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7.08.2016

How a minister should think of himself

I'm looking at the table of contents of a Ryle book titled Christian Leaders of the Last Century. For instance some chapter titles: George Whitefield and his Ministry; Toplady and his Ministry; John Berridge and his Ministry, etc. This is a good way to see a minister: the minister and his ministry.

What does that mean?

It obviously doesn't mean a unique Gospel associated with that particular man. Obviously, but what it can mean is this: a particular school of Christ associated with that minister.

How do you define 'school' in that sentence?

First of all you can define it by a list of books, as on-the-surface-boring, or mundane, as that may sound. Why should it be boring or mundane? Books are powerful. Great books read in a dedicated manner are obviously very, very powerful influences in the lives of human beings. Each minister should be - if he is truly educated, formally or otherwise - in possession of a body of knowledge that has a distinct tracing to certain authors, traditions, eras of history, schools, etc.

Ministers don't think in these terms, I think because the prevailing assumption is each minister (within the confines of his confession or denomination) is supposed to represent a sort of cookie cutter universal teaching to his church audience. This is losing a lot. Some ministers are apologetics oriented, some sanctification oriented, some oriented to one or another great era of Christianity (Puritan era in England or the Netherlands, or the Geneva school of Calvin's day, or what have you), maybe some are spiritual warfare oriented. This doesn't mean if you sit under an apologetics oriented minister you won't get a complete, or universal teaching of Christian doctrine, it would just be an angle towards the universal. Allow providence to direct students to one or another of the uniquely angled ministers, so to speak.

Imagine a minister who if you come into his school you specifically are made to read (and read very complete and well) Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Boston's Human Nature in its Fourfold State, and Fisher's Catechism. That's it. Now listen carefully: you can't be simple minded or shallow about this. You can't say, "Well, that's just three random books. So what?" No, it's a work of imaginative literature, a work of history (the history of redemption via the creation, fall, regeneration, and glorification of human beings), and a work of doctrine. You see? It's balanced, for one thing. (And I'm just throwing out there this one example, there are obviously numerous good examples.)

That would be a simple school, but a worthy one. It would be a sort of school of Christian folk classic works. Not highbrow academic, though not by any means middlebrow or lowbrow either. If you came into contact with Minister A and his ministry of those three books and you completed your time there you would come away with a strong foundation. Of course the minister doesn't want people leaving his church, necessarily, and could have a further higher up three influences, and then maybe a final three influences above that, and the Holy Bible of course being involved from the start and being inexhaustible. Most well-educated ministers could present a worthy set of nine influences based on his particular unique school. What he's able to teach well and enthusiastically.

Every individual who studies a big subject (like theology) gravitates towards one or another author, book, school, era, etc., in his developing of his understanding. He will tend to be enthusiastic about teaching those particular influences to others. He will be knowledgeable of them. Of course he will have to know how to teach to begin with. How to impart understanding to other people. He's not, even though he is a Vosian, going to say, "All you newcomers here, read Vos' Biblical Theology." But he might have them read Berkhof's Manual of Christian Doctrine. Because he's tuned in to the particular Dutch Reformed river of influence. Bavinck, Vos, Berkhof (as digest). Maybe going back to a'Brakel. Christianity has a wealth of influences that can reach beginners. We have no shortage of good books to choose from, but a powerful school will be simple and offer little choice because something has to get absorbed and understood at some point.

Complete readings of the Bible with no fear or hand-wringing from the minister worrying that nobody could possible get anything out of direct contact with the word of God unlike him and other ministers like him. That is a very wrong approach. An approach based on a shallow vanity and fear. Christians have to start with the real thing at some point in a real way. Allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. Don't be a filter between your audience and the direct word of God, the Old and New Testaments.

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