Saturday, February 18, 2012

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor – D.A. Carson

© 2008 Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois

As an ordinary, or typical, pastor of an ordinary, or typical, church I am always looking for books that will address the issues that I face and encourage me. These books are all too few and far between mainly because the men who are ordinary pastors in ordinary churches aren’t writing books about the ordinary day to day plodding that is the pastorate. Those who are writing books are the men who stumble upon something that explodes into a megachurch and are sharing the secret (with too many times ignoring the fact that the explosion was God at work and not the gimmick that He happened to use). Consequently, ordinary pastors are buying up the book, digesting the contents, attempting to duplicate the gimmick, and wondering when and where their explosion is going to happen.

In the case of Memoirs, the “ordinary pastor” still did not write the book. That was left to his son (a former pastor himself, and academic who has written books) to do as a memorial after Tom Carson had passed away. Armed with his father’s journals, correspondence, and notes from decades of plodding to reach French-Canadians, D.A. Carson writes an a-typical memoir that reaches out to and touches the mind (and heart) of the pastor in the trenches.

Throughout his life Tom Carson worked diligently to plant and grow churches among French-speaking Canadians in a day when the work was just beginning—and, as new work tends to be, was slow and cumbersome. Several things were of interest to me as reader: the view of history from a north of the border perspective. Having learned all my history from an American point of view, it is often refreshing to hear the stories told from a different side. Also, was the encouragement that comes through becoming posthumous friends with a man like Tom Carson—who “wasted” his life in service of King Jesus. Carson was a man who (with his wife by his side all the way) lived Jesus in the home, and in the marketplace, from the parsonage to the translator’s desk of his later years. He cared for his flock, and he displayed the best of what is a Christian before his community and his family. He was a man who thought little of himself, bringing to life the proclamation of John the Baptist: “He [Christ] must increase, I must decrease.”  Even in the face of losing his beloved to the brain-crippler known as Alzheimer’s Disease, Carson lived for Jesus—studying scripture, providing counseling, and mentoring, as a daily walk of life.

One other characteristic that endears this small volume to the reader is its readability. Unlike most books called “memoirs” these days, this one reads like a nice two-hour visit with the subject. It reads quickly and smoothly, and is filled with the joys, challenges, and tears that would enter the room if Tom Carson were sitting in the chair opposite you. If you are a pastor (ordinary or typical or otherwise) or if you love an ordinary pastor, you should read this book. You will also find in it an urgency to keep on in the plodding work of the Kingdom where you are. I give D.A. Carson  five reading glasses for sharing his father’s life and ministry with us.

—Benjamin Potter, February 17, 2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Ragamuffin Gospel – Brennan Manning

© 1990, 2000, 2005 Multnomah Books, Colorado Springs

Brennan Manning has a bag full of luggage in his background. He is a veteran of the Korean War, a former Franciscan priest, and much-respected author and speaker in many Christian circles. He’s also a battling alcoholic and an embattled preacher of the Word. He’s embattled because of the movement that rose out of the book we’re reviewing today. It has become a classic of modern Christian literature; it touched the hearts of several Christian artists—to name a couple, Michael W. Smith (who contributed a Foreward to this new edition) and the late Rich Mullins who was so inspired by the book that he formed the “Ragamuffin Band.”

With that background, I’ve wanted to get hold of a copy of this book and read it for quite some time. And I’m glad I did. I can see the draw to this teaching book, but I also found some of it a bit disconcerting. As a matter of fact, as with anything that one reads, I found parts of the book with which I could not agree.

The author is thoughtful and well-read as well as a superb communicator. He points out the need for God’s grace in the life of everyone, reminding readers that our unworthiness is not at issue (after all we’re all ragamuffins, even if we don’t think we are), but His love and mercy. In this, Manning has a wonderful grip on the concept of Grace. So much so to the point that he shares in a more recent response to the original 1990 book that one Roman Catholic scholar accused him of “out-Luthering” Luther (see p. 212).

Even so, the reading of the book becomes a little lop-sided. Not knowing any more of Manning’s faith walk than I do, I understand that the Love of God (through Christ) rushes at him through the lens of telescopic need. And I would also argue right along with Manning that we need to swim longer in the deep end of the Love of God pool. However, the view of God’s righteousness, justice, and even His wrath gets crowded out and even talked down, bringing readers to a touchy feel-good approach to the Throne that flatlines faith. (In response to this let me add that this Lovefest reaction is natural for people who see nothing from the community of Christian faith but red-faced condemnation).

A couple of other issues that I have (personal issues because of my background juxtaposed to the author’s) with the book are the Church teachings that move beyond the discussion of personal response to God and His love, and with which my faith calls me to disagree (commentary about the Eucharist and the ideology of Trans-substantiation – look it up – that are common in some Christian communities, for example). He also leans heavily on a “getting away” type of Christian life that tends to say that spiritual growth only happens when we are by ourselves. (To which end the new edition includes not only the essay “The Scandal of Grace: Fifteen Years Later” but also “19 Mercies: a Spiritual Retreat” which can guide the reader into some excellent devotional reading and reflection.) Admittedly, we all need times of retreat and reflection, but not at the exclusion of community. Relationship with Christ includes relationship with His Bride, His Body—the church.

The question that always arises at the end of the day in reviewing books is: would you recommend this book? Sure. It is probably the best response to the God is out to get us teaching that so saturates our church culture today. The follow-up question is: to whom would you recommend this book? That is a bit more tricky to answer. Certainly it is worth the minister’s time to read—especially pastors who work closely with the teenage culture. Young people are bombarded with feelings and physiological issues that scream “You’re worthless; you’re nothing.” And people who work with them need to constantly be able to remind those young people that there is a God who loves them (loves them so much in fact that He became a man to show them how much He loves them). I’d also recommend the book to people (and preachers in particular) who have bought into the idea that God is up in the Heaven’s looking for reasons to zap people and send them to Hell. Perhaps we can find some balance in the reading.

I give Manning three and one-half stars for this book. I’d even edge toward four because, after all, it is a classic.

—Benjamin Potter, February 14, 2012

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]

Popular Posts