David S. Dockery and Roger D. Duke’s (eds.) John A. Broadus: A Living Legacy

JohnBroadusJohn A. Broadus: A Living Legacy, a biography of the great Baptist homiletician and educator, John Broadus, is a more than worthy addition to the already strong Studies in Baptist Life and Thought series.  The book consists of a series of essays, edited by Dockery and Duke, on the life of Broadus.  They consider the various aspects of his biography, of his magnum opus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, of his preaching style, his emphases, and his character and work.

The overall effect of the work is to engender, at least within this reader, a profound respect for the strong piety, work ethic, sense of intellectual rigor and integrity, vision, and skills of John Broadus.  I was particularly touched by his willingness to be creative and fresh in preaching without lapsing into faddish silliness or cheap tactics of entertainment.  His strong emphasis on the need for ministers to read deeply, widely, and well struck me as admirable and encouraging.  I was struck by the accounts of his humility, his prowess as a pulpiteer, and his keen mind.  Furthermore, the stories of the beginnings of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the efforts of James P. Boyce, Broadus, and others to keep the institution alive and funded were fascinating.

I suppose above all else, I was particularly struck by the high esteem in which Broadus was held by his contemporaries.  When he left his church to join the original faculty of Southern Seminary, for instance, the church where he was serving as pastor launched a letter of protest to the move, pleading with him to stay.  I had never heard of such a thing.  He also won the high esteem of his son-in-law (one of many interesting tidbits of which I was unaware!), the great Greek scholar A.T. Robertson.

As a pastor, this book strongly challenged me to consider afresh and anew my calling and my task.  There are many examples of ministers worthy of emulation.  Among them, near the top, I would now put John A. Broadus.


Fred Craddock’s Reflections on My Call to Preach

Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the Dots is Fred Craddock’s autobiographical consideration of his calling to be a preacher.  The book bears all the marks of a classic Craddock sermon:  accessibility, winsomness, insightfulness, honesty, and encouragement. I have come to love Christian biography and autobiography more and more, and Craddock’s ranks up there with the best of them.

Craddock is a preacher’s preacher, a masterful homiletician and teacher whose insights never fail to challenge and edify the reader. He is also an amazing story-teller. So when I saw that he had published this memoir (in 2009) I knew that, eventually, I’d spend some profitable time with it.

The story is precisely what it purports to be: a preacher’s reflections on the various peoples, places, scenes, and occurrences used by God to call him into the ministry. It is dominated largely by Craddock’s life as a boy. Having been called myself at the age of fifteen, I am always intrigued to hear others’ stories of their own callings.

A call is as unique as the person being called. This is vividly portrayed in ways moving and touching by Craddock. I was particularly touched by the dynamic of his parents: the tragedy of his father’s struggle with both fatherhood and alcoholism and the solid, persistent anchor of his mother’s nurturing faith. Unlike some sons’ takes on their less-than-perfect fathers (see Frank Schaeffer), Craddock’s depiction is charitable but honest without spilling into thinly-veiled vitriol. In fact, the story of his father pulling one of his own molars with pliers in order to pry out the gold filling to sell for Christmas presents for his children will remain in my mind as a powerful example of fatherly love (even as the stories of his alcoholism has reminded me again that the decisions we fathers make will affect our children all their lives.) I was also struck by Craddock’s revelation of his own perilous infancy and his mother’s offer of him to God should he survive (not least of all because I haved a similar story in my own calling).

Craddock tells his story with sympathy, introspection, humility, and a sense of reserve, but also transparency. I can tell it was difficult for him to write. I was moved by his account of the awkwardness of sitting with his elderly brothers trying to approach issues that haunted them into later life. I also appreciated his self-awareness in admitting that memories are tricky things and notoriously difficult to offer with exact certainty.

This book offers a moving account of one young man’s growth in a world of racial strife, social complexity, and poverty. The stories of the Craddock’s relationships with black friends and some of the tragic dynamics that living in a racially divided South introduced into their lives were painful reminders of our own scandalous, recent past as a nation.

Above all else, it is a story of divine calling. It is told without pretension or romantic mysticism. It is, instead, the cautious but sincere retelling of one man’s self-understanding of his own pilgrimage.

This is really a fantastic book.

Highly recommended.

Graeme Goldsworthy’s Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture

In Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Graeme Goldsworthy is concerned primarily with a return to a Christocentric understanding of the whole Bible.  He feels that this understanding will ensue with the recovery of biblical theology and a renewed understanding of salvation history.  He argues that the scriptures must be read within the context of these two frameworks and that, subsequently, our preaching must reflect their influence as well.

In many ways, Goldsworthy’s concerns are imminently practical and pastoral.  They arise out of a conviction concerning the popular misunderstanding of the nature and place of the Old Testament within the greater framework of scripture as well as a crucial misunderstanding of the nature of the gospel and its relationship to the greater framework of scripture.  These misunderstandings have manifested themselves not only in the presuppositions of the laity, but, more tragically, in shallow homiletic moralizings of the Old Testament as well as the New which divorce the ethical mandates of the scriptures from the framework of the gospel and thereby reduce them to legalistic pieties.  As such, the modern Evangelical neglect of salvation history and biblical theology has resulted in preaching that is focused on man and his own efforts at self-reformation.

Goldsworthy’s theological foundation upon which he builds his argument is the assertion that Christ is the center not only of the scriptures, but of theology itself (33).  This means that all of our theological pronouncements as well as our expositions of scripture must point to and be grounded in the gospel, not as a strained homiletic ploy but rather necessarily.  Specifically, he appeals to two scriptural concepts:  Paul’s assertion in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that he had “determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” and Jesus’ own attestation in passages such as John 2:39-40 and Luke 24:27 that all of the scriptures point to Himself (1, 21).  These two concepts reflect Goldsworthy’s two major concerns, the former dealing with the importance of the gospel in all of our preaching and the latter with biblical theology itself.

Before considering Goldsworthy’s remedy, it must be asked whether or not his diagnoses of the problem is sound.  His charge that the Evangelical church has either misunderstood the Old Testament, ignored it, reduced it to mere character studies or pietistic moralizations, or all three, is the easiest to assess.  He is absolutely correct.  Perhaps he hits closest to the mark in trying to understand this when he points to the division of the studies of the testaments in our formal education structures as a possible reason why pastors and lay people alike seem to have such confusion over the nature and place of the Old Testament (xii).  It is truly not surprising that such misunderstandings persist when Christian ministers quite likely go through college, seminary, and beyond studying the testaments in different classes, and possibly in different semesters or years with little or no conversations in either class about how they relate.  His assertions are also verified by the day by day experiences of any pastor who frequently encounters lay, and even personal, confusion over this crucial matter.

Directly related to this is the charge that Evangelicals have neglected biblical theology (32).  He is also correct in this assertion.  Perhaps formal education shares some of the blame in this as well.  More likely, however, the Church is caught in a cycle.  It is producing what it teaches.  Evangelicals are inundated by calls to be “New Testament Christians,” preaching that largely neglects the Old Testament or uses it, as Goldsworthy laments, for teaching only moral lessons, and Sunday School and Bible study literature that does not itself integrate a truly biblical theology in its presentation of the scriptures.

The charge concerning the Evangelical neglect of salvation history is also true.  It must be argued, in the North American Evangelical context, that the mass and often blind acceptance of dispensationalism has and is contributing to this problem.  There seems to be an assumption that the gospel was God’s “Plan B,” once the children of Israel rejected the “Plan A” offer of salvation through adherence to the Mosaic law, or that Christ was sent in and for a particular dispensation as opposed to all of them.  Furthermore, the radical distinctions drawn between Israel and the Church in dispensationalism lend themselves to the erroneous assumption that God is dealing in some sense with two different groups of people in almost two different ways.  It could be argued that classical dispensationalism is not inherently opposed to salvation history.  This is true.  However, the popular dissemination of dispensationalism has resulted in these assumptions.  Regardless, the problem is certainly not germane to and, in fact, expands well outside the borders of any particular school of prophecy.

Goldsworthy hits upon a crucial point later in his work in noting that the Evangelical aversion to salvation history is merely symptomatic of a larger aversion to history itself (72).  That is, coming to see how God’s works through history have typified and culminated in Christ’s coming would require a study and appreciation of history.  Goldsworthy rightly assesses that such a study is not in vogue in churches which are fixated primarily on bringing its members into an existentialist experience with Christ through the moment of “decision.”  We might say, then, that the Evangelical neglect of salvation history is part of the larger issue of the neglect of the mind in many churches.

Later, Goldsworthy offers a proposal for a Christian education plan that will responsibly teach the people the fundamental truths of salvation history and biblical theology (129).  He also offers a proposed outline of biblical history that will help people understand the basic movements of biblical history (101).  This is not only admirable, it is important.  Goldsworthy is correct in his apparent belief that it is not enough for the pastor alone to understand biblical theology.  The challenge is to bring the people to the point where they will understand how to correctly understand the scriptures themselves.   The great challenge will be in trying to communicate the verities of biblical theology and church history in a church climate in which little is expected on the parts of the parishioners.

What, then, of Goldsworthy’s proposed solution?  To begin with, his call for a return to biblical theology and, more generally, to a hermeneutic which sees the reality of Christ and the gospels in all that the scriptures teach and point to, is sound primarily because it is itself scriptural.  As mentioned above, Christ did Himself claim that all of the scriptures point to Himself and Paul did, in fact, assert that all proclamation ought to be of “Christ and Him crucified.”  Thus, Goldsworthy is not grasping at straws or proposing a merely academic solution to the problem.  It is founded in the scriptures.  Furthermore, whatever disagreements might exist about the interpretation of these passages and their implications on biblical theology, it must be agreed that the modern Church, by in large, is not adhering to what Paul and Christ both say.  The Old Testament is frequently expounded upon with no reference to the gospel, and preaching has been reduced to the dissemination of pithy maxims.

Thus, the crucial issue concerning the validity of biblical theology is that Christ Himself believed in it.  Goldsworthy is right in this regard (48).  Furthermore, he is right in believing that Christ understood His coming and work and nature to be the consummation of God’s plan of salvation.  That is, Christ believed in what we have come to call “salvation history” (51).  Goldsworthy makes his argument primarily on the basis of the tremendous focus on “the kingdom of God” in the New Testament and on Christ’s fulfillment of it.  “The kingdom of God,” argues Goldsworthy, is the rightful theme of the entire Bible and Christ’s proclamation concerning its arrival in His coming would have been understood by His Jewish audience to have been a “salvation historical” statement (52).  We are right to heed Goldsworthy’s warning about trying to find in the New Testament or Jesus a precise articulation of our own theological systems, but we are also right to claim that God’s mighty works throughout history have reached their apex in Christ and that, most importantly, Christ Himself acknowledged this fact.

Goldsworthy’s movements are methodical and logical.  Once he has grounded both biblical theology and salvation history in the scriptures themselves, he develops a thoroughly biblical justification for suggesting that preaching that does not proclaim Christ in all of the scriptures and point to Him as the fulfillment of God’s works from Genesis onward stands in violation of the biblical pattern and spirit of proclamation.  It stands to reason that the only way of refuting Goldsworthy’s central argument is to attack its hermeneutical underpinnings.  These underpinnings, however, are well argued and firmly grounded in the biblical text.

When he moves to the specifics of how to read the Bible from the perspective of biblical theology and the vantage point of salvation history, Goldsworthy rather surprisingly argues for the restoration of typology as a valid hermeneutical construct.  This is surprising because there does seem to be fairly widespread uneasiness about typology in many Evangelical circles.  Goldsworthy knows this and realizes that this uneasiness is a result of the frequent abuses of typology that denigrate into allegory (76-77).  Therefore, he more than once addresses the topic and the proper uses of it.  Interestingly, he argues for a “macro-typology” which seems to simply be a recognition of the overall movement of salvation history in the Bible which is affirmed by the New Testament’s use of the Old (111).

In truth, Goldsworthy’s treatment of typology is refreshing insofar as it is a well-reasoned attempt at turning back what is perhaps an undue skepticism in some quarters concerning its validity.  The strength of his argument is in the idea that typology is a natural and organic implication of salvation history itself.  If all of salvation history points to, leads to, and finds its fulfillment in Christ, then all of its events must rightfully point to Him.  The key, here, is not to force a connection between the Old Testament event and Christ or to allow interpretation of the Old Testament to decay into an eisegetical allegoricalism which pours meaning into details which are not germane to the text.

Goldsworthy turns next to the main movements of salvation history.  He proposes that there are three:  from creation to Abraham, Abraham to the first part of the reign of Solomon, and Solomon to Christ.  He finds the foundation of this structure within the Matthean genealogy (89). He further argues that salvation history advances through the history of Israel even when the society of Israel declines (107).  It does so through types: in the movement from Abraham to Solomon through Israel’s history, and in the movement from Solomon to Christ through the voice of the prophets.  Christ and the new creation stand as the antitype to which all of the preceding types point (139).  Goldsworthy next moves, most helpfully, through a consideration of how to preach from all of the major divisions of the Bible as they relate to and stand within the major movements of salvation history.

The implications of Goldsworthy’s proposal are tremendous.  First of all, by arguing that we must first see how and where the text we are approaching stands within the movement of salvation history and what their biblical theological implications are, he is arguing that all preaching is gospel preaching just as all of the scriptures point to Christ.  Thus, Goldsworthy concludes, there can be no direct application of a text to modern hearers without recourse to the gospel to which it stands in direct relationship (117).  To do so would be to introduce a new legalism into the church, for the teaching of the ethical mandates of scripture outside of the context of the gospel implies that the gospel is nothing more than a mere starting point after which we may pursue the difficult business of living.

Goldsworthy’s arguments in this regard are not only compelling, but convicting.  His frequently-stated claim that there is an inherent danger in preaching the ethical mandates of an epistle without a frequent and consistent assertion of the gospel framework in which they stand must be heard by modern Evangelical preachers, especially those preaching “through” certain books.  Furthermore, it has direct bearing on preaching about ethical issues on the basis of these portions of scripture alone.  Goldsworthy’s arguments suggest the compelling notion that the household codes of Ephesians 6, for instance, cannot be proclaimed without the theological gospel foundation of Ephesians 1.  The question seems to be one of how to articulate and re-articulate this gospel foundation throughout a series in a natural way.  Perhaps the answer to this lies not so much in the employment of specific hermeneutical means as much as in the creation of an overall homiletic climate in which the pervasiveness of the gospel and the schema of salvation history is established as an a priori to all proclamation.  This is not to suggest that we reach a point where we try to create the assumption of a gospel foundation in our people.  Clearly, any text’s standing within the framework of salvation history must be asserted again and again.  But it is to be hoped that the theme of salvation history might in time come to be naturally used and heard through a consistent pattern of preaching in this way.

There are also implications in Goldsworthy’s proposals for evangelism.  He rather movingly points to these himself when he notes that many modern evangelistic tactics do not appear to appreciate the power of the gospel insofar as they seem to strive for a decision rather than to allow the gospel message to convict (95).  Goldsworthy is correct that it is the gospel itself, not our emphasis on a person’s need to respond to it, that convicts.  This is crucial, for Goldsworthy’s high view of the power of the gospel stands in direct contrast to the man-centered philosophy which has come to dominate the Church and which is itself a product of the wider shift in the Church from theology to anthropology.

Goldsworthy’s survey of how the preacher might choose to approach the various genres of biblical literature bears the mark of consistency in its application of the principles he espouses up to that point.  His divisions of these texts suggest that preachers must understand the characteristics of these various genres if they are to understand the texts’ place within salvation history and biblical theology and especially if they are to effectively communicate it (137).   He suggests that preachers intentionally plan to preach from these areas with an eye towards leading the people to understand how each text relates to the theology of the book as well as biblical theology in general.  He proposes that the minister lead his people to ask, “How does this event (or character) testify to Christ?” (151).  He then shows how this might be done.

The strength of Goldsworthy’s proposals concerning the examples he gives is not only that their consistency to the framework which he suggests rests at the heart of all true interpretation, but also in his humble approach to these texts.  Quite often, as in his treatment of Ecclesiastes or the Song of Solomon, he suggests that a book’s place within salvation history is not always readily apparent (190-191).  This is yet another example of how preachers are going to have to rise to the occasion and be willing and able to grapple with the text in an effort to understand it.

One of the strength’s of Goldsworthy’s propositions is that it challenges preachers to know more and delve deeper than a mere surface reading and, most tragically, a mere surface preaching of a text.  Goldsworthy suggests throughout that not only preaching, but reading the Bible, is going to require greater care than is often times given to these acts.  One wonders if preachers who preach within church settings in which congregations are used to brief, moralistic sermons will be convicted enough to go about the further study required for a truly effective reading and proclaiming of the text.  It is to be hoped that preachers will be, for nothing less than an accurate proclamation of the gospel is at stake.

Goldsworthy’s discussion of prophetic literature and preachers’ uses of it is more than pertinent today.  Our modern church context presents ministers with serious temptations to try to interpret prophecies as applicable to modern society in just the same way that they were applicable to Israel so many years ago.  Goldsworthy offers severe warnings about this and asks preachers to make sure their applications are valid.  Furthermore, he more generally warns ministers about falling into certain traps concerning preaching on prophecy, such as trying to find modern fulfillments for all of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the New (181-182).  He tellingly warns preachers about the temptation to become “second-coming gurus” (221).

It simply cannot be overstated that these warnings desperately need to be heard today.  In the aftermath of the momentous calendar change into the new millennium as well as the presence of best selling prophecy novels with staggering sales, it is abundantly clear that the Church wants desperately to find the fulfillments of all the details of prophecy in our current setting.  Furthermore, many within the Church are titillated by the more exotic pictures within prophetic and apocalyptic literature and are not afraid to ask the minister to preach on them.  Goldsworthy’s proposals concerning the reading, understanding, and proclamation of scripture mean that ministers must be willing to keep Christ and the text’s relationship to Him as preeminent.  It seems as if the great temptation concerning preaching on prophetic and apocalyptic texts is to preach with the goal in mind of satiating the people’s curiosity.  This should never happen.  If all of the scriptures are about Christ, this means that prophetic and apocalyptic texts must proclaim Him as well.

It is more than evident that Goldsworthy has adequately pinpointed and diagnosed the problem behind much contemporary preaching.  The problem is not that ministers are not sufficiently trained or that our pulpits have too many unskilled ministers.  Rather, the problem of shallow, ineffectual, and legalistic preaching is a result of a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the scriptures themselves.  Goldsworthy’s call for a renewed understanding of biblical theology and the place of the scriptures within salvation history should be heeded by the Church.  For if it is, then Christ will once more be proclaimed as the head of His body and our parishioners will be freed from the delusion that adherence to the ethical teachings of the scripture, independent of the gospel, will usher us into the kingdom.  Furthermore, if his call is heeded, the gospel will be seen for what it truly is:  the thread that runs throughout the entire scriptures, the proper subject of all proclamation, and the hope of God’s people not only since the incarnation, but in the past ages as well.

Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry

It is difficult to remember, when reading Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry, that this work was first published over one hundred and seventy years ago.  Bridges’ book is something of a compendium on a variety of topics related to the ministry.  It is marked by careful theological reflection as well as evidence that Bridges learned the lessons he teaches through much practical experience.

It would be an understatement to suggest that Bridges has a “high view” of pastoral ministry.  He lists the Christian ministry as one of “three grand repositories” of God’s truth, the other two being the Bible, and “the hearts of Christians” (2).  Furthermore, he argues that the office of pastor carries with it a dignity of essence that should be reflected in the lives of its members (6).

The importance of Bridges’ foundational comments concerning the pastoral ministry rests in the fact that there are more than a few subtle as well as explicit influences seeking to attack the office of the ministry both outside and inside today’s Church.  Perhaps the most scandalous of these attacks comes from preachers themselves.  In a modern Church context in which relevancy is seen as the apex of pastoral ministry, ministers face an almost constant temptation to remove any so-called distances between themselves and their parishioners in an effort not to be considered too haughty and to be “one of the people.”  While it is incumbent upon ministers to avoid haughtiness at all costs and to constantly guard their hearts from indolence and arrogance (as Bridges himself notes on page 81), it must be recognized that a desire to be among the people can at times express itself in ways that are damaging to the office of pastor, such as in excessive transparency concerning personal struggles or a deliberate downplaying of one’s convictions and knowledge on a subject.

Within the modern free church tradition, the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer has also been distorted in such a way as to undermine the importance of the pastoral office.  Many modern Protestants see this doctrine not as a tremendous blessing and, in a sense, burden which places a tremendous responsibility on all believers to be holy in their lives and knowledgeable in the Word, but rather as a foundation for undermining and, when they desire, simply ignoring the minister’s words on the basis of their own position as “priests.”  This is especially true in a largely democratic church context in which the members of the church know they can simply “vote the preacher out” if they do not care for him.  To this end, Bridges’ Anglican affiliation probably afforded him some degree of insulation from overt attacks upon the importance of the office, though certainly this was not entirely the case.

These realities, along with the tragic scandal heaped upon the ministry by public godlessness on the parts of ministers, have attacked the very foundation of the ministry.  Its importance and dignity are no longer assumed.  It can be argued that the restoration of the dignity of the pastorate is of essential importance to revival in the church.  It would seem, too, that the first step in this process is not a bemoaning of societal or congregational attacks upon the office, but rather a tending to wounds which have been self-inflicted due to a lack of integrity and spiritual earnestness on the parts of many ministers.  Regardless, Bridges’ words are just as pertinent today, if not more so, than when he penned them so many years ago.

Bridges’ discussion of suffering and the ministry must also be heeded by today’s minister.  He outlines a variety of ways in which ministers can be certain they will suffer:  from the church, the world, Satan, and ourselves (14-17).  Interestingly, he immediately follows this with a discussion of the sources of encouragement that the minister can draw upon in difficult times.  It is interesting to note more generally that much of Bridges’ entire book is devoted in some fashion to identifying, understanding, and overcoming difficulties.  Not only is much of Part I of the book dedicated to this topic, but the whole of Part II and Part III are as well.

The relevancy and importance of his discussion of suffering and encouragement can be clearly seen in the large number of seminary graduates who do not remain in the ministry, the horrendous percentage of divorces among couples involved in the ministry, and the influx of a materialistic mentality within the Church that suggests to young ministers that their lives should be ones of ease.  It would perhaps have been good for Bridges to not have waited so long to include his fascinating discussion of minister’s wives (169-173).  Ministers must consider the dangers and trials of the ministry not only in the choosing of a wife, but ministers’ wives must consider this as well.  In all, it is not an oversimplification to suggest that ministers and/or their wives are often entering the ministry largely unaware of the sometimes extreme emotional, psychological, spiritual, personal, and domestic tolls that are inflicted upon ministers and their families.  To this, Bridges’ quite moving discussion of trials, as well as of encouragement, offers a word that must be heeded.

It is also striking how contemporary Bridges’ discussion of the qualification of the ministry is to today’s Church (24-31).  More than a few men and women are entering the ministry because it is “in the family” or because they are fleeing some other responsibility.  Hand in hand with this fact is the problem of an ordination system in many Protestant churches which is completely devoid of true spiritual discernment concerning questions of whether or not a candidate should be ordained.  This was obviously a problem in Bridges’ age as well (93).  In other words, it seems as if entering the ministry has become too easy.  A return to Bridges’ emphasis on the marked qualifications of ministers would do young people contemplating the ministry, as well as churches and ordination councils contemplating their official endorsement of these young people, much good.

One of the more refreshing aspects of Bridges’ work is his high regard for formal education.  He highly commends “University study” and moves on to a discussion of the importance of knowing different fields of knowledge (35).  The very near future may prove that anti-intellectualism has migrated from excessively fundamentalist churches to the mainstream.  This already appears to be happening in the American Protestant church context.  The reason is probably none other than the influx of relativism, existentialistic spirituality, and subjectivist expressions of faith which have little use for such inconveniences as detailed study.  In this regard, Bridges’ high recommendation of formal education, words concerning avenues of study which will be beneficial to ministers, and warning concerning the danger of much knowledge, offer a much needed corrective and stand in stark contrast to the often commented upon “scandal of the Evangelical mind.”

One hundred and seventy years ago, Bridges lamented the lack of a high view of scripture among ministers and churches (58).  There is perhaps no word more sorely needed today than this.  Interestingly, the modern Church may be contributing somewhat to this dilemma by its often unguarded use of packaged study curricula.  These may, of course, be used to great benefit.  But it is difficult to reside and move in Evangelical circles without noticing that twelve week workbooks are almost eclipsing the scriptures.  In this sense, Bridges’ discussion of the right use of commentaries and study helps is also of great value (55-56).  Are today’s Christians being challenged to know the scriptures first?  The sometimes complete reliance of Sunday School and discipleship training programs upon secondary sources may be moving us to an answer of “No.”  This is tragic.  Bridges is more than correct in his arguments concerning the need for scripture to be the most important source of teaching in the Church.
The most moving section of Bridges’ book for a small church pastor is his discussion of success in ministry.  In particular, Bridges’ comments upon the occasional lack of “visible success” stand in stark contrast to the often-repeated idea that if a particular church is not growing, and growing fast, it is not doing anything right.  More than a few pastors of small and medium churches live under an almost incessant cloud of guilt and despair when confronted with this notion.

This is not to suggest that Bridges believed that the true work of the ministry will not result in “the work of success” (72).  In fact, he argues that God always blesses where His word is sown.  Rather, Bridges argues that visible success varies, that “symptoms of success are also frequently mistaken,” and that, occasionally, we must wait to see success (74-75).  Again, such ideas are too often left out of the latest church growth books.  In them, it is assumed that the right things done in the right ways will produce instant visible growth.  Fortunately, Bridges did not belong to the sound-byte, fast-food, pragmatic society of twenty-first century America, so he was perhaps better able to see the truth concerning the concept of success.

Yet, Bridges does suggest that the minister may be to blame for the lack of success in his ministry.  He does this in one of the more convicting sections of the book, “Causes of Ministerial Inefficiency Connected With Our Personal Character.”  In this section, Bridges considers a lack of devotion, worldliness, fear, a lack of “Christian self-denial,” greed, overworking, pride, a lack of personal spiritual conviction, the neglect of family, and a lack of faith as being predators of the ministry.  It was difficult to read this section without being drawn into a serious reflection on my own life.

One of the more powerful instances of Bridges’ understanding of that which renders ministries ineffective is his discussion of the occasional “want of entire devotedness of the heart to the Christian ministry” (106).  Here, he makes perhaps the most powerful statement of the entire book:  “We are to be labourers, not loiterers, in the Lord’s vineyard” (107).  This is important not only in the sense that ministry without accountability can become little more than a leeching off the resources of the Church with no real effort being exerted on the part of the minister, but more so because today’s minister faces the very real possibility of doing lots of work in the church, but very little ministry.  Ministers are daily besieged with administrative, staff, and office duties that carry with them the very real potential of distraction, and more than a few ministers labor every moment while neglecting their true call.  Misguided busyness is as much an example of loitering as abject slothfulness.  To this, Bridges’ impassioned appeal for ministers to be about the business of seeing souls come to Christ is most moving (111).

Also moving was Bridges’ discussion of the offense of the cross and the necessity for ministers not to sacrifice the word of the cross in favor of social acceptance (116-118).  This represents not only a personal indictment against individual accommodation to a dark age, but also a corporate rebuke of all Churches which have, in essence, removed the cross in an attempt to reach people where they are.  Ministers and churches alike face the temptation of removing the scandal of the cross from their discourse and lives.  It is no lapse into hyperbole to suggest that such is the work of Satan.  Bridges’ further exhortation concerning the fact that congregations will imitate their pastors, for good and ill, also should be heard today (121).

Bridges’ final two sections involve preaching and pastoring, which he sees as the two main duties of the minister.  His treatment of preaching is most helpful.  He does not delve into too many speculative areas, but rather offers something of the practical “meat and potatoes” of preaching.  A predominant theme throughout Bridges’ entire discussion of preaching is the necessity for preachers to speak with clarity and on a level that the people can understand.  Furthermore, he takes great pains to argue for a style of preaching that is sincere and convicting.  It can only be assumed that Bridges must have been reacting to the cold formalism in many pulpits of his day.

Bridges expressed concern over preachers who enter the pulpit unprepared, speak above their people, and do not stay on task (193, 199-201).  These issues all relate in some measure to preparedness.  The modern pastor who finds it difficult to make time for sermon preparation amidst the clamor of responsibilities calling for his attention would do well to consider Bridges’ words.  In many ways, he roots the importance of preaching in the importance of ministry in general.  We must speak in such a way and with such effectiveness that we can be heard.  It also seems important for churches to understand this as well.  Many churches are designed in such a way, and put such excessive expectations upon their pastors, that there would be absolutely no time for sermon preparation if they were to do half of what is expected.  Pastors must strive to tactfully communicate to their parishioners that the preparation of sermons is essential to their task and calling.

Bridges’ comments concerning prayer are especially helpful today.  There seems to be something of a revival in interest concerning prayer in Evangelical circles.  It is important to realize that this has always been a need for Christians in general and Christian communicators in particular.  Bridges saw prayer as the most important component of the sermon preparation.  Without prayer, all will be ineffectual (213).

One of the more interesting aspects of Bridges’ discussion of sermon preparation is his consideration of the preaching of the law.  This is important not only because it relates directly to the discussion of biblical theology, but also because Bridges’ discussion of it shows that the Church has been grappling with understanding the place of the law and, more generally, of the Old Testament, for some time.  It is also of interest that Bridges felt the topic important enough to deal with at some length.

Bridges argues that the preaching of the law is important insofar as it stands as part of the word of God.  He lists a number of benefits that the law offers to us today and rejects the notion that preaching on the law must necessarily be “legal preaching” (223-224).  For Bridges, the law still makes man aware of his sinfulness and thereby drives him to Christ.  In this sense, the presentation of law is essential to a proper presentation of the gospel.  It also offers good rules for righteous living.  Significantly, Bridges labels a wholesale neglect of the law as “antinomian” (225). He also attributes the lack of holiness in the lives of many believers with the Church’s neglect and misunderstanding of the use of the law (228).
One cannot help but feel that Bridges was reacting in many ways to what we might call “easy believism” or “cheap grace.”  The modern Church, too, has removed the sting of the law from its presentation of the gospel.  What it is left with is a form of grace that has been reduced to little more than a cure-all for the consciences of its members.  Without understanding the law, we cannot understand the glory of the cross and the holiness of God.  Bridges should be heard on this point, as he should be heard on most other points he raises in this book.

Bridges also laments for the Anglican church in the loss of many of its people to the dissenting groups because the gospel was not being preached sufficiently (245).  He warns against the gospel getting lost in doctrinal preaching that does not point to Christ, doctrine for its own sake, we might say (254).  Furthermore, in a most moving section of the book, Bridges argues that effective gospel preaching is always preaching that arises from a heart personally convicted concerning the truths of the gospel (262).  Gospel preaching is also to be practical and applicable to the lives of men.  Moralistic preaching that does not speak of Christ is to be rejected, as is purely abstract preaching that does not touch life (265-268).

Today’s churches, especially today’s Protestant churches, need to return to the high view of the gospel which Bridges obviously held.  Preaching in too many cases has been reduced to platitudes and mere lessons on morality.  The clamor for practical teaching has led to the false dichotomy of “practical” versus “doctrinal,” as if the two could be separated.  Bridges has done a masterful job of showing that the two are, in fact, wedded to one another when done correctly.  This means that his words confront the preacher who revels in abstract doctrines alone just as it confronts the preacher who has become little more than a therapist behind a pulpit.  The temptation to be “practical” must not be pursued to the exclusion of the true doctrines which lead to holiness.

In terms of how best to approach preaching, Bridges states that both topical and expository preaching are valid expressions of the proclaimed word, though he does seem to favor expository preaching a little more (284-286).  This tacit approval of topical preaching is actually somewhat surprising as it might be assumed that he would hold slavishly to expository preaching.  However, it must be noted that he does not define topical preaching in such a way as to justify preaching which is not closely wedded to the text.  In actuality, he felt that the two schemes should be joined in a “judicious mixture” (284).  In truth, it is clear that he felt true preaching to be, in all cases, biblical preaching.  Nonetheless, his acknowledgment of the potential uses of topical preaching shows some degree of variety and would perhaps offer something for those who hold slavishly and narrowly to expository preaching alone to consider.

As an aside, there is a wonderful example of doctrinal humility in Bridges’ writing as well.  In his discussion of preaching wisely, Bridges notes that Calvinists and Arminians might perhaps have something to learn from one another.  Calvinists might learn some sense of “holy fear” from Arminians and Arminians might learn some sense of God’s sovereignty from Calvinists (304).  Bridges is clearly a Calvinist and seems to hold deep convictions in this area.  It is therefore all the more interesting that he would even suggest that Calvinists and Arminians might learn something from each other.  In a debate as fierce as that which exists between these two camps, it is quite telling to see a very earnest believer in one side look at the matter with  humble objectivity.  One can only wish that modern Calvinists and Arminians, while not sacrificing their convictions for a superficial harmony, might be willing on occasion to understand what drives the convictions of the other camp.

Bridges is also admirably able to see the responsibility that the Anglican church held for seeing so many people move to the dissenting groups, Methodists and “Anabaptists” (317f).  He lays some measure of the blame on the abstract and ineffective preaching occurring in Anglican pulpits.  This, again, shows a great measure of humility and introspection on his part.  Perhaps Baptists could learn a lesson here in how it responds to the movement of Baptists into, for instance, Mormonism.  Traditionally, we responded by speaking of the heresy of Mormonism, as well we should.  But perhaps we should first of all look to our own pulpits, as Bridges did, and see our own responsibility in the loss of our people.  Bridges seemed to understand, as we should, that if our people are being fed, they will not so quickly look elsewhere for nourishment.

Finally, Bridges’ instruction for ministers to know their people and love their people is a sorely needed word as well.  He notes that ministers should know the young people of their church and that they should feel a particular burden for all of their parishioners (346-347).  In fact, the effectiveness of our preaching depends upon our care for the people throughout the week (350).  This means that favoritism should be avoided at all costs and that the minister should look upon his flock as a parent looking at his children (358, 360).

Personally, this word was very convicting.  How easy is it to become closed up in our offices begrudging the “interruptions” by our people, when they are precisely what our real business is about?  Bridges challenged all ministers to increase in their love for their flock.  In so many words, he was reinforcing the old adage that the people “will not care what we know until they know that we care.”  Furthermore, by equating ministers and their flock with parents and their children, Bridges was challenging ministers to increase in the fervency of their love as well as in their patience, for parents must be, above all, patient.

In all, Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry stands as a surprisingly relevant and powerful book.  Every modern pastor should read it preferably before, and possibly to the exclusion of, more contemporary works on the ministry.  Bridges work has endured because it has bypassed the faddishness of a particular moment and has instead delved deep into the heart of the core issues of ministry.  Most importantly, it is written from a heart of experience and sincerity.  There is deep Christian conviction throughout and one senses that the lessons learned were forged on the anvil of a life devoted to Christ.