All posts by Gary Shultz

Preaching By Ear by Dave McClellan

McClellan, Dave with Karen McClellan. Preaching By Ear: Speaking God’s Truth from the Inside Out.  Wooster, OH: Weaver Book, 2014. 171 pp., $15.99. Purchase at Amazon or on Kindle for less.

Unfortunately it is all too easy as preachers to preach messages that are solid and biblical, even helpful, but aren’t personal. We can fall into a routine of mining the biblical text, writing our outline or manuscript, and delivering our message without ever being changed by God’s truth ourselves. This remove from Scripture doesn’t only hurt us, it hurts the congregations we preach to every week. Dave McClellan aims to rescue us from that reality, to re-invigorate our preaching by urging us to preach from the heart, from the inside out. He uses the controlling metaphor of playing music by ear as opposed to playing by musical score. His goal isn’t necessarily to get us to stop using notes when we preach, but to help us purposely preach from “personally held, deep convictions in a way that enables our words to unfold in the moment by considering the actual people present to us” (5). Drawing upon ancient rhetoricians such as Aristotle, Quintilian, and Augustine, as well as more modern scholars like Walter Ong, McClellan explains that we learn to do this by focusing first on who we are as preachers rather than our preaching, and then practicing an oral rather than a literary model of preaching.

McClellan’s overriding concern is for our preaching to be authentic and personal, for God’s Word to take root in the preacher first, so that our preaching is no longer based on theory, but practice. He believes that since the invention of the printing press, our focus in preaching has been on preparing an outline or a manuscript instead of preparing ourselves to preach. Premodern preachers, orally driven instead of literary, viewed the sermon as something inside the preacher, as a spoken event rather than a thing written down on paper. A literary focus would be appropriate if we read or distributed copies of our sermons every Sunday, but because we deliver sermons orally, we should prepare them orally. This means preparing ourselves as preachers first, focusing on becoming the people God wants us to be before we ever preach the sermons he wants us to preach. It then means studying and practicing the text we are going to preach until we know it and can present it from the inside out. We should prepare, we should use the text devotionally and in a discipling context throughout the week, we should rehearse, and then we should go into our pulpits to deliver our sermons extemporaneously, by ear instead of by note. McClellan makes the case that this oral model of preaching is more faithful to the Scriptural model, better for the congregation, and better for us as preachers.

After reading the first chapter of this book I found myself intrigued, but doubtful. I manuscript my sermons, and while I deliver them extemporaneously, much of my effort and preparation throughout the week goes into writing my manuscript so I know what I am going to say on Sunday mornings. The more I read, however, the more convinced I became that McClellan is onto something fundamental in how we should approach preaching. We should work hard at internalizing the biblical text, not just exegeting it, before we preach it. We should commit ourselves to authenticity and vulnerability before our churches, even if it costs us some polish in our delivery. Sermons are first and foremost oral events that only happen in real time, and should be explicitly for our congregations; this truth should drive our preparation and delivery. McClellan spends a chapter describing his weekly routine of sermon preparation, and I have already started to incorporate some of his practices and suggestions into my weekly routine. His work is scholarly, but he also takes care to ground his assertions in Scripture and in years of practice and pastoral experience. I recommend it especially for experienced preachers looking for something fresh in their approach, as well as professors who are looking for a textbook that emphasizes the oral, personal nature of preaching.

 

Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment edited by Alan Stanley and Stanley Gundry

four-rolesFour Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment. Stanley, Alan P., and Stanley M. Gundry, eds. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. 234 pp. $19.99. Purchase new at Westminster Books for $13.46. Purchased used on Amazon or for Kindle.

 

All Christians believe that there will be a final judgment of believers and unbelievers, with Jesus Christ presiding as the faithful judge of humanity.  Yet beyond this basic agreement about the reality of judgment and the identity of the judge there are a number of disagreements about the coming judgment.  Debates abound concerning the purpose of the judgment, the number of judgments, the timing of the judgment(s), and particularly the relationship between faith and works at the final judgment.  This last debate is the focus of this new book in Zondervan’s Counterpoint Series on Bible and Theology, which presents four prominent views on the role of works at the final judgment. These different views exist because the Bible itself clearly teaches two things: that people are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (e.g., John 5:24; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9), and that people will be judged according to our works (e.g., Matt 25:31-46; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:11-15).  Different ways of reconciling these two truths have led to a number of different views on the subject, of which the four in this book are representative.  As with all the books in this series, a proponent of one view explains and defends his understanding, and each of the other authors responds, raising objections and questions, with the goal of making the subject more accessible to the wider church public.

Robert N. Wilkin, the Executive Director of the Grace Evangelical Society, presents the first view, which is that Christians will be judged according to their works at the rewards judgment, but not at the final judgment.  Wilkin operates from a dispensationalist paradigm (though as Schreiner notes in his response to Wilkin, dispensationalism does not require Wilkin’s position) that recognizes the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10), the Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt 25:31-46), and the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15), as distinct in both time and purpose.  Christians will be judged by their works at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but what is at stake is their eternal reward and position in the kingdom, not eternal salvation.  Christians can be unfaithful and not be rewarded, but they will still be saved (e.g., Luke 19:11-27). Unbelievers will be judged by their works at the final judgment, the Great White Throne Judgment, and eternal salvation is at stake for them.  One of the key points Wilkins makes is that entering the kingdom means gaining eternal life, but inheriting the kingdom refers to the benefits and experience of reigning with Christ (e.g., Gal 6:7-9; Rev 3:5).  Wilkin stresses that once a person believes she has eternal life once and for all, and therefore perseverance in the faith can have nothing to do with eternal salvation.  Christians’ salvation cannot in any way be related to their works or that contradicts salvation by grace through faith.

Thomas Schreiner, Professor of New Testament at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the author of the second view, which is that works will confirm salvation at the final judgment.  Schreiner agrees with Wilkin that salvation is completely by grace through faith, but disagrees in that he believes the New Testament also teaches justification by works.  Schreiner sees a coherent blend between these two truths because under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit empowers God’s people to obey him (e.g., Rom 2:26-29).  Therefore works are necessary for salvation because they are the necessary evidence of salvation, but still wholly of grace.  Works will be put forward as evidence at the final judgment as the necessary outworking of faith (e.g., Eph 2:8-10).  Works are not meritorious, but they demonstrate the reality of faith.  Schreiner, in contrast to Wilkin, understands salvation as a process and not limited to a point in time, and believes all who are justified by faith in the present will certainly be justified by faith in the future, because God will equip them to perform the necessary good works.

The third view, that salvation at the final judgment will depend to some extent on works, is written by James Dunn, Emeritus Professor of Theology at the University of Durham.  In contrast to the other three views in the book, Dunn doesn’t believe it is necessary to reconcile justification by faith with judgment by works, but to simply accept both as true.  Dunn is hesitant to systematize writings that arose out of different contexts and address different problems amidst different circumstances.  Focusing mainly on Paul, he insists that Paul emphasizes one truth when necessary and the other truth when necessary, and so should we.  Agreeing with Schreiner that salvation is a process, Dunn disagrees that is a certain one, teaching instead that apostasy is a real danger for converts, and that beginning in faith does not necessarily entail finishing in faith (e.g., 1 Cor 9:27; Gal 3:3).  Because obedience is a necessary condition for continuing in the faith while on earth, it follows that it is a necessary condition for receiving eternal life at the final judgment.

Michael Barber, Professor of Theology, Scripture, and Catholic Thought at the Great Catholic University, present the final view, that our works are meritorious at the final judgment because of our union with Christ.  He explains the traditional Catholic position, and stresses throughout his essay that believers’ works are only meritorious because they are the result of Christ’s work.  Barber agrees with Schreiner and Dunn that salvation is by grace and judgment is by works, but goes beyond both of them to affirm that salvation is also by works, because salvation is a process that is not confirmed until the final judgment.  He does clarify that works do not get one converted, but rather that it is through works, performed by the grace of God working in the believer, that is one is saved (e.g., Matt 25:31-46).

Each presenter is a knowledgeable proponent of their position, and their responses clarify what they see as the strengths and weaknesses of the other positions.  Alan Stanley, the general editor, offers a useful introduction to the debate, giving some brief historical and contemporary context, and also helpfully summarizes and contrasts all four positions in the conclusion. The format of the Counterpoints books does not allow for in-depth treatment of the issues or rejoinders to the responses, but footnotes in all four essays direct interested readers to further resources.  The book serves as a strong introduction to the topic and would most profit scholars, pastors, and students unfamiliar with the subject.  It would also function as a good supplemental textbook in a class on salvation or eschatology.  Most importantly, the book will help readers to see how each position understands the Scriptures in the debate, and will capably equip them to understand the full breadth of what the Bible says the role of works in the final judgment.

Gary L. Shultz Jr.

First Baptist Church

Fulton, MO

The Beauty and Glory of the Father by Joel R. Beeke

The Beauty and Glory of the FatherBeeke, Joel R., ed. The Beauty and Glory of God the Father. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2013. 156 pp. $25.00. Purchase at Westminster Books and for the Kindle for less.

Despite the prominence of God’s fatherhood in Scripture, few books explicitly concentrate on the beauty and glory of God as Father, or what it means to experientially know God as Father. Yet these are the twin themes running throughout The Beauty and Glory of God the Father. The purpose of the book is to not only explore the theme of God’s fatherhood Scripturally, but to move the reader to worship and delight in God as Father. Each essay in the book, focusing on a distinct aspect or implication of God’s fatherhood, accomplishes this purpose.

The first two chapters of the book lead us to see God the Father’s glory in his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The opening essay is an exposition of John 3:35, which tells us that the Father loves the Son. Bartel Elshout demonstrates how all theology flows from this wonderful truth, from creation to redemption, and how we must continually examine ourselves to see if we love the Son as the Father does. This love of the Son brings the Father glory, and causes him to set his love upon us (John 14:21). The second chapter, by Jerry Bilkes, draws out several aspects of God’s Fatherhood from the original Exodus and then from the decisive Exodus in Christ. As in the first chapter, powerful application calling for a response to the Father’s call in Christ closes this chapter.

The next three chapters focus on three attributes of God the Father. In chapter three Derek Thomas describes God the Father’s holiness based on Isaiah 6, which he argues is as much about the Father as it is the Son. William VanDoodewaard meditates on the Father’s mercy from 1 Peter 1:3-5 in chapter four, and in chapter five Paul Smalley describes how Richard Sibbes understood the mercy and faithfulness of the Father. Smalley’s essay is a departure from the first four in that it is more a work of historical theology rather than an exposition of Scripture, but it is just as practically oriented.

The third section of the book contains two chapters highlighting God the Father’s role in salvation. Chapter six, also written by Derek Thomas, describes how we see the Father in the face of Jesus. I found this essay to be the most profound in my walk with Christ, particularly in its emphasis on the Christ-likeness of the Father and how the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we are to the Father and his glory. Chapter seven, by Joel Beeke, is the longest essay in the book and presents the Puritans’ teaching on the doctrine of adoption. Beeke clearly demonstrates with an abundance of quotations how the commonly accepted notion that the Puritans did not say much about adoption is simply not true. For all of its value historically, however, Beeke is careful to maintain a practical tone that fits with the rest of the book. The Puritans’ understanding of adoption is not explored for its own sake, but to move the reader to see the transforming power, blessings, and responsibilities of this amazing doctrine, that in Christ we are children of God.

The fourth and final section has three chapters that mean to lead the reader to trust the Father. VanDoodewaard’s second essay in chapter eight presents Jesus’ teaching about God the Father from the Sermon on the Mount. David Murray looks at the impact of God’s fatherhood on biblical counseling in chapter nine and surveys several specific counseling problems, explaining how God’s fatherhood impacts each one of them. This survey, including situations like abuse, single parenthood, assurance, anxiety, and bitterness, would serve as an excellent reference for the counselor or pastor helping people through those circumstances. Burk Parsons exposits Hebrews 12:1-13 in chapter ten and explains how we can see and experience the glory of God the Father even through his chastisement. A concluding chapter by Ryan McGraw explains the need to approach God with a purposeful, Trinitarian piety.

The Beauty and Glory of God the Father comes after The Beauty and Glory of Christ (2011) and The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit (2012, both of which are also edited by Joel Beeke. Each of these books is based on a yearly conference at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand, Rapids, MI (2010-12). As the third book exploring this Trinitarian theme, The Beauty and Glory of God the Father is most profitably read along with these other two books (though it doesn’t have to be), which consistently move the reader to worship God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in light of his overwhelming beauty and glory. Readers should be aware that all of the essays are written from a confessional, Reformed perspective, which is not argued for or defended, but assumed throughout the book.

Though the book is a solid biblical and theological work, its purpose is primarily doxological. The historical treatments in particular are academically rigorous, but readers looking for an academic treatment of God’s fatherhood will be disappointed. Pastors especially will find material to help in sermon or worship preparation, and students of Trinitarian theology or Puritan history will also especially benefit from the book. All readers looking to grow in their love of God through an appreciation of an underemphasized aspect of God’s person will find much in these essays to help them glory in the Father’s person and work.

Gary L. Shultz Jr. (Ph.D. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fulton, MO. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Religion at Liberty University and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Church History at Baptist Bible Theological Seminary. He writes a monthly book review column for The Pathway and is the author of A Multi-Intentioned View of the Extent of the Atonement (Wipf & Stock).

Beyond Smells and Bells by Mark Galli

Mark Galli. Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 2008. 148 pp. $16.95. Purchase at Amazon or for Kindle for much less.

Note: This review is written by Dr. Gary Shultz.

As a Southern Baptist pastor I am as far away as I could be from Mark Galli’s intended audience, those in or exploring Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches. I have never been a member of a church that worshipped through the liturgy or followed the liturgical calendar. Yet I benefitted from this book in a number of ways. While it did not convince me to embrace liturgical worship, it did lead me to a deeper appreciation for why so many Christians do practice liturgical worship. I was encouraged by its emphasis on the biblical basis of worship and how each element of the liturgy contributes to a robust understanding of the gospel. I even found myself considering how my Baptist church could incorporate some of these high-church prayers and emphasize the different times on the liturgical calendar so that our weekly and yearly worship would not only be more explicitly gospel-centered, but more in tune with the church of which we are all apart in Christ.

Mark Galli, currently a senior managing editor of Christianity Today and member of an Anglican congregation in the greater Chicago area, formerly an Anglican pastor, writes to explain how the liturgy shapes us to be like Christ, with the goal of leading people to participate in liturgical worship. Over fourteen chapters he explains the basic outline of the liturgy, the purpose of the liturgical calendar, and the counter-cultural relevance of the liturgy. Weaving together Scripture, personal illustrations, and a few quotes from theological and liturgical works, Galli makes the case that sustained participation in the liturgy helps us meet God, learn the core doctrines of our faith, and experience community together. Above all, Galli stresses the transforming power of the liturgy, including chapters on how the liturgy changes our sense of time, our sense of place, our imaginations, and how we keep one foot in this world while awaiting the fullness of the kingdom. He closes the book with three appendices aimed at people wholly new to the liturgy, explaining terms and dates and charting some of the differences and similarities across traditions.

Beyond Smells and Bells is an introductory work, and Galli succeeds with a non-technical and engaging style. He touches on important doctrines related to liturgy, Word, and Sacrament, but he doesn’t delve deeply enough to scare anyone unfamiliar with those doctrines. Galli is also persuasive. Readers unfamiliar with the liturgy, or newly introduced to it, will find a compelling argument for why liturgical worship is important and worthwhile. However, much of what Galli says about liturgy is true of worship in general. As a pastor of a non-liturgical church I couldn’t help but think again and again that what I just read applied to any gospel-centered worship service. All true worship begins with the triune God as he has revealed himself to us in his word, and all true worship leads us to focus on his transforming grace. All true worship draws us out of ourselves and our culture and leads us to true community before God. All true worship brings order our lives and makes sense of our time, place, and vocation. All true worship engages us body and soul, teaches us the faith, and inculcates an authentic sense of mystery and transcendence. Galli emphasizes the importance of repetition in the liturgy and the historical precedent for it, and he also comments on the drawbacks of many contemporary churches seeking to be “relevant” in their worship, but he never makes an explicit case for why liturgical worship should be preferred and practiced over non-liturgical worship. This is not necessarily a failing of the book. Galli is clear about his intended audience, and I was left with a clearer sense of the biblical and practical nature of the liturgy. Yet I was never convinced that liturgy is the only way, or even the best way, to worship.

I would recommend Beyond Smells and Bells as a resource that pastors in liturgical traditions could give to their congregants or visitors. Those who read it in that context would most likely have a deeper grounding and appreciation for liturgy after reading this book. I would also recommend it for non-liturgical pastors and students who want an introduction to a tradition with which they are unfamiliar. I believe those who read it with a spirit of charity, whether liturgical or not, will be encouraged to worship our triune God and people actually like to act on that spirit of charity and help people, some companies even do some world donation scheme to help those in need.

Gary L. Shultz Jr. (Ph.D. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fulton, MO. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Religion at Liberty University and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Church History at Baptist Bible Theological Seminary. He writes a monthly book review column for The Pathway and is the author of A Multi-Intentioned View of the Extent of the Atonement (Wipf & Stock).

Second Take: Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney

Praying the BibleWhitney, Donald S. Praying the Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. 112 pages. $13.99. Purchase at Westminster Books for less or on Kindle.

Prayer is talking with God, and as Christians we have the unimaginable privilege of talking with God whenever we want to because Jesus Christ has granted us access to the Father. The Holy Spirit continually moves us to pray and grants us the assurance that our Heavenly Father wants to hear from us. As those in Christ we get to experience the joy, peace, and glory that come with prayer. We get to experience the grace of answered prayer and the wonder of seeing God work in us and around us as we communicate with him.

Yet almost every Christian struggles to consistently pray. We don’t always feel like praying, and even when we do it’s easy to bore ourselves after a few minutes, to find our mind wandering, or just not know what to say after awhile. Then we get discouraged about feeling this way, begin to wonder if God really wants to hear from us, and start to think there must be something wrong in our relationship with God. Don Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote Praying the Bible to help Christians overcome this struggle and the guilt that comes with it.

Whitney maintains that the reason so many Christians get bored or discouraged when they pray is not because there is something wrong with them, but because there is something wrong with their method. We tend to pray the most about the most important things in our lives, such as our families, future, finances, work, Christians concerns such as our church or ministry involvement, and current crises in our lives. According to Whitney that is normal and good, we are called to pray about our lives, and our lives are made up of those things. The problem is not that we pray for the same old things, but that we pray for the same old things in the same old way. We pray the same things over and over, leaving us bored, frustrated, and feeling like there is something wrong.

The solution to praying the same prayers over and over is to instead pray through the Bible. You choose a passage of Scripture and “simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text” (33). If you don’t understand a particular verse, or nothing comes to mind when you read it, you simply move on to the next one. As you read the Word, you talk to God about everything and anything that comes to mind. Whitney explains that this works particularly well with the Psalms, which were designed to be prayed, but can work with any passage of Scripture.

The most helpful thing about Praying Through the Bible is that it doesn’t just explain and defend this method of prayer, but actually helps you do it. Chapter Seven is entitled “The Most Important Part of This Book.” In this chapter Whitney tells you to stop reading the book, pick up a Bible, and pray through a psalm, because this book won’t be of any help unless you actually apply its teachings to your life. The next chapter then helps you to evaluate your experience once you have actually done it. The book even ends with an appendix that explains how this method can be practiced in a group or at church.

As we begin a new year and commit to improving our lives, it’s an appropriate time to consider how we can pray better. Whitney’s method will help you do that. To anyone looking to strengthen his or her relationship with God, I recommend giving it a serious try.

Gary L. Shultz Jr. (Ph.D. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fulton, MO. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Religion at Liberty University and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Church History at Baptist Bible Theological Seminary. He writes a monthly book review column for The Pathway and is the author of A Multi-Intentioned View of the Extent of the Atonement (Wipf & Stock).

Onward by Russell Moore

OnwardMoore, Russell. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. Nashville: B&H. 224 pages. $24.99. Purchase at Westminster Books for less. Or, you can purchase for Kindle for more than half off.

Note: This review is written by Dr. Gary Shultz. Read previous reviews of Russell Moore’s books.

We live in a time when fewer and fewer Americans are self-identifying as Christians, and more and more Americans are explicitly rejecting Christian values. Christian understandings of sexuality, marriage, the sanctity of life, gender, and religious liberty are increasingly seen as outdated, if not dangerous. Younger people especially are rejecting religion in general and Christianity in particular as lifestyles of intolerance and even oppression. The idea of America as a Christian nation, or even a nation committed to Christian principles, is no longer tenable.

This current cultural situation has left many churches struggling to respond. Some have jettisoned or downplayed certain aspects of biblical morality in an attempt to stay relevant, while others have adopted siege mentalities and walled themselves off from the culture at large. Still others seem to have given up the fight, preaching the gospel as a private experience separate from life in the secular realm. However, the Bible doesn’t call us to compromise or privatize our faith in order to be engaged citizens, and it doesn’t call us to wholly separate ourselves from society in order to be faithful Christians. Instead God calls us to embrace the truth and implications of the gospel and to engage the culture from the perspective of the gospel.

Explaining this biblical vision of Christian cultural engagement is the point of Russell Moore’s book, Onward. Moore, who currently serves as the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, understands that American culture no longer assumes that Christianity is a social good. He doesn’t see this situation as a threat or a call to change what we believe, but instead as an opportunity. For too long Christians have assumed that our culture shared our understandings of faith, family, and morality, when at best this has been a superficial agreement. We now have the chance to clearly articulate what we believe and why, not as a majority standing up for American values, but as a minority pointing toward the kingdom of God.

Moore calls the church to what he calls “engaged alienation,” which means staying faithful to the distinctiveness of the gospel while also staying faithful to our callings as neighbors, friends, and citizens. The biblical basis of engaged alienation is our understanding of the kingdom of God. In Christ, we are citizens of God’s kingdom, and we are called to live as citizens of God’s kingdom even as we look forward to the fullness of the kingdom to come. This means seeking God’s righteousness and justice as we seek the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). It means embracing our status as strangers and pilgrims (1 Peter 2:9-11) while also staying on mission to bring people to Christ and make a kingdom difference in the culture (e.g., James 1:27). In our culture today it also means paying particular attention to human dignity, religious liberty, and family stability, all with the conviction kindness that flows from the gospel.

In this season of primaries, polls, and presidential candidates, we as Christians are once again faced with the question of how we will choose to engage our culture with our faith. Onward gives us a clear biblical picture of where we need to go and how we can get there. As Moore concludes his book, “It’s our turn to march into the future. And we do so not as a moral majority or a righteous remnant but as crucified sinners, with nothing to offer the world but a broken body and spilled blood and unceasing witness” (222). So in Christ’s name, let us go and let us make a difference.

Gary L. Shultz Jr. (Ph.D. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fulton, MO. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Religion at Liberty University and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Church History at Baptist Bible Theological Seminary. He writes a monthly book review column for The Pathway and is the author of A Multi-Intentioned View of the Extent of the Atonement (Wipf & Stock).

Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash

Zeal Without BurnoutAsh, Christopher. Zeal Without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice. Purcellville VA: The Good Book Company, 2016. 128 pages. $12.99. Purchase at Westminster books for less. Or, you can purchase on Kindle.

Note: This review is by Dr. Gary Shultz 

God calls every Christian into ministry. Every believer in Christ is called and equipped to serve their local church. God calls some to serve in vocational ministry as a way to make a living, but he calls most to serve him in addition to working at a job. Our entire lives are meant to be lives of ministry; our specific responsibilities or locations might change, but our calling to please God as “living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1) never does. God expects us to serve him in ways that only we can from the moment we are saved until the moment he calls us home.

We all know that it is possible for Christians to neglect this calling. Some Christians refuse to serve at all, while others only serve if and when it suits them, never making ministry a priority. While there are several reasons for this, one of the most pressing reasons is burnout. Many Christians who start off strong in their spiritual lives, zealous for God and the things of God, have gotten to a point where they no longer want to serve or feel capable of serving. Some wear themselves out so completely they are unable to serve. Ministry is never-ending, serving others can be hard, and balancing different responsibilities at church, work, and home can be stressful. Unfortunately, serving God is often the first thing to go when this happens.

Christopher Ash, who has served as a pastor and ministry administrator, believes there is a sustainable path for believers that “combines passionate zeal for Jesus with plodding faithfully on year after year” (14). Ash is not unsympathetic or unfamiliar with burnout, and throughout the book he shares his own personal experience as well as the stories of several other faithful believers who “hit the wall” in their ministries. More than that, however, he goes to the Bible to share a neglected truth as well as several keys to avoiding burnout while continuing to live a life of sacrificial service.

The foundational truth for avoiding burnout that we too often neglect as followers of Christ is that we are embodied creatures. God made us out of dust (Gen 2:7), and one day he will turn us back into dust (Ps 90:3). Even in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the body is still dead because of sin (Rom 8:10). We must be diligent not to separate our spiritual lives from what is happening to our bodies. Even when healthy, we are no more than a few particles of dust into which God has breathed the breath of life.

This truth has several implications. Ash explores four of these: we need sleep, we need Sabbaths (or days off from work), we need friends, and we need inward renewal. God needs none of these things. We must intentionally make time for sufficient sleep, regular days off, relationships, and the hobbies and habits that renew us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. These things do not keep us from ministry (and should never replace ministry), but are necessary for sustainable ministry.

Ash closes with a warning, an encouragement, and a delight. We must beware ministering for celebrity or notoriety, remember that serving God is always worth it, and delight above all in God’s grace in Christ and not our gifts. A chapter on burnout from a medical perspective, written by a doctor, concludes the book. No matter where we are in our walk with God, serving faithfully or struggling to serve at all, we need to “take heed, lest we fall” (1 Cor 10:12). Burnout is a possibility, but God’s grace can and does sustain us, even for a lifetime, when we depend on him and not our own strength.

Gary L. Shultz Jr. (Ph.D. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fulton, MO. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Religion at Liberty University and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Church History at Baptist Bible Theological Seminary. He writes a monthly book review column for The Pathway and is the author of A Multi-Intentioned View of the Extent of the Atonement (Wipf & Stock).