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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review: "Dangerous Calling"

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry
Paul David Tripp
1300 Crescent Street
Wheaton IL 60187
ISBN: 978-1-4335-3582-6; $15.99; 2012.
Reviewed by Dr. Michael Philliber for Deus Misereatur (03/13)

Digging Deep (4 stars out of 5)

The news regularly reminds us that ministers can easily lose their way, fall into traps, fumble, and just outright mess up their lives. The trouble is not primarily that this happens, but that so many pastors are caught off guard, and blind-sided. There is something like a fraternal fallacy poisoning the air of the pastoral brotherhood that seems to dull the clerical senses, so that pastors can’t see the wheels coming off, or the red warning lights angrily flickering on the dashboard. Paul David Tripp has sought to bring some remedy to this condition with “Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry”, a 224 page hard-back. The book is written principally for pastors and congregational leaders. It unfolds in three major sections that cover the pastoral culture, forgetting who God is, and forgetting who we, as pastors, are.
The first section, “Examining Pastoral Culture”, covers seven chapters. The author dives right into the middle of the pastor-reader first thing, unpacking what are three significant signs that the ministerial train is heading for a wreck.  In the second chapter Tripp lays out 9 more indicators that a Pastor is "losing his way." With brilliant insight, the author states, “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” (36). Next he confronts what he calls academized Christianity. Here Paul Tripp focuses mostly on how seminary training has the tendency of making experts of the Word of God who are detached from the God of the Word. He doesn't place blame on the seminaries, but wants administrators and professors to see this propensity and become more pastoral toward their students. Chapter four is set up to help congregations who are looking for a new minister to think beyond a candidates’ ministry profile, urging the search committee and congregational leadership to get to know the man (and his family) before they call him. “It is vital to remember that every pastor is in the middle of being reconstructed by God's grace” (68). Thereafter, Tripp addresses the problem of pastoral isolation, confronting it, and laying out several helpful recommendations toward the end of the chapter. Chapter six speaks to the need for a loving church-community, and that the Pastor is just as much in need of the congregational life as are the parishioners. A healthy congregation will be a means of grace to a pastor (and so, he to them). An unhealthy congregational environment will foster injurious assumptions about the pastor, and cause a congregation to respond improperly toward him. The final chapter in this portion brings out the importance of examining what is treasured by the pastor. Tripp reflects on Matthew 6.19-34 and asks the minister what it is that he treasures in ministry. His answer will expose the reason for his frustration, or his remedy and rest.
The second part of “Dangerous Calling” is titled, “The Danger of Losing Your Awe (Forgetting Who God Is)”, and has four chapters. Tripp inaugurates this division writing about “glory wars”. There is a conflict in each pastor over whose glory will win out. The author’s goal is for pastors to be recaptured by awe of God. “...local church ministry is one big glory war. In every situation, location, and relationship of your ministry there is a war going on for what glory will magnetize your heart and, therefore, shape your ministry” (120). As the author moves on, he talks over ministerial fear. Tripp acknowledges that there are things to fear, and he also shows that there is a proper way to handle it. But most of all, our fear of God will always keep our other fears from becoming bigger than God. The tenth chapter takes on preaching. Tripp doesn't hold back but goes for the artery of mediocrity with regard to bland preaching, giving some helpful guidance on simple ways to rescue our preaching from insipidness. In the final chapter, Tripp exposes the death-dealing cycle of “having arrived” and entitlement-mindedness in pastors. This particular piece was rather challenging, but also a bit contradictory. For example, Tripp speaks harshly against “Law” sermons, and then launches into a Law sermon of his own that causes the reader to buckle over with guilt and shame.
The last subdivision has the heading, “The Danger of Arrival (Forgetting Who You Are), and encompasses four important topics, some of which have already been tackled earlier in the book. In this third section the redundancy becomes a little annoying, but is tolerable. The author takes the reader through an evaluation of self-glory, examining what it looks like in a pastor, and ways to change focus. Tripp also brings the pastor-reader back (for the third or fourth go-round) to the importance of personal times of worship and devotion, with a description of the “whys” and “whats”. After scratching and clawing the way through the previous 13 chapters, this fourteenth Chapter starts shining a light of hope, with six clear reminders of what the Gospel means for pastors, and then 5 suggestions on how to close the "Gap" created by pastoral duplicity. Lastly, the reader arrives at the end of the book, and it becomes quickly obvious that this final piece ought to be both at the beginning of the book (with some “foreword” modifications) and here at the end, as well! Tripp walks the reader through a very encouraging, helpful explanation of 1 Peter 5.6-11 and applies it beautifully to the pastoral situation, with all of its troubles, fears, struggles, worries, and doubts.
“Dangerous Calling” is not for the faint-of-heart. As a matter of fact, if you are a pastor going through an ecclesiastical blood-bath in your church, beaten up and beaten to a pulp, I hesitate to recommend the book because I am concerned it would break your heart the rest of the way and leave you devastated. But if you choose to pick up “Dangerous Calling”, I seriously advise you to start with the last chapter, read it slow, and read it on your knees. Once you can give thanks to God for what Paul Tripp describes there, then (and only then) can you take up the rest of the book and draw from it. And I would encourage you to return to the last chapter again and again while reading this work.
For most other pastors, “Dangerous Calling” would be an exceptionally good piece for you to study, especially with your pastoral staff or a ministerial alliance. As a matter of fact I and several friends in the ministry where I live have already set up time to inspect “Dangerous Calling” together over a four week period. I seriously recommend this book.

{A copy of the book was graciously provided to me specifically for review. Thank you Crossway}

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