Monday, June 15, 2009

"Shaping God's People with the Word"

I found the following helpful post over at Justin Taylor's place:

This weekend I started reading the new book, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought (IVP, 2009), by Doug Sweeney, Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Director of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding.

Just in reading the Preface and the Introduction: The Word in Edwards'World (both available free on the IVP site), I found myself resonating with Sam Storms' blurb, who wrote, "I love this book! . . . I highly recommend it!" (Read the full blurbs here.)

The book closes with seven theses for discussion. Sweeney writes, it is naive to think that we should try to replicate his ministry. His world was different from ours. We face new challenges today. The question is not how we might clone him. Rather, the question is how to live in our own, twenty-first-century world, loving the people whom we serve, but using insights and examples gleaned from Edwards' life and ministry to enhance our Christian faith and fortify our gospel witness. (p.197)

Here are the seven theses (the book contains an explanation of each):
1. Edwards shows us the importance of working to help people gain a vivid sense, an urgent impression, of God's activity in our world.
2. Edwards shows us that true religion is primarily a matter of holy affections.
3. Edwards shows us the advantages of keeping an eschatological perspective on our lives.
4. Edwards shows us how God uses those who lose their lives for Christ.

5. Edwards shows us that theology can and should be done primarily in the church, by pastors, for the sake of the people of God.
6. Edwards shows us that even the strongest Christians need support from others.
7. Edwards shows us the necessity of remaining in God's Word.

I want to draw attention to one of Sweeney's theses in particular (see the previous post): #5, namely, that "theology can and should be done primarily in the church, by pastors, for the sake of the people of God" (p. 199). Sweeney writes:

In the early twenty-first century, when many pastors have abdicated their responsibilities as theologians, and many theologians do their work in a way that is lost on the people of God, we need to recover Edwards' model of Christian ministry. Most of the best theologians in the history of the church were parish pastors. Obviously, however, this is not the case today. Is it any wonder, then, that many struggle to think about their daily lives theologically, and often fail to understand the basics of the faith? I want to be realistic here. A certain amount of specialization is inevitable in complex, market-driven economies. And the specialization of roles within God's kingdom can enhance our Christian ministries. But when our pastors spend the bulk of their time on organizational matters, and professors spend the bulk of their time on intramural academics, no one is left to do the crucial work of shaping God's people with the Word. Perhaps our pastors and professors, Christian activists and thinkers, need to collaborate more regularly in ministry. Perhaps the laity need to give their pastors time to think and write--for their local congregations and the larger kingdom of God. [my emphasis]

It looks like I have another book to work into my summer reading.

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