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Pastoral Ministry According to Paul
Author: James W. Thompson
Publisher: Baker Academic
Length: 174 pages
Published: February 2006
Pastoral Ministry According to Paul is a good handbook for ministers of the Gospel looking for affirmation of their vocation and insight into the dynamic that exists between a pastor and his congregation. The author James W. Thompson draws upon his wealth of knowledge and experience to present a clear, concise framework for a Biblical vision of the ministry. Thompson holds a doctorate from Vanderbilt University and serves as Professor of Biblical Studies at Abilene Christian University. He is also the Associate Dean of ACU's graduate school of theology.
The reader will appreciate Thompson's systematic approach to Paul's vision of the ministry. Rather than centering on a few isolated passages of scripture. Thompson takes a more expansive approach and provides solid exegesis from Philippians, I Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans and the letters to the church at Corinth. Through the author's eyes we catch a glimpse of the church as Paul envisioned it. Paul's vision of the church was a community whose growth and vitality was based on their relationship with God and one another.
What makes this book work so well is Thompson doesn't rely solely on his ability to translate the Greek as the foundation for his exegesis. He also strives to help the reader understand the cultural context that Paul was living within. To put it another way to say to someone who has limited knowledge of major North American metropolitan areas that a small child should not walk across a certain street in Los Angeles serves no purpose. You need to explain to the recipient of your message that the street has several lanes of cars, trucks and buses that traverse it at speeds which would put a person's life in peril.
In the chapter Blameless At His Coming, Thompson focuses on one of Paul's central themes as outlined in I Thessalonians. Thompson's perspective is Paul places the emphasis on communal love. Many churches and in particular evangelical communities have mimicked our fast food society. As one of the worship leaders in my church recently said we have developed a community of drive-by Christians who catch a glimpse or a whiff of what being a Christian is all about but are not concerned enough to immerse themselves in the pursuit of God. The evangelical community possesses a fanaticism about adopting the latest program or trend as a means of meeting the needs of those inside and outside the church. Paul in Thompson's view believes the church can only grow through individuals making a personal investment in the lives of others. Furthermore the apostle asserts this should be an assumed eschatological progression. In Thompson's mind Christ on the cross is pivotal to our faith but it is not yet the completed story.
Thompson writes, "If we adopt the Pauline understanding, we will work with God for church growth that consists of an increase in ethical sensitivity and care for others within the community. We will challenge the self-centeredness of our own society, measuring our effectiveness by the community's capacity to live in harmony with each other."
Anyone planning to preach a series from the Book of Romans would do well to purchase a copy of Pastoral Ministry According To Paul. The fourth chapter's discussion of Romans provides us with a micro commentary concerning Paul's perception of the ongoing tension between sin and living a righteous life. The underpinning of Thompson's beliefs are summed up in an astounding statement that he makes in a later chapter Living Between The Times, where he writes, "We are more inclined to accept our humanity than to demand transformation into the image of the crucified and selfless Christ." Churches who have so recklessly anointed gay ministers would do well to heed this advice. There is a difference between loving an individual versus endorsing a particular way of life. The same can be said of those in ecclesiastic circles who are more consumed with political games than they are consumed by the Holy Spirit.
Those who subscribe to a Wesleyan-Arminian theology will find themselves at odds with Thompson's interpretation of sanctification as an ongoing process of the Holy Spirit. The Wesleyan-Arminians hold to the notion of a second experience of grace. Thompson sees a decision of consecration to holiness as the beginning of an ongoing work that only reaches fulfillment with the end times. Thompson's interpretation is on much more solid ground than the opposing view.
In 174 pages The Pastoral Ministry According to Paul by James W. Thompson provides us with a concise yet thorough examination of Paul's view of the ministry as expressed through some of his letters. One needs to understand that Thompson did not set out to examine all of Paul's writings relative to his vision of the pastoral ministry but the author chose to focus on a handful of Paul's epistles. This book may be too deep for the average layperson unless they have a background in theological studies. The exception that I would make to my previous statement would be for one who is considering pursuing a 'call' to the ministry. One can never replace God's anointing upon their life but this book could assist someone preparing to respond to that leading. If I were still in an academic environment I would certainly recommend that Thompson's book be added to the syllabus of any student enrolled in a pastoral theology course.
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.