Here’s my top ten books of 2019 in no particular order, with a few honorable mentions thrown in for good measure, plus my top three articles of the year. Enjoy!

D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. In this short book (only 84 pages), Carson argues that many people in our culture (including Christians) wrongly abstract the love of God from his other attributes and simply equate it with unconditional affirmation. As one person told Carson to his face, “Of course God loves me, that’s his job!” When evangelicals contemplate God’s love, their minds typically turn to John 3:16, but not much further. In order to remedy this kind of superficial thinking, Carson sheds light on the different ways the Bible speaks about the love of God. Although brief, he tackles issues such as divine immutability and impassibility (the latter of which he does unhelpfully), all the while urging committed Christians to maintain the linkage between the love of God and the wrath of God. In short, this is typical Carson: Informed, engaging, and, with the exception of his treatment on divine impassibility, nuanced, and thoroughly biblical.[1]

Bradley G. Green, The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life. D. Bruce Lockerbie famously said, “Wherever the gospel is planted, the academy follows.” But why? In this work, Green aims to answer this and a similar question: “What does the gospel have to do with the intellectual life?” (13). In short, Green contends that only the Christian worldview provides the necessary rationale for intellectual pursuits. First of all, the Christian doctrine of creation affirms that we live in an ordered world created by God, which means there is something there to study. In addition, God is a speaking God who fashioned his image bearers as knowing creatures, which means we can truly (though not omnisciently) understand his revelation. Building upon these thoughts, Green segues into the most mentally taxing section, providing readers with a metaphysical and theological framework for language. Although somewhat complex, his goal is to show that “Language is first and foremost a gift from God whereby we reflect God in the world” (126). With these thoughts in place, Green demonstrates that the intellectual life needs no justification—that is, we’re free to pursue the intellectual life simply because . . . well . . . we get to! We study to enjoy God!

John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence. A delectable morsel from the pen of a Puritan divine, Flavel’s aim is to display God’s overruling providence in a believer’s life. Akin to other Puritan works, reading Flavel is like a cool breeze on a hot summer day—refreshing and vivifying. As we’ve come to expect from these pastor-theologians, the book is characterized by mature biblical exposition, precise doctrinal explanation, and pastorally sensitive application. In short, I love John Flavel and can’t wait to meet him.

Kyle McClellan, Mea Culpa: Learning from Mistakes in the Ministry. What do you get when a seasoned pastor reflects on his early years of ministry? Lots of embarrassing stories, laughter-inducing anecdotes, and a sense of camaraderie. Take heart, brothers: You’re not the only bad pastor out there! There’s plenty of us! But if God used a donkey, then he truly can use any of us. On a more serious note, however, the two major takeaways that I found most helpful in the book are as follows: 1) American consumer culture has not helped pastors and churches. People tend to bring “the customer is always right” attitude with them to church. Unfortunately, what people want and what people need are two different things. 2) Pastors must be honest with search committees and the leadership body of their churches. What churches want is pretty simple: A great preacher and teacher, a skilled evangelist, someone who makes visitation of the sick a priority, a great counselor, a competent administrator and visionary leader. They want someone with academic credentials who is able to speak to the average person in the congregation. They want a pastor who is available to people, yet also active in the community—and of course he should lead his family well. In short, they want someone who will expand the ministry of the church, grow it numerically and spiritually, start new programs that will attract more people. Since no pastor has all these gifts, and since each person in the church thinks the pastor should prioritize what they value, people are feeling more and more let down with their pastors. In short, pray for your church.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies. Definitely one of the best books I read all year! Sure, you’ll feel quite convicted as you make your way through this volume. But that’s not always a bad thing. Naming your sins is the counterpart to counting your blessings (21), and, if my experience is any indication, we need to kiss our sins on the mouth in order for them to lose their power over our lives. Walking with the Lord for twenty years has taught me that intelligent confession precedes joyful liberation. DeYoung blends historical and theological insights with personal stories while rounding out each chapter with specific ways for you to put to death each capital vice in your life. Pick up and read.

Theodore Dwight Bozeman, The Precisianist Strain—Disciplinary Religion & Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638. While the cumbersome title might dupe readers into thinking that Bozeman’s work is a cure for insomnia, don’t be fooled. Yes, the nitty-gritty details might turn some readers off, but I think many Christians (especially pastors) would profit from working through this volume. By way of summary: Bozeman sets the stage by tracing the history of the English Reformation, through to the establishment of Presbyterianism, to the eventual birth of Puritanism. The contours of Puritan spirituality—stringency, precision, and ascetical practices—arose amid societal destabilization, increasing levels of poverty, and moral laxity (chs. 2–3), all of which readied the people for a religious life marked by exactitude and scrupulosity. (Puritan pastors, for example, urged their parishioners to become “athletes of the fast” [118].) The upshot, however, was a lack of assurance of salvation. Almost all “cases of conscience” (what the Puritans called “casuistry”) revolved around this one issue. And the perpetual urging of “self-examination” tended only to exacerbate rather than ameliorate a penitents’ struggles (155). Consequently, one of the charges lodged against Puritans was that its piety reflected a regression to medieval spirituality—indeed, a “re-Catholicization” according to Bozeman. Out of this context arose an ensemble of preachers testifying to God’s “free grace”—most notably John Cotton (241). The “antinomians” (as they were dubbed) were Puritanism’s theological “antipode” (334). Whereas Cotton and other “antinomians” said the Puritans evacuated justification by faith of any meaning, the Puritans judged their theological opponents’ views “dizzily utopian” (334). Since I’m not well-versed enough in Puritan theology and history to assess Bozeman’s arguments, I’ll let the PhDs sort it all out. Nevertheless, I found this work an insightful piece of both historical and pastoral theology. In short, what you believe about God matters! And while practicing the spiritual disciplines is essential to the Christian life—including self-examination—we must guard against allowing this to degenerate “into a monotonously self-referential and inwardly focused piety” (Fred Sanders’s words in The Deep Things of God, 197).

John Owen, Discourse on the Holy Spirit. Since I spent several months working through Owen’s massive tome, I feel almost obligated to place this in my top ten. Typical of the Puritans, this gem clocks in at 631 pages. While Owen’s prose is difficult to navigate at times, I found that limiting myself to three to five pages a day helped tremendously. You can’t read through Owen quickly; you must pace yourself, giving adequate time to process what he says. For me, coming across the wonderfully pastoral sections that drip with the honey of the gospel made it all worth it.

A. G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods. For those interested in the intellectual life, this book is a must. With years of wisdom at his disposal, Sertillanges arms a new generation of intellectuals with habits sure to help them pursue their studies. Here are my favorite pieces of advice: 1) Study in the presence of God and with eternity in mind; 2) virtue is necessary for intellectual pursuits; 3) live in the open air and spend time in the sun; 4) care for the body contributes to temporal beatitude; 5) intellectuals must be ascetics—to a degree; 6) discipline yourself for solitude (“solitude is the mother of results” [67]); 7) be a generalist and a specialist; 8) know that most disagreements arise over matters of first principles; 9) accepting your limitations as a human being is a virtue; 10) a great memory is a precious resource.

Rick Reed, The Heart of the Preacher: Preparing Your Soul to Proclaim the Word. Reed is a longtime pastor-turned-seminary president. As the title makes clear, Reed argues that the most significant aspect to preaching is the preacher’s own heart: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). The book comes in two parts. First, Reed records fifteen heart-tests a preacher will face, including matters such as ambition, comparison, fear, criticism, failure, and pain. Second, Reed finishes by outlining ten ways preachers can strengthen their hearts by drawing attention to personal soul care, prayer, realistic expectations, and regular exercise. Most of all, however, Reed argues that the most important factor in preaching is maintaining a genuine love for Christ. This was an easy but great read. I highly recommend it for pastors.

Jonathan T. Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary. This was one of the best books I read all year. As I worked through it I kept saying to myself, “This is what theological scholarship should be.” Not only is Pennington’s work well-researched, it’s also well-written—something that cannot be said for all scholarly publications. (Some scholars seem to think opacity is a sign of profundity.) Briefly, Pennington situates the Sermon on the Mount within the confluence of the Jewish wisdom tradition and the Greco-Roman virtue tradition—thus presenting Jesus as the true Philosopher-Sage-King (36, 101,111). With the Shema (Deut. 6:4) clearly in view, the Sermon is a discourse on righteousness, highlighting God’s call for “whole-hearted orientation” toward him in one’s life (78). As the title suggests, Pennington argues that the Sermon on the Mount is about human flourishing since image-bearers of a holy God cannot truly flourish unless they are in covenant relationship with the Triune God of Holy Scripture.

Honorable Mention:
Oliver D. Crisp and Fred Sanders, ed. The Task of Dogmatics: Explorations in Theological Method. A compendium of essays focusing on matters related to properly defining and engaging in dogmatic theology. In my opinion the most stimulating entries were: Kevin Vanhoozer, “Analytics, Poetics, and the Mission of Dogmatic Discourse”; Scott Swain, “Dogmatics as Systematic Theology”; Brannon Ellis and Josh Malone, “Divine Perfections, Theological Reasoning, and the Shape of Dogmatics”; Mike Allen, “Dogmatics as Ascetics; and Gavin Ortlund, “Why Should Protestants Retrieve Patristic and Medieval Theology?” Note: Although I enjoyed this book, I do not endorse all the articles, especially not the article by Katherine Sonderegger.

Leland Ryken, The Soul in Paraphrase. A wonderful collection of poems and sonnets that direct readers’ attention to the majesty of God and beauty of holiness. Collectively, these entries highlight the complexity of life, the twists and turns involved in traversing a fallen world, coping with disappointment, heartbreak, tragedy, and death. But that’s not all—along the way, you encounter writings that consist of beautiful prose, complex ideas, and spellbinding structure (think Hebert’s “Aaron” as an example). Your heart will sing, your soul will soar, and your gaze will lift heavenward.

David Powlison, How Does Sanctification Work? In beautifully written prose, Powlison delineates the multiplicity of ways God conforms his children into the image of his beloved Son. Combining biblical instruction with personal stories, Powlison pulls readers into the wonder, joy, and challenges of the Christian life. I heartily recommend this book to my friends.

Top Three Favorite Articles:
Scott Swain, “That Your Joy May Be Full: A Theology of Happiness” – An exquisite example of sound reasoning from a theologian drenched in Scripture and thoroughly acquainted with the classical theologians in the history of the church. I only wish I had picked his brain more when he was my prof in seminary.

William Wood, “Axiology, Self-Deception, and Moral Wrongdoing in Blaise Pascal’s Pensées,” Journal of Religious Ethics (2009): 355–384. While the subject matter is the nature of self-deception in Pascal’s Pensées, I also found it insightful for my own personal life.

Michael Allen, “Disputation for Scholastic Theology: Engaging Luther’s 97 Theses,” Themelios 44:1 (2019): 105–119. This was Allen’s inaugural lecture as the John Dyer Trimble Chair of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. Allen mines the wisdom of Luther and the reformed scholastics to see how their theological protocols might inform theological education in the present.

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[1] For those interested in the basic issues involved in divine simplicity and impassibility, do your best to track down the following two articles—Gavin Ortlund, “Divine Simplicity in Historical Perspective: Resourcing a Contemporary Discussion,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 16:4 (October 2014): 436–453; Kevin DeYoung, “Divine Impassibility and the Passion of Christ in the Book of Hebrews,” Westminster Theological Journal 68 (2006): 41–50.

Book Briefs

With my “Top Ten Books of 2019” set to release in a few weeks, I thought I’d share some of the books I’ve ready recently that will not make my top ten.

Here goes:

Johann Gerhard, Handbook of Consolations for the Fears and Trials That Oppress Us in the Struggle with Death. Placed squarely within the ars moriendi (art of dying) literature, Gerhard brings the sweet blessings of the gospel to those living with the fear of death—or those on the precipice of facing the Last Enemy. Since one of my principal functions as a pastor is to prepare people for death, this book was of great interest to me. I found myself reaching for it prior to visiting some dear people in my congregation living with cancer. What a blessing to know that the beloved of the Lord need not fear death, for “to those who believe in Christ, death is changed into the most pleasant sleep.” We will rise again like the One who justified us.

John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood. Structured around a conversation John has with his friend Basil, the book serves as a helpful guide for those considering full-time ministry (although those already in ministry should read it as well). Since I’ve already reflected on this treatise before, I’ll refrain from saying much more at the moment. Suffice it to say that through his conversation with Basil, John tries to convince his friend that he’s not worthy of entering the ministry. While I can’t speak to Chrysostom’s level of sincerity, I can say that he highlights some of the difficulties pastors will face throughout their time in ministry.

Charles Wingard, Help for the New Pastor: Practical Advice for Your First Year of Ministry. While no longer in my first year of ministry, I need all the help I can get. Thankfully, Wingard does not disappoint. Here one finds a reservoir of wisdom from a retired pastor, currently serving as a professor of practical theology. Seminarians and young pastors, tolle lege.

Peter J. Williams, Can We Trust the Gospels? A beginner’s guide for students desiring to learn some of the basic questions swirling around regarding the reliability of the gospels. If you’re a more advanced student of the Bible, you probably won’t gain any new insights after working through this monograph. In full recognition of the fact that Williams is a New Testament scholar whose publications I find exceptional, I must admit that I had trouble following his writing at certain points in this volume. Poorly crafted sentences made it difficult to understand what he was trying to communicate.

Letters of Samuel Rutherford. Written by a God-intoxicated soul while imprisoned for his faith, the book is a treasure trove of wisdom, biblical counsel, and memorable statements sure to echo in readers’ ears for years to come. Here are a few of my favorite: “Stoop, stoop! It is a low entry to go in at heaven’s gate” (50). “Christ, Christ, nothing but Christ can cool our love’s burning languor” (51). “The thoughts of my old sins are as the summons of death to me” (69). “Christ is as full a feast as you can hunger for” (86). “Certainly, since I became his prisoner, he hath won the yolk and heart of my soul. Christ is even become a new Christ to me, and his love greener than it was” (108). “There is not such breadth and elbow-room in the way to heaven as men believe” (124). “It is easy to make conscience believe as you will, not as you know” (125). “Happy are you, if you give testimony to the world of your preferring Jesus Christ to all powers” (191).

Trevin Wax, Gospel-Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in All the Scriptures.  Another beginner’s guide to learning how to showcase the Christ-Centered trajectory of Scripture. Students of the sacred page need to learn that all of the Bible is about Christ (Luke 24; John 5). While this may seem basic, years of interacting with Christians in local churches inclines me to believe otherwise. Rather than breathing in the air of the Trinitarian Scriptures, most believers—though well-intentioned—place themselves not only at the center of their lives, but also at the center of the Bible. Consequently, we treat God as if he simply exists to help us live the life we’ve chosen for ourselves—a cosmic life coach whose sole purpose is help us be all we can be. Wax provides a helpful antidote to this kind of thinking. In the course of the book, he not only demonstrates how the Bible placards the person and work of Christ in both the OT and the NT, but also provides a template for how Bible teachers can begin practicing this in their own ministries.

Francis James Grimké, Meditations on Preaching. A collection of disparate thoughts from Grimké’s book on homiletics brought together for a new generation of preachers. This is certain to light a fire in any preacher’s heart, reminding him of the need to study well, keep a continual Pentecost going on in his soul (82–83), and feel the wonder and privilege of spending one’s life in pastoral ministry.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3., Sin and Salvation in Christ. This is the first of Bavinck’s four-volume dogmatics that I worked through. I came away thinking, “Bavinck is a genius.” And the one word I would use to describe this work is “comprehensive.” This is not for the faint of heart or for those with a mild interest in theology and history. Yes, Bavinck takes you deep into some debates in the history of theology, but John Vriend does a wonderful job translating it into English. Admittedly, I’m a theology geek, so reading Bavinck turned out to be the highlight of my day, every day. It was like covering myself with a warm blanket during a New England snow storm.

Josef Pieper, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power. One of the most influential Roman Catholic philosophers in recent eras, Pieper’s work on language is required reading for anyone interested in navigating the rough waters of a host of issues in contemporary society. For example, what is “love”? What is “marriage”? What is a “human being”? What is a “man” or a “woman”? Answering these questions entails using words. But one of, if not the, features of postmodern philosophy is that language is incapable of conveying meaning—although this typically doesn’t prevent postmodern philosophers from teaching, writing, and using words to convey their thoughts (apparently they’re exempt). Pieper’s thesis is that treating language this way is ultimately an abuse of power. How so? Corrupting language prohibits people from participating in reality since one aspect of communication is the conveying of reality—that is, speaking what is real. However, language disconnected from reality (that is, from truth) serves a sinister purpose—namely, power. Additionally, corrupting language means both living and communicating lies. And lying implies a lack of respect for the dignity of another person. Thus, according to Pieper, the absence of genuine communication entails the presence of despotism (29–30). Since a well-ordered society is based on a well-ordered language, we’re in deep trouble.

Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. In this popular-level work, Yancey weaves personal testimony in with brief historical summaries of the key figures who helped revive his faith in Christ and belief in the church. Yancey was raised in a strict, fundamentalist church in the south that was cultish, racist, and exclusionary, which left him jaded, disappointed, and turned-off from the church. Given his disappointment with religion, he wondered whether or not he would ever return to the church. But after reading the Bible for himself and coming to terms with Christ’s message, he discovered that he had been misled. In addition, he also began to read other authors who helped answer his questions as well as ignite his own love for Christ. For Yancey, these figures were Martin Luther King, Jr., G. K. Chesterton, Leo Tolstoy, John Donne, Annie Dillard, and Henri Nouwen—to name a few.

Silence, Solitude, Slower Pace

“Oh, how weary I am, how weary I’ve been for many years already, of this need to live twenty-four hours every day!” ~ Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867)

Silence, solitude, and a slower pace of life. I yearn for more of all three.

In a bustling and busy world where voices are clamoring for my attention and constantly making demands of me, the quiet serenity of absolute silence is like a warm blanket to my soul. Periods of silence recharge my spiritual batteries and strengthen my emotional stamina. And my interaction with fellow strugglers leads me to believe I’m not the only one in need of replenishing.

Here’s a suggestion: Turn off your phone, shut down your computer, get off social media. Carve out time for solitude. My quiet mornings are sprinkled with reading, praying, and journaling—three must haves in my life. I encourage you to practice these disciplines as well.

If a genuine human life is what you crave, then solitude is what you must pursue. All the props we use to justify our existence collapse during times of solitude, as we finally—finally—face ourselves. While initially painful, truly facing ourselves breeds self-knowledge, and self-knowledge is a key component of spiritual growth. Spiritual growth, however, entails not only prayer and Bible reading, but also delving into the province of the soul. Entrenched sinful patterns must be addressed, confronted, repented of, and replaced with Christlike behavior.

Here’s a suggestion: Rise early in the morning, go sit in a corner, and breathe deeply. Next, open your Bible and read Psalm 131. I encourage you to establish a morning liturgy that feeds your soul.

“God is good,” we say, and so he is. I want to slow down long enough to actually contemplate how or why. I don’t want to sprint through my days; I want to amble along, pausing for reflection, gazing slowly at the places and people before me. I want to stop, look, and listen. I want to pay attention.

Here’s a suggestion: If you’re able, go outside and look at the created world, taking careful note of what you see. Give God praise for it. If you’re married, go hold your spouse’s hand. If you have children, go stare at them for a while. (Yes, they’ll think you’re weird!). Then go count your blessings, name them one by one.

 

 

Lessons Gleaned from a Retirement Ceremony

Life in a post-Genesis 3 world ensures both heavenly and hellish days as we march toward the New Jerusalem. Whether we’re basking in the warmth of God’s blessings or trudging through the snow of a difficult season, notes of grace are all around us. An unexpected note of grace opened before me this past weekend with my mentor, Steve McLean (about whom I’ve written in a previous blog), as I attended his retirement ceremony at Argyle Presbyterian Church—the body of believers he served so faithfully for thirty-three years.

I must admit that I had no category for a moving retirement celebration, but as I’ve reflected on that weekend a number of lessons came to mind. Here they are:

  1. God’s faithfulness. He sends servants to minister to his people, no matter where they may be. And thankfully, he works in the hearts of people, moving them to willing service. God took a city boy from Philadelphia to an isolated rural community in upstate New York. As one elderly saint put it, “It must be the call of God because it’s not common sense.” Indeed.

 

  1. Living on mission makes a difference. Testimony after testimony poured forth from the lips of Argyle’s residents. From Steve’s work as a volunteer firefighter, to his wife Kim’s incessant substitute teaching—these servants of God lived not for themselves but “for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). They modeled the tagline of their church: Making disciples who make a difference.

 

  1. God is a true comedian. Since Steve planned on serving a church near his hometown of Philadelphia, upon graduating from Gordon Conwell he urged his denomination to send his résumé to churches within a certain radius. They complied with this request, dutifully disbursing his résumé to the appropriate sixty congregations in need of a pastor. Except that didn’t happen. Due to an “accidental oversight,” an additional résumé was unintentionally sent to a rural church in Argyle, New York. And as they say, the rest is history. Steve served this congregation from 1986 to 2019. Truly, the words of the sage ring true: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9).

 

  1. The tender relationship between pastor and people. True shepherds love their people and Christ’s sheep maintain a fond affection for their overseers. Yes, the pastor has his faults and the people have their foibles, but such is life together. Ministry is real life, not a staged Facebook or Instagram story—which is why God’s people should prefer an imperfect pastor who wrestles with self-doubt over a “vision-caster” who walks with a swag, and why pastors should opt to serve the congregation in front of them and not the imagined one in their dreams. In a ministerial culture jam-packed with platform-builders, Steve took a different route. He faithfully plodded and persevered, applying himself to the tasks of pastoral life—preaching, praying, pronouncing benedictions, along with planning sessions and presiding at weddings and funerals, voicing laments with the heartbroken and uttering praises with the joyful.

 

  1. The benefit of a long ministry. You can make a difference by staying put in one church for a long time. While it’s not always God’s will for a pastor to serve one congregation throughout his time in ministry, so long as it depends on us, we should strive for a long, enduring ministry in one place.

 

  1. Ministry is gift, not gain. Here I purposely borrow from and yet modify David Gibson’s words. But the overall point is the same: Ministry is a privilege. We didn’t earn it. Whether we serve a mega-church filled with wealthy suburbanites or a rural congregation that struggled each year to make budget, the fact remains—it was all grace. Yes, the bruising demands of ministry are real. Yes, sheep bite. Yes, wading into people’s lives is messy. But when it comes time to pronounce the last benediction over our people and the images of our lives flicker movie-like in the theater of our minds, truly we’ll confess with our lips, “It was all of grace. It is well with my soul.”