“Pastor, your church wants a Savior. You’re not him” (161). If such a sentiment seems obvious, Jared Wilson knows it’s not always lived out in the life of the average pastor. The Pastor’s Justification is a book aimed at exposing this sinful pattern and offering hope and help for the pastor to change. This book is a beautiful ministry of pastoring pastors.
Jared Wilson writes for pastors as a pastor. He knows the ins and outs of the job, the weight of the calling, and, most importantly, the temptations of the ministry. He can lament the challenges of ministry with us, but he also knows the places we go in our own heads. He can sympathize with us, while also challenging us not to succumb to despair and self-pity. Wilson is a pastor’s pastor in many regards and this book is written both as a testimony to his own needs, and a way of caring for the rest of us.
The book is broken down into two parts: The Pastor’s Heart and The Pastor’s Glory. Part one discusses the character of a pastor by exploring the “gospel-centered admonition to church elders” found in 1 Peter 5:1-11 (19). Here readers are confronted both with the challenges to their character and the promises of God to enable and equip them. The focus on character is important to Wilson, who is often quick to criticize the “strategic” emphases of so many pastoral ministry talks. This book is intended to be unique in that it’s emphasis is not on the pastor’s “tool kit” but His heart (19). In part one readers will be challenged to live in light of the gospel, pursue holiness, humility, and proper confidence. One of the more encouraging and refreshing things Wilson does for pastors is remind them that their justification and validation is not rooted in ministry success and congregational approval but in the finished work of Christ. In one beautiful passage he urges us to look to Jesus. He writes:
Or will we look up and out, away from ourselves, away from the fickle fellowship, away from Satan’s accusations and insinuations, up to the right hand of the Father, where our righteousness sits, firmly fixed eternal? There is your justification, pastor, perfect and big, bigger than you and better than you but bled and bought for you and your successes and your failures, through the pats on your back or the knives in your back. There is your justification, there in Christ, and because in him there is no shadow of turning, you are utterly, totally, undeniably justified. Brother, you are free. (39)
Part one is just what pastors need. It’s what we need because it’s what all Christians need, and while we are quick to preach justification by grace through faith, we don’t often live it. Wilson pastors us well in this part of the book.
Part two shifts to consider the role of the pastorate. More specifically, Wilson uses the “Five Solas” of the Reformation to guide us into applying “more of Christ and his gospel” to our ministries, while removing more of ourselves from it (19). Again, Wilson is sensitive to the ways in which we can make ministry about ourselves and our success. We can preach ourselves, boast in ourselves, and build our own kingdoms. He shares many personal illustrations that help to bring these points home. Though many of us know this without the author’s confessions. Using the Five Solas is an interesting move here, but it helps to highlight the contrast between our sinful ways of thinking and God’s agenda for pastoral ministry.
This is a phenomenal book. It is a fresh work. In a publishing market that is full of “how to” manuals for pastors, our biggest need remains “identity” reminders. This gospel-centered resource serves as a pastor’s pastor. It plays the role of counselor, encourager, and preacher, giving pastors themselves the Biblical wisdom they usually give to others but struggle to apply to themselves. While clearly written with a Reformed or Calvinistic reader in mind, every pastor will find value in what he writes, regardless of their persuasion of the “Five Points.” Wilson writes with wit, clarity, compassion, and yet firmness. He challenges us to become better pastors not but doing more, or by following techniques, but by resting in the gospel as we labor for God’s glory. It’s just the kind of book that pastors need today…and every day after.