Book Review of “Entrusted with the Gospel”

Posted: December 6, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Book Reviews
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Entrusted with the Gospel, edited by D.A. Carson 
Copyright © 2010 by The Gospel Coalition 
Published by Crossway

 This book a series of expositions that were given at the 2009 Gospel Coalition National Conference. If you don’t know much about The Gospel Coalition, please check them out. It is a great network that our church is a part of. It represents a broad sector of Evangelicalism that is committed to Gospel-centeredness, Biblical exposition, and faithful pastoral ministry.

The first chapter features John Piper, with the message “Feed the Flame of God’s Gift: Unashamed Courage in the Gospel” (2 Tim. 1:1-12). In Piper-esque fashion, the exposition is passionate and offers much exhortation. Just as Paul called upon Timothy to “fan the flame” in the discharge of his ministry, so also must contemporary Gospel ministers tend to their calling. Piper says,

Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift—of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel. Feed it, Timothy. Do that. Fan that flame. Feed that fire. And every time you preach the Word of grace to yourself and strengthen your heart with blood-bought promises of life and help, look deep into eternity to see why you are doing this.

Piper also reminds us of the incredible suffering that Paul encountered and reminds us that we must fan the flame in the face of suffering…in fact, it’s the only way to survive through suffering.

The second chapter, “The Pattern of Sound Words (1 Tim. 1:13-2:13)”, was my favorite. Phillip Ryken draws attention to the trait of faithfulness, which is necessary to persevere in ministry,

Ministry takes courage—sometimes unusual courage. It takes courage to expose idolatry or to cross ethnic and social lines with the gospel. It takes courage to stand up and say that Jesus is the only way, not just for Christians, but also for Muslims and atheists. It takes courage to go to the hard places in the world and share the gospel. But this is what faithfulness requires.

Ryken also contemplates the mentoring ministry of Paul to Timothy and how Timothy is called to train other faithful men as well. We have an example of apostolic succession, not through the ordaining of infallible mouthpieces, but rather through the deposit of the Gospel. We also must contemplate how our ministry is fruitful in raising up faithful men who subsequently train others as well. He proceeds to draw upon the faithful illustrations given by Paul: Soldier, Athlete, and Farmer. These illustrations are not coincidental, but share a unifying theme of focus and discipline. This is what ministers are called to. Summarizing his treatment of these illustrations, Ryken shares the following,

All three of the occupations that Paul mentions require faithful hard work and dedicated, undistracted labor. All of them entail hardship and suffering. But they also hold the promise of a reward. “Beyond warfare is victory, beyond the athlete’s effort is the prize, and beyond agricultural labor is the crop.” So work faithfully for the gospel reward, which God will bring in his own good time.

 God’s reward for faithful ministry is beautifully illustrated by the story of Luke Short, converted at the tender age of 103. Mr. Short was sitting under a hedge in Virginia when he happened to remember a sermon he had once heard preached by the famous Puritan John Flavel. As he recalled the sermon, he asked God to forgive his sins right then and there, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Short lived for three more years, and when he died, the following words were inscribed on his tombstone, “Here lies a babe in grace, aged three years, who died according to nature, aged 106.”

Here is the truly remarkable part of the story. The sermon that old Mr. Short remembered had been preached eighty-five years earlier back in England! Nearly a century passed between Flavel’s sermon and Short’s conversion, between the sowing and the reaping. Sooner or later, by the grace of God, faithful work always has its reward.

Lastly, Ryken draws our attention to the faithfulness of our Savior and Father. It is because of His faithfulness that we show any semblance of faithfulness in our ministry. It is His faithfulness that upholds His own name in spite of our unfaithfulness,

It is not just our persons that are accepted by God because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, but also our services, that is, all the things we do for God in ministry. We are called to be faithful in the sacred trust of gospel ministry. But the acceptance of our ministry does not depend on our faithfulness to God, but on his faithfulness to his Word. Admittedly, our ministry isn’t what it could be. At times we may wonder whether anything we have ever done for Jesus is worth anything at all. Or perhaps, after failing, we doubt whether God can still use us. It is at such times, most of all, that we need to remember Jesus Christ and know that we are loved and accepted by God. Even our own ministry is accepted on the basis of his perfect life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection.

Even if we are not really sure if we could ever be any kind of success in ministry, we should still try for Jesus, and when we fail for Jesus, we should believe this promise, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.”

The third chapter, “The Marks of Positive Ministry (2 Tim. 2:14-26)”, offers surprisingly mature insights from the relatively young Mark Driscoll. Driscoll defines three basic categories for people: positives, negatives, and neutrals. Essentially people fall in one of these groups. Just as Timothy calls Paul to deal with the “negatives”, so also must pastors deal with this laborious task of calling out the negatives in one’s fellowship.  Driscoll offers this fairly comprehensive list of what these negatives are:

Negatives are people who do ungospel-things in ungospel-ways for ungospel-reasons. They are distrusting, unsupportive, discouraging, and contentious. They burn bridges, are wounded by bitterness from past hurts, and are often the source of criticism and conflict. Negatives bring organizational sickness, division, and trouble because they are more interested in proudly winning their cause than in the triumph of the gospel and the good of the whole church. Negatives tend to draw other negatives toward themselves as factions; they also prey on neutrals in order to increase their own power and control. In the Bible, negatives are often referred to as wolves.

There are about as many kinds of negatives as there are types of sins. Some notable negatives include these:

  1. Success-jealousy negatives snipe and criticize because they covet your ministry, covet your success, and/or covet God’s grace in your life.
  2. False-witness negatives spread lies or “half-truths” about others.
  3. Misinformed negatives criticize, complain, whine, or perhaps just become passive out of ignorance or susceptibility to wrong information.
  4. Personal-dislike negatives equate distaste for the pastor’s tone, style, personality type, sense of humor, and so forth, with appraisal of his character or ministry qualification.
  5. Take-up-offense-for-another-person negatives are always willing to make someone else a martyr or relay anonymous grapevine chatter on behalf of someone who allegedly can’t or won’t speak for themselves.
  6. Missiological negatives are Christians who either on the right, rather like fundamentalists, disengage from culture and practice ecclesiological isolationism, or on the left, like liberals, shave off fidelity to the gospel and to the authority of Scripture in their efforts to be more culturally acceptable.
  7. Single-issue-voter negatives view the gospel as Jesus plus something else, typically something political or cultural like voting Republican or Democrat, homeschooling, or saving the planet ecologically, but sometimes their issues are more theological like KJV-onlyism or the regulative principle.
  8. Little-world negatives do not feel any sense of urgency for hurting and lost neighbors but are distrustful of anything or anyone outside of their proverbial church community, theological faction, denominational affiliation, favorite publishing house offering, political party, or other idol that has obscured their view of God’s kingdom.
  9. Chain-of-command negatives want more than anything to be at the top. And if they can’t be at the top, they want access to the top. They don’t obey the chain of command of church leadership, but presume and press, appointing themselves the person at whom the buck stops and demanding to be heard whenever they deem their opinion important.
  10. Tradition negatives are anti-change.
  11. Unforgiving negatives are mired in bitterness and keep retrieving the same old rocks they have thrown repeatedly, just so they can throw them again.
  12. Plank-speck negatives like to preach repentance without actually practicing it, while conveniently overlooking their own sin as they judge others.
  13. Diotrephes-negatives are like their forefather in 3 John who apparently employed a two-pronged affront consisting of slandering the character of ministry leaders and seeking to keep neutrals away from the positives. They want to be known; they want to be listed on the literature; they want to be honored; they want to be publicly thanked. They don’t want Jesus to be first because they want to be first.
  14. Distrust negatives are cynical, suspicious, hard for a leader to win their trust, and even harder for a leader to keep their trust.
  15. Control negatives prefer to wield power rather than influence by working through church politics, stall tactics, and other passive-aggressive ways to lead without being a leader.
  16. Critic negatives are the hall monitors of church life. They love to nitpick and dig up dirt, no matter how minuscule, and are good at keeping a record of wrongs.
  17. Warrior negatives have zeal that usually knows no bounds and are always looking for the next hill to die on.
  18. One-handed negatives put everything either in the open hand of flexibility (liberals) or closed hand of inflexibility (fundamentalists). Lacking discernment to know what goes in the open and closed hands, they are constantly half-right and half-wrong, which makes them always a problem.
  19. Gossip negatives are always talking about others but never talking to them, often outlandishly doing this in the name of prayer.
  20. Theological negatives are the heretics, apostates, and other various theological wing nuts who have an appetite for error.

I thought this list was very insightful. This is not a popular part of pastoral ministry (dealing with negatives), but I have learned that you either deal with them or they will inevitably kill your calling and drive you out of pastoral ministry. There is no neutrality.

K. Edward Copeland delivers the fourth exposition, “Shadowlands: Pitfalls and Parodies of Gospel-Centered Ministry (2 Tim 3:1-9)”. What was particularly encouraging about Copeland’s message was the eschatological reminder of what all our labors are leading to in the big scheme of things. God wins in the end!!! We must minister with one eye towards eternity, being reminded and encouraged by the outcome of our labors.

Bryan Chapell reminds us in his exposition, “Preach the Word (2 Tim 3:10-4:5)”, that we must have an unwavering confidence in the infallible sacred Word of God. We must be mighty in the Scriptures or we are of no use to the people we serve. Chapell reminds us that we not only preach to the glory of God, but for the eternal good of His people. Our people must hear the voice of God in the preached Word.

J. Ligon Duncan’s closing exposition, “Finishing Well (2 Tim 4:6-22)”, reminds us that me must avoid the pitfalls of compromising the ministry amidst the ongoing pressure of contemporary culture. Duncan also draws attention to Paul’s personal greetings for particular saints, signifying for us Paul’s love for the people. This is a reminder that pastors must be lovers of people, quick to encourage and commend those who love the Savior. Lastly, Duncan reminds us of the benediction, which proclaims God’s grace upon Timothy. From beginning to end, we need grace. The good news is that God is rich in His supply of grace. We need not despair, but can always come boldly before the throne of grace and find help in times of need.

The book is very encouraging for all who minister and recommended even for those who may not necessarily discharge ministry from the office of pastor/elder. I’m grateful to Crossway for publishing this book and sending me a copy to review. I’m also grateful for the venerable D.A. Carson, who edited this work.

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