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Kevin M. Fiske
5 Stars Out Of 5
Essential Pastoral Reading
October 15, 2012
Kevin M. Fiske
Every time I read or listen to Paul Tripp, one liberating message consistently resounds in my head and heart:
As desperate sinners we can be ruthlessly honest about our need for grace, because the very grace we so desperately need is available to us-right now-in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
I was recently encouraged, as I opened my email inbox, to find some exciting news from Crossway in the form of an advanced-copy PDF. In his forthcoming book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, Tripp recounts some of the most trying experiences within his own life and ministry in order to provide a "diagnostic" that will help pastors honestly face and wisely navigate the challenges, temptations, and potential pitfalls frequently facing those in pastoral ministry. I've only begun to flip through the pages, but it is clear that Tripp powerfully demonstrates how the liberating message of grace is needed as much by the pastor as it is by the parishioner.
Divided into 3 parts, Tripp begins by "Examining Pastoral Culture". In this section, Tripp uncovers the common dangers that pastors face when they lack community and personal accountability, refuse to listen to those around them, face relational difficulties within their own marriage and family, allow their identity to be defined by their ministry, only approach the Scriptures with an academic bent (or as only applying to the lives of others), form misconceptions about ministry "success", and fail to consistently preach the truth of the gospel to themselves.
Tripp moves forward to examine the ramifications of forgetting who God is. In a section entitled "The Danger of Losing Your Awe (Forgetting Who God Is)", Tripp examines how, as Warfield stated, "constant contact with divine things" can result in complacent theological familiarity and a loss of awe for the power, presence, and person of God. Forgetting who God is results in sinful fear, secrecy, complacency and frustration.
Part 3, "The Danger of Arrival: Forgetting Who You Are", takes aim at the dangers of forming a magnified view of ourselves that is selfish, sinful, and altogether unbiblical. Tripp notes that when we choose to become the objects of our worship we prideful, defensive, disconnected, overtly self-confident, and always desiring to make ourselves known in an unhealthy way. Tripp notes how choosing to worship God personally and privately, will allow us to encounter the glory of God in such a way that it will then allow us to see ourselves for who we truly are, stripping us of our self-focus, self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, and more_in turn allowing us to truly experience life.
In each section, Tripp never leaves you guessing as to how God's grace reaches into each situation with its healing power. The strength of Tripp's writing lies in his ability to surgically, and thus often uncomfortably, address the infections and wounds of sin within the life of the believer, and in this particular case, the pastor. He then wisely notes how our sinful hearts often try to cover over these wounds, or out rightly ignore them, which leads to increased damage to our hearts and destruction in the lives of those around us. Again, he never leaves the person with a sense of despair, no matter how deeply the sin has permeated one's own heart and life. God has given Paul Tripp the ability to speak the Good News of the gospel of God's grace toward us in Christ with such clarity and effective soul application that even the most desperate person, who chooses to believe, will rejoice in the light of the availability and liberating power of God's grace.
As a young minister who has served in various pastoral capacities over the last 5 years, even in my quick reading of this book, Tripp has already uncovered many of the sinful tendencies I see and struggle with in my own life. Thus, I can confidently say, for the young pastor or the seasoned one, this book is a must read! Pick up a copy, be personally and ministerially honest, and glorify God by applying and reveling in the now-available grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
NOTE: I was provided with a complimentary advanced-copy PDF of this title from the publisher for the purpose of review, and was under no obligation to offer a positive review.
This may be the best book I've read all year. It's one of the few books I constantly had to put down. That may sound weird. Don't you not put down a book you love? you may be thinking. But so much of what Tripp said hit me in the gut. I found myself constantly catching my breath and then meditating and digesting his words.
The dirty little secret of it all is I'm not even a pastor. This book is geared towards pastors but it's message is worth hearing for everybody. Those sitting in the pew and working a 9 to 5 will benefit from reading Dangerous Calling because it will help us better understand the unique challenges of our pastors and may also give you a glimpse into your own dark heart. Pastors will benefit from reading it because you need someone to pastor you. You need someone to come alongside of you and encourage you and apply the gospel to your heart. Some of you may be fortunate enough to have that; some may not. Regardless you should read this book.
The third group of people who should absolutely read this (like not an option stop reading my review and purchase it right now. No really right now. I'm waiting) is seminary students. You need this book now to put your training in perspective. You need this book to shine the light of the gospel on the darkest corner of your hearts. Dangerous Calling may save you ministry and family heartbreak--just take the time to read and apply the gospel truths within it.
Tripp starts by sharing his own personal struggle in ministry. For years he battled anger. His wife gently confronted him about his anger and he stubbornly brushed it off. He shares the damage it did to his own life and the possible damage it could have done. He also tells us how God slowly chipped away at his sin. He then says, "God was making the anger that I had denied and protected to be like vomit in my mouth" (p. 20). May God do the same with each of our pet sins.
He shares story after story about pastors who flame out or drop out before the race is even started. He shares stories of moral failures and hidden sins. But within all of this brokenness he's swift and careful to apply the gospel to the reader and to root the Christian's identity in Christ--not ministry. Tripp admonishes,
If you are not feeding your soul on the realities of the presence, promises, and provisions of Christ, you will ask the people, situations, and things around you to be the messiah that they can never be. If you are not attaching your identity to the unshakable love of your Savior, you will ask the things in your life to be your Savior, and it will never happen. If you are not requiring yourself to get your deepest sense of well-being vertically, you will shop for it horizontally, and you will always come up empty. If you are not resting in the one true gospel, preaching it to yourself over and over again, you will look to another gospel to meet the needs of your unsettled heart (p. 36)
He also encourages pastors not to see "theology as an end in itself rather" than "a means to an end" (p. 44). He argues preaching is not passing along of information but rather passionately stirring of the heart and call for action. It's also all these things for the pastor himself. He must be obeying the gospel as he preaches it (pp. 105, 155).
I would encourage elders and pastors to gather together and read Dangerous Calling. I would encourage small groups to read it and think of ways to uniquely minister to our pastors. Use the wisdom Tripp provides to pray more urgently and wisely for our pastors. Again I can't urge seminarians enough to read this and take his counsel to heart. I wish I would have read this before entering seminary. Don't say no one ever told you.