Pastoral work is incredibly difficult. Unlike the martyr who was thrown into the arena to face lions, bulls, the sword, and fire, the pastor is subject to long involved tortures and pains. It would be easy to shift the blame to the congregations. Certainly church work would be a lot easier if it were not for congregations; however, there are some real problems with that scenario.
The main troublemaker in my pastoral work is that one guy who makes it a habit of staring at me in the mirror. If only I could get him straightened out, the rest of the congregational problems would be greatly eased.
I have been reading from two books lately that provide some intense pastoral pummeling. (Pummeling is a fine sounding word that has reference to getting pounded with fists.) Both books have hurt my feelings, pride, and sense of accomplishment. Both have revealed my failings and lacking as a pastor and a Christian.
The first book is Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry by Gregory Alan Thornbury. (Publisher: Crossway Books.)
In his day, Carl Henry (1913-2003) was considered to be the intellectual leader among evangelicals. He wrote a number of books, including a massive six volume set called God, Revelation, and Authority, still in print and also published by Crossway. He wrote, spoke, and commented on a large number of theological, philosophical, and cultural topics. He was mentored by Gordon Clark at Wheaton back in the 1930s.
Thornbury’s book is not a biography or a survey of Henry’s works. He said, “In this volume, I intend to reengage Henry as a theorist of classic evangelicalism unapologetically through the lens of key texts in his written corpus.” Thornbury focused mainly upon volumes 2 and 4 of God, Revelation, and Authority and upon Henry’s 1947 work The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (reprinted in 2003).
This book is no morning devotional or evening light read. It made me aware of two things: First, how little I understand about Carl F. H. Henry’s life and thought. I have quite a few of his books. Most I bought last year from a used book dealer. I have glanced, thumbed, and scanned a few parts of the books. At least now I know something of the content and worth of these books.
The second thing I learned or was reminded of was the vast field of theology. I try to keep up with lots of historical books, catch up on lots of classic books, brush up on lots of educational books, and follow up on all kinds of books for school, ministry, and life. I live in constant danger of being injured by an avalanche of falling books. In spite of preparing sermons and reading various Christian books, I am way out of touch on many theological issues, controversies, and debates. That is not always bad. In many cases, some time with Charles Spurgeon or Martyn Lloyd-Jones is far more profitable than the latest theological hot potato issue.
But there is a place for a pastor knowing what he does not know. He has to at least be able to nod his head intelligently when he stands off side to a theological discussion.
At one time, someone must have said, “Who is this Kuyper guy and what is he trying to say?” Someone reading John Owen at the time would have needed to put the Puritans aside (for a short time) and plow his way through some Dutch theology. Likewise, the old guys I sit with in the morning and learn from were once the dynamic young Reformers who were plowing new ground and challenging the way things were done.
The main part of Thornbury’s book is stated as follows:
Chapter 2 Epistemology Matters;
Chapter 3 Theology Matters;
Chapter 4 Inerrancy Matters;
Chapter 5 Culture Matters;
Chapter 6 Evangelicalism Matters.
I admit that I most enjoyed chapter 5 on culture. Like his mentor Gordon Clark and like his contemporary Francis Schaeffer, Henry sought to give Christian answers to the cultural disasters of his time. I guess epistemology would appeal more to the philosophy student, theology and inerrancy to the theology student, and evangelicalism to the church growth student. They are all reminders of how BIG Carl F. H. Henry was.
I have often talked, written, and thought about the great Calvinistic worldview thinkers of the twentieth century. From Kuyper to Dooyeweerd, from Machen to Van Til, from Rushdoony to Schaeffer, from Gordon Clark to Henry, with many others as well, God did not leave us without witnesses in the recent past. And He left us with many books that they wrote.
Most of the time we remember the past by two or three name associations. Hence, the Reformation was led by Luther and Calvin. The American War for Independence was the work of Washington and Jefferson. The Inklings were Lewis and Tolkien. But there are always more. Paul and Silas did lots of evangelism, but there were many others, named or unknown, working near or alongside them. There are always those equally as talented, as totally devoted, and, in their time, often even more influential than the easily remembered names.
Carl F. H. Henry is just such a person. Does every man in the pew need to read Henry’s works or Thornbury’s study of him? I doubt it, but those of us who pastor, teach, and write certain need to take advantage of Thornbury’s offer to be the tour guide to a great monument to Christian thought.
Thornbury’s book pummeled me. That is, it left me battered and bruised. It made me realize how little I know and how much I need to do. It was a battering ram on the brain. This next book, Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp is currently battering my heart. It is subtitled Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. It should have been subtitled Maximum Pain for Pastors. It is also a Crossway publication.
This book by Tripp is really good, really convicting, really painful to read. I keep trying to hurry through it. Do you hurry through the gauntlet or try to let some of the pain subside before you continue?
This book goes to the heart of pastors. Not to pastoral ministry, but to those weak, inconsistent, stumbling, sad men who carry the mantle of leadership in the church.
This is not a book about prayer, but it makes the reader pray. It is not a book about preaching, but I certainly hope it affects my preaching as it ought. It is not about leadership skills and church management, but it reshapes the way a pastor approaches life.
This book is mainly for pastors. But I keep thinking that it would be valuable for a larger group, perhaps elders, deacons, and church staff, to read in order to minister to and pray for their pastor.
I hope to say more about this book later, after the bruises and cuts begin to heal.