The Cross and Christian Ministry by D.A. Carson- A Review (Part 2 of 2)

Book Reviews

Part One

Chapter Four: The Cross and Christian Leadership

Chapter four supplements and expands the above discussion by laying out what cross-centered leadership actually looks like in practice.  Entitled The Cross and Christian Leadership, this chapter is full of the sort of practical ministerial guidance alluded to in the introduction of this review.  At this point, Carson’s ministerial advice stands in stark contrast to the sorts of business-driven or pop-psychology models of the pastorate which fill the pages of the books on many Christian bookstore shelves.  Leadership of the church is fundamentally unlike leadership in any other arena, because the church is an utterly unique institution.  Models for leadership can therefore never be plucked out of secular fields and deposited in Christ’s church without serious modification or caveat.  This truth is evident in the role Christian ministers have as those entrusted with the secret things of God (1 Corinthians 4:1).  Carson explains that “the secret things of God” is a phrase which can be read as the mystery of the gospel; once partially veiled but now fully revealed.  While he is careful to note that the difference in the way a Christian pastor is entrusted with the gospel and the way all Christians are entrusted with the gospel is one of degree and not kind, Carson points out several ways this truth defines and orders the Christian ministry.  Christian ministers must be bound to the gospel; both through a thorough and orthodox knowledge of the cross, and by a real and vital living out of their lives as men transformed by its grace.  Their ministry among the people God has placed them must follow this same scheme.  Pastors must communicate to their congregation the truths of the gospel, and shepherd them into a pattern of life which is consistent with the work of Christ on their behalf.

Chapter Five: The Cross and the World Christian

The last chapter of this book deals with 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 and bears the title The Cross and the World Christian.  The stage is set for understanding what is meant by the phrase “World Christian” by noting the parochial landscape of much of the modern church.  After noting the exponential expansion of modern globalization and the breaking down of old barriers it entails, Carson warns that 

Almost in reaction against such globalization, many people are responding with increasing nationalism, sometimes with almost frightening ethno-centrism.  Christians are not immune to these sweeping currents of thought.  They too, can be caught up in flag-waving nationalism that puts the interests of my nation or my class or my race or my tribe or my heritage above the demands of the kingdom of God…they become embroiled with petty priorities that constitute an implicit denial of the lordship of Christ. What we need, then, are world Christians- not simply American Christians or British Christians or Kenyan Christians, but world Christians (p. 116).

A “World Christian” is defined by four characteristics.  First, they hold allegiance to God’s kingdom over and above any national, ethnic, or cultural allegiance.  Second, they are committed to the church wherever it is truly manifest, not just to their own “home turf.”  Third, they consider themselves to be primarily citizens of God’s heavenly kingdom, and citizens of an earthly nation only in a secondary sense.  Fourth, they are “single minded and sacrificial” in the work of evangelism and disciple making.

This last chapter contains some of the book’s most timely and challenging material.  We are not called be American Christians.  We are called to be World Christians.  Carson’s treatment of 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 builds a Biblical case for fervent, sacrificial evangelism which will shake the false citadel of complacency to the ground.  His final point makes a fitting conclusion to this review.  Carson points out that in 1 Corinthians 9:23, Paul ties this sort of ministry to his very salvation!  The cross is the heart of the salvation of every Christian, so the cross must be the heart of all Christian ministry.  

…to follow the crucified Messiah means Paul must take up his own cross daily, die to self-interest, and serve the One who bought him.  One cannot promote the gospel any other way (pp. 135-6).

As stated in the introduction of this review, there is no shortage of books purporting to provide ministerial guidance for pastors.  The Cross and Christian Ministry stands in the upper echelon of these available works.  This owes far more to the constant centrality of Christ in Carson’s writing than to any other factor.  Rather than point men to the Potemkin glories of worldly wisdom and secular standards of success, Carson stands faithful and true to the cross of Christ.  It is there that he urges pastors to find their example; it is there that he urges them to build their ministry.

(by: Nicolas Alford)

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