Thousands and millions of books are written every year, and every year I regularly read over one hundred books but very few of those books published and even fewer of those that I read are diagnostic books that punch you in the gut (in a good way to bring conviction of sin) by pointing out the weaknesses in pastoral culture and church life in order to help pastors see clearly their blind spots and point them to growth in the grace of God. Thankfully Dr. Paul Tripp a seasoned Pastor and counselor knows this which is why he wrote Dangerous Calling: Confronting The Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry.
One of the more important trends I see happening in Christian publishing is an emphasize on Gospel centered growth in the grace of God. Added to this emphasis is a recent resurgence in books being published that emphasizes how the Pastor should be growing in the grace of God. Often such books on spiritual formation are written for the lay person so it encourages me when I see publishers like Christian Focus (who recently published Pastoring the Pastor) and now Crossway publishing Dangerous Calling addressing this issue in a way that doesn’t burden Pastors but confronts them with the Truth of God’s Word in order to help them see themselves as they are desperate needy sinners in need of Jesus and His grace.
There’s an epidemic happening in pastoral ministry. In seminary future pastors are given a lot of information about theology, doctrine, church history and more to help equip them to preach, teach and minister to God’s people. Sadly this emphasis on information focuses only on the head (knowing right doctrine is vital, so don’t hear me arguing against that, my point is larger than this). My point is quite simply that Pastors are first Christians. The classical pastoral writers from the early church to the Reformation to the present have always focused on the character of the man which involves knowing right doctrine, but also being transformed by the doctrine we believe. In other words put more simply, sound doctrine leads to right living. What we believe has consequences so believing right doctrine should affect the way we live our lives before the throne of God’s unending, everlasting grace.
Dr. Paul Tripp has personally experienced pastoral culture as a Pastor, as a pastoral counselor, seminary professor, and conference speaker. Having read most of Dr. Tripp’s books one of the things I appreciate most about his style of writing is his goal to take Christians beneath the surface of our lives in order to point out indwelling sin and point out to the One in Jesus who longs for us to die to our sin, and turn from our sin to Him who can kill our sin and help us grow in the grace of God.
Paul Tripp’s diagnosis is not only spot on about pastoral culture in Dangerous Calling but is confirmed by The Schaeffer Institute’s [http://www.intothyword.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=36562] who did research on this issue. Their research pants a disturbing picture: 50 percent of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years. Over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month. 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression. 80 percent of pastors believe that pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
Pastors read many books that fill their minds but not many that challenge them to take an honest assessment of where they are spiritually. Dangerous Calling was written to help diagnose your spiritual life and point you to the Lord Jesus. Dr. Tripp notes that with writing this book he has “launched myself on a ministry career direction to get help for pastors who have lost their way” (12), I applaud Dr. Tripp for this and pray the Lord blesses him and increases his tribe as he ministers to hurting Pastors.
At the heart of this book is the contention that “you are constantly talking to yourself about your identity, your spirituality, your functionality, your emotionality, your mentaility, your personality, your relationships, etc. You are constantly preaching to yourself some kind of gospel. You preach to yourself an anti-gospel of your own righteousness, power, and wisdom, or you preach to yourself the true gospel of deep spiritual need and sufficient grace. You preach to yourself an anti-gospel of aloneness and inability, or you preach to yourself the true gospel of the presence, provisions, and power of an ever-present Christ” (21). The main point that Tripp makes is that “no one celebrates the presence and grace of the Lord Jesus more than the person who has embraced his desperate and daily need of it” (23).
Now that you have some flavor of the direction the book the book takes let me share with you how this book ministered to me. I’ve written quite a bit in the past year about my own struggles with burnout in the past and how the Lord lead me through this season to grow in the grace of God. Since I’ve graduated from seminary this past May (May 2012) the Lord has by His grace increased my love not only for His Word (which I’ve been reading more regularly) but also for His people. Along with this desire for more of His Word and loving His people has come a desire to be more like Him. See what I just said there? The more we long for Jesus, the more we are in His Word the more we are going to long to be like Him. At the heart of the problem of pastoral burnout is the lack of wanting to be like Jesus. The reason why many seminary students struggle to grow in the grace of God is because they have become so focused on what they “know” that they miss the point and object of their faith—Jesus Christ and growing in His grace. As a seminary graduate I not only know this temptation myself, but have fell victim to it time and time again. Dr. Tripp also knows this temptation which is why he wrote Dangerous Calling.
Whether you are a seminary student, seasoned Pastor, Professor or whatever your station in life is, you need to read this book. Yes, this book was written to diagnose pastoral culture, but by extension, I believe this book addresses a rising epidemic that is occurring in the church. We have become a people focused on what we know about God but not about how He is transforming us. Again, I will note that I am not saying that what we know isn’t important, as I’ve already stated that right doctrine is important but not ultimate. Knowing right doctrine ought to lead to right living. The reason this book was written was not to correct doctrine but to correct the false dichotomy between just living as if doctrine matters without being affected by it. It’s the being affected by the doctrine we believe that Dr. Tripp is concerned about, and I agree with him. This is also why I believe that Dangerous Calling is a must read book for every Christian not just Pastors, because we all need to see ourselves as we are, in light of Jesus Christ and His perfect righteousness.
In conclusion (if its not already clear by the length of this review), this is a book I believe every Christian and Pastor must read. It’s not often that I read a book that punches you in the gut (to lead you to repentance) and point you to the Lord Jesus Christ with balancing pastoral insight, biblical doctrine and practical application all in one book. Dangerous Calling is such a book which is why this book is hands down winning not only my favorite book of the year but is also the most convicting, encouraging and edifying book I’ve read all year. I highly recommend you get Dangerous Calling and as you read (as I did) I believe you will find the same as I did that Jesus will be at work in you (and through you) pointing out your sin and showing forth the beauty and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ through the writing of Dr. Tripp.
Author: Paul Tripp
Publisher: Crossway Books (2012)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”