Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Cross and Christian Ministry by D. A. Carson

Over the next several days, I wanted to share some books that I have read the past several months, but have failed to review here on the blog. Let me start with The Cross and Christian Ministry by D. A. Carson, which if you are in pastoral ministry, is a must read! Way before it was cool to be "gospel-centered" Carson was instructing people on how ministry should be centered on the cross of Jesus Christ. But it is not just a book limited to pastors. Any church leaders should pick up this book and read it. Laymen who want to get into leadership will gain from the insights by Carson.

I picked up this book after I heard C. J. Mahaney say that it was one of a handful of books that he makes every young pastor he trains read. If that was the case, then it must have been important. And it is. This book is the result of an original series of lectures that Carson gave at the International Council of Accrediting Agencies, which is an affiliate of the World Evangelical Fellowship. These lectures were revised and given again at another conference and then eventually revised once more for this book. These were messages taken from select portions of the book of 1 Corinthians, which finds its highlight in Paul's resolve to "know nothing . . . except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). Each chapter highlights a portion of the book.

  • The Cross and Preaching (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5)
  • The Cross and the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)
  • The Cross and Factionalism (1 Corinthians 3)
  • The Cross and Christian Leadership (1 Corinthians 4)
  • The Cross and the World Christian (1 Corinthians 9:19-27)

If you have never read anything by D. A Carson, let me tell you what to expect. You can expect a heavy dose of Scripture being interpreted at a depth that you very infrequently hear or read. You will be exposed to insightful illustrations that bring the text of Scripture alive. You will be forced to reckon with your own heart as he very candidly brings the text to bear upon your heart in application. And along the way, you will probably learn a few new words that you have never heard before. But you will be the better for learning them. He is without a doubt, one of the most gifted Bible scholars of our day. Let me just share one example of his insight in the writing of The Cross and Christian Ministry.

In the chapter that deals with the Cross and the Holy Spirit, Carson is showing how the Spirit of God is contrasted with the spirit of the world. He gets to the end of his section and says, 
"Above all, then, Paul focuses on the message of the cross. The spirit of the world cannot make sense of it; the Spirit of God enables those who have this Spirit to understand it. That same Spirit prompts the spiritually-minded, like Paul, to preach it and teach it in appropriate ways. They will strenuously avoid all ostentatious display; they will abandon all cheap manipulation; they will be happy to embrace the scandal of the cross, for the cross is what has redeemed them. They will be wary of 'gospel' preaching that talks much about God meeting our needs and enabling us to feel fulfilled, if it is not squarely anchored in the message of the cross. They will want to use plain, clear, forceful, truthful, frank, compassionate, compelling, cross-centered speech--'spiritual' language that is appropriate to the spiritual message they are bearing. For they recognize that the Spirit of God who has opened their eyes to embrace the cross has also taught them to proclaim 'Christ crucified' in a way that conforms with the humbling immensity of the message" (56).
Amen! I will never forget being in seminary sitting in a Pauline Epistles class with Dr. Carson. I could have sat in there for hours, gaining the insights that he gave from the depth of the well from which he had drunk. It is probably the only class in seminary that I did not look forward to the end of class. This book is not much different. You will not be sorry for reading this book. In fact, there are very few books that when you get to the end, you realize you didn't waste your time. This is one of those books. 

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