Community Theology of the Kingdom: a book review

The proclamation of Jesus was that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand.” However a lot of ink has been spilled trying to explain what the ‘Kingdom of God’ actually is. The classical liberal position was that the Kingdom denoted God himself in his power. Others (like Walter Rauschenbush) implied that the Kingdom was embodied by righteous life and action. Liberation theologians and others  claim the Kingdom is a challenge to current social structures while theonomists and reconstructionists argue that the kingdom is a restoration of Israel’s law (21-23). The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, understood the Kingdom of God as an idealist ethic which we ought to live out.  Emergent Christian definitions of the kingdom often denote a present reality without much of a future orientation. Certainly there are aspects of truth to all of these models but none does justice to the richness of the Biblical material and theological tradition.

The Kingdom of God edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert Peterson

Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson have edited a book on the kingdom of God, which they’ve creatively titled,  The Kingdom of God. This book is part of their “Theology in Community” series (from Crossway) which gathers together a team of biblical scholars and theologians to reflect on particular themes. Their conviction is that theology is done best in teams. I have not read the other books in the series, so I cannot comment on how successfully they achieved their aim, but this book is exceptional for the depth, insights and cohesiveness. Each of the scholars in this book  affirm that ‘the kingdom’ implies ‘the reign’ of God and ‘the realm of God (his presence and sphere of influence). They also agree that the kingdom of God is both a present reality and a future hope (the already and the not yet). However they all bring their own unique insights from their fields of study (Old Testament, New Testament, Historical Theology, Systematic theology.  Theological ethics, etc).  The rich insights spill from one chapter to the next and force you to consider the meaning of the kingdom from several different angles.  The book begins with a short introduction from Morgan and Peterson which describes the theme and structure. Stephen Nichols explains the variegated understanding of the kingdom in Church history and in contemporary contexts (chapter one).  Bruce Waltke puts the Kingdom in the context of the Old Testament and the covenant (chapters 2-3). Robert Yarbrough examines the variety of references to the kingdom in the New Testament (chapters 4-5). After Waltke and Yarbrough have laid the biblical foundation, the subsequent chapters turn to theological matters. Clinton Arnold discusses how healing and exorcism in the New Testament demonstrates a ‘breaking in’ of the Kingdom into the present reality. However all miracles are transitory and point forward to a future fulfillment (where God’s in-breaking is the norm not the exception).  Gregg Allison relates the concept of church to kingdom and what it means for mission (particularly the ministry of reconciliation).  Gerald Bray explores eschatology and the Kingdom. The final chapter is by Anthony Bradley and explores the ethical implications of the Kingdom (orthopraxy). This book will enrich your understanding of what the Kingdom is and will further evangelical, scholarly discussion. It is a tribute to a book that upon finishing it, I found myself re-reading parts of it immediately. There is a lot here to reflect on and process. Stephen Nichols and Bruce Waltke’s chapters are particularly good (but there is not really a weak essay).  Whether you are wanting  to beef up your theological understanding of the Kingdom or gain some exegetical insights, this is worth reading. I give it five stars: ★★★★★ Thank you to Crossway publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tripp Hazard: A Book Review

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry
Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry  by Paul David Tripp

There are vocational hazards associated with pastoral ministry. Whether you are aware or not,  your pastor is in the middle of their sanctification and is susceptible to falling into ungodly attitudes–pride, greed, lust, anger and bitterness. Knowledge of theology and the biblical text is no guarantee that your pastor will do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with their God. Sometimes over-familiarity with biblical truth results in a loss of wonder, pride and failure to passionately pursue God.

Paul David Tripp has written a book which is a powerful diagnostic tool for pastors,  identifying where we ministers have gone a miss. Rooted in his own experience, Dangerous Calling examines how pastors can lose sight of the gospel of grace. Tripp shares vulnerably of times where he has personally lost sight of his purpose and passion in ministry and he exhorts pastors to take care lest they lose sight of their own relationship with God, and all He has done on their behalf.

Tripp addresses three dangerous aspects of pastoral life. In part one of this book, he examines ‘pastoral culture.’  Pastors are people who are theologically trained, are leaders of the congregation and often serve as examples for the church. Unfortunately this has resulted in pastors being knowledgeable about God without necessarily growing in spiritual maturity and cut off from the congregation (sometimes placed on a pedestal). Tripp challenges pastors to cultivate their devotional life and to not set themselves ‘over the congregation’ while forgetting that they are also part of it.

In part two, Tripp hones in on the way pastors can sometimes  forget who God is. Pastors sometimes lose their awe of God because they are over-familiar with  Scripture but fail to cultivate a daily life with God.  Sometimes pastors are overcome with anxiety about themselves, others, circumstances beyond their control or the future. Sometimes they stop maturing spiritually because they act as though they arrived. Tripp exhorts us to pay attention to where we have failed to look with wonder at all that God is doing in our midst and to passionately pursue our relationship with Him.

In part three, Tripp looks at the way pastors forget their unique identity. Pastors sometimes ‘do ministry’ for their own glory–build empires and amass their reputation. Other times we devote ourselves to ‘preparing for ministry’ but forget to cultivate our own spiritual life.  Our tendency to separate ourselves from the flock may result in our thinking that our élite status separates from the ordinary Christian. Tripp reminds us that we sit under our own preaching and must humbly and actively pursue our own spiritual health.

I found this book helpful in examining my heart and motives in ministry. In his capacity as executive director of Pastoral Life and Care, Tripp has walked along side a number of pastors in ministry and he is well aware of the dangers. I think that this is a helpful resource for pastors to remind them of to attend their own spiritual health. I think this could be used profitably by all who are in ministry.

Nevertheless I have two small critiques. First, Tripp seems to assume that ‘pastor’ implies male and he fails to use gender inclusive language.  Women in ministry can use this book profitably because there is nothing in his advice that is male specific. Secondly, I think this book is helpfully read alongside other books which talk about clergy self-care. In a couple of places I wanted to augment Tripp’s advice with other treatments on the topic. For example, Tripp rightly identifies the problem of clergy isolation (pastors are part of the church, not over the church) and suggests that pastors be involved in a small group that they do not lead (79). I think this makes sense but I also wish that Tripp said more about establishing appropriate boundaries as a pastor and managing expectations from parishioners (i.e. people in a pastor’s ‘small group’ can sometimes behave as though they are in the pastor’s ‘inner circle’ and therefore demand more attention and care than others in the congregation). This doesn’t  negate the many fine things Tripp says, but I wouldn’t treat this book as the final authority on clergy self-care.

Tripp’s approach is based in his experiences in ministry and his own reading of scripture. So he offers a lot of practical insights. I recommend this book to people in ministry and I feel like this is the sort of book which will help pastors make sure they are shining the light of Christ and not just casting their personal shadow.

Thank you to Crossway Books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.