Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp
Deep sadness and a powerful sense of relief came to me after reading Paul Tripp’s new book entitled Dangerous Calling. The sadness of knowing that I minister often, even daily, out of a supreme sense of my own worth, estimated by my own accomplishments without regard for the connection I have with others. Yet, this sadness of realizing my own sick selfish pride was not without a dose of relief, a feeling and thought that what I am clutching onto is rubbish in the sight of a Redeemer who loves me, died for me and pursues me with his love. No, I wouldn’t say this book was good in the sense of making you feel a certain enjoyment as if basking in entertainment. I would say that this book is great because it takes the surgeon’s scalpel and digs down into the marrow of our self-congratulatory nature and brings to the surface the awe, majesty and glory of God in relationship to a bleeding Savior.
Paul Tripp writes in the introduction that this book is diagnostic in nature, providing you take an honest look at yourself in connection to the mirror of the Word of God and ‘to help you place yourself once again under the healing and transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ’ (11). How does this goal of facing the reality of your life under God’s Word equip you to be changed by the gospel?
Personal yet Practical
Right from the beginning Paul tells his story of living with a deep seated anger that could not be tamed with loving correction or discipline (17-20). Tripp’s anger had gotten to a point where after another correction from his wife, he began to blame her as being just a discontented wife. The fires of anger gave consequence to irritability, unrest and blame games. It wasn’t until a pastor’s conference with his brother Tedd that God spoke through his anger to bring him to his knees. While being convicted of his sin, Paul came to Luella and said ‘for the first time that I am ready to listen to you. I want to hear what you have to say” (20). Tripp mentions that this was the pain of grace, the grace of God that stirs up our callous hearts and points us back to God’s healing. This personal story of being in ministry and dealing with anger is not without its practical dimensions. Tripp mentions the fact that these moments of owning up to his sin, confessing them to Luella were moments of grace in process. There is no elixir for destroying anger, but as Tripp mentions, our eyes, ears and heart open as a result of seeing our sin. That we might see our sin for what it is, is a prayer that is both intimately personal and practical in developing our love of the Savior of his world.
Hope in the Ordo Salutis
One of Tripp’s main talking points in the book is the matter of having big brains but a small heart. He writes, “Because of all this, ministry is driven more by theological correctness than by worship of and love for the Lord Jesus Christ. The sermon becomes more of a theological lecture than an exposition of the grace of the gospel and a plea to run after the Savior” (55). Oh, how I wish I could have nailed this point to my books every class in seminary. The struggle here is the temptation that knowledge provides spiritual maturity and the man of theology will be equipped for every good work. Tripp bears this out by saying that we are blinded by sin because want to fix the world but lose sight that we need fixing as much as anyone else (54). It’s easy to become enamored with theology and the myriad discussions, debates and rabbit trails that this discipline takes us down. Yet, when we fix our eyes on theology as our hope, we begin to belittle others who don’t have as much training as us, and consequently, this results in a prideful distance from healthy relationships. Later on in the book Tripp mentions that being in a small group and not leading the group can have amazing effects for the pastor. Why? Because small groups always provide the sense that Christ matters a great deal to people who have no reference point for theological terminology but see his work in the midst of babies, hard jobs, and fractured relationships. When we get into community and learn to listen, grace is borne out in our hearts.
This book cut me to the heart, pushing me to pray for my own pastor and recognize my own sin more acutely. One of the best things about his book is that it doesn’t leave you in the messiness of sin but provides hope, hope that rests in Jesus Christ. I hope that pastors, lay leaders and everyone in church will read this book because it will change the way you see grace, the Savior and your sin.
Thanks to Crossway for the complimentary copy of this book in exchange for review.