Monday, April 23, 2007

Edwards on incarnation

The Person of Christ in Jonathan Edwards is an intriguing subject. Bush and others have explained how the incarnation of the Son of God, or the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the person of Jesus Christ, are themes which do not find technical or sustained treatment in the work of Edwards. His interest was in the work of Christ in redemption, and his polemical writings obviously did not require a technical treatise on the person of Christ. Robert Jenson has written that Edwards was at times on the brink of formal heresy in his understanding of the person of Christ. (Lee 81)

There are two aspects to describing Edwards and his views on the person of Christ. The first is to assume that the typical Reformed and Puritan doctrines of the person of Christ underlie the writings of Edwards. Although this is a necessary assumption it should not be taken to mean that Edwards developed ideas with consequences consistent with his own (orthodox) tradition. It is certainly true that Edwards intended to be orthodox. (Bush 7) But some of his writings display ideas that sit uneasily with this orthodoxy.

Sometimes Edwards states orthodox views about the division of attributes in the person of Christ. So, for example, it is always the human nature of Christ that suffers. Edwards wanted to retain the impassibility of God. For example, in his sermon, ‘The Excellency of Christ’, Edwards made distinctions between Christ’s human and divine characteristics. He claimed that only Christ’s person within the Trinity was the proper owner of humility as a predicate. That quality did not belong to the infinite glory of non- or un-incarnate deity. (Bush 187-189) However, Miscellany 487 includes such thoughts as Christ, the man, enjoying consciousness of ‘the glory and blessedness the Logos had, in the knowledge and enjoyment of the Father before the world was,’ and also awareness of relating to the Father as the only begotten Son. This can barely be defended within a Chalcedonian framework that defines the strict separation between divine and human natures in the one Jesus Christ.

Second, it is necessary to recognize these developments. Perhaps the most significant is the role of the Holy Spirit in Edwards’s account of the hypostatic union. This, and other innovations, suggest that the theology of Edwards has yet to be fully appropriated by contemporary theologians who claim to value his legacy. Or, perhaps, they simply illustrate that Christian theology can never fully incorporate all the ideas of one theologian in its historical development. According to Edwards the incarnation of Jesus Christ is the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But, of course, it is the Son who is incarnate.

In Miscellany 958 Edwards describes how the work of creation has been the special work of God the Son, that is, Christ. But, there is a peculiar discussion of the creation of Christ’s human nature: ‘And there is but one thing that is created that is more immediately the work of God the Father, and that is the human nature of Christ, and that both in its old and new creation.’ The Father works to bring about the creation of Christ’s body. Edwards refers to a list of New Testament passages that mention the Father’s influence on Christ, including his giving Christ the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The resurrection, or the continuation, of Christ’s nature in the newness of the new creation is also a work of the Father. Not only does the Father raise Christ’s body from the dead, but he exalts Christ to a place of honor in the heavenly kingdom. However Edwards states that even the creation of Christ’s human nature is a work of the Son:

Though the creation of the human nature of Christ ben't by Christ economically, or don't especially belong to him as a work appointed him in the order constituted among the persons of the Trinity, with respect to their operations and actions ad extra , yet 'tis true the creation of the human nature of Christ is not without the Son, as all the persons of the Trinity do concur in all acts ad extra -as the creation of the world and raising the bodies of saints, etc., are especially the work of the Son of God in his economical office, but yet they are not done without the Father, and are often ascribed to the Father. The Father and the Son produce the same works, John 5:17, 19-21.
For Edwards the Father has an intimate relation with Christ, so that strict theological definitions of the relationship between divine and human qualities become stretched. Christ is the source of all things but he himself originates from the Father: ‘All things are from him as God-man, but he him[self] as God-man is from the Father.’ Since the person of the God-man is from the Father, so everything about him comes from the Father.

Passages like Miscellany 958 have been used to query assumptions about the christology of Edwards. An assumption about the theology of Edwards might be the nature of the personal union of divine and human natures in the person of Jesus Christ. Bush highlights the role of the Holy Spirit in effecting and sustaining the union between the Son of God and the human nature of Christ. This role is attributed to the Holy Spirit by Edwards in a number of Miscellanies. Bush suggests that Edwards is unique in explaining the unity of the person of Christ in this way. (Bush 178)

Edwards argued from Scripture that Christ’s union with the Godhead is through the Holy Spirit, and his reasoning could be painfully logical. The sanctifying work of the Father is alluded to by Jesus in John 10:36. But, since the Holy Spirit was the sanctifier, and God did not sanctify apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, it must be the sanctifying work of the Spirit that made him God because this work made him a divine person. (Misc 624) This is further explained in Miscellany 709, which is a short exposition of John 5:36. Christ showed in the words of that verse how he, a man, could be the Son of God, and how his manhood could be united to the deity. Again, Edwards emphasizes the idea of sanctification, and the reference to being sent into the world is taken by Edwards to be an allusion to the incarnation.

In the words of Edwards, in his conception, Christ ‘received his first being in this world by the Spirit of holiness.’ The Spirit assumed Christ’s flesh into being and into the person of the divine Logos. In the same act the Father sent Christ into the world. The incarnation ‘was assuming flesh, or human nature, into the person of the Son, or giving communion of the divine personality to human nature, in giving that human nature being.’ The ‘divine personality’ was the eternal Son. It was not the making of the human nature of Christ that was sending Christ into the world. Christ was sent into the world through the communication of the eternal Son with Christ’s human nature. The Holy Spirit, the one who created the humanity of Christ, ‘acted as the principle of union’ between the divine and the human. Edwards suggests that ‘assuming is the making of the human nature’ but it is also the act that unites the ‘Christ’ with the person of the Son. The uniting act is also a creating act. Edwards also includes a sentence which opens a link to the thought of the Puritan thinker John Owen:
Whatever Christ assumes into union to himself must be by that person that acts as the principle of union; and therefore, when something was to be assumed out of nothing into union to himself, the Logos or Word sent forth this constituent, or principle of assumption or unition, to assume it out of nothing to himself.
(Misc 709)
Although the Holy Spirit assumed Christ’s human nature into the Son it was the Son who sent out the Spirit to form the union. The logic of Edwards at this point seems to be a defense against adoptionism. Because the Spirit created the humanity of Christ there could be no division between that creation and the hypostatic union without Christ’s humanity being impersonal for a time. The person of Christ depended on the personal union between the divine Son and the human nature. Edwards remains in the anhypostatic tradition articulated by John Owen and other Reformed theologians.

In his dissertation Bush notes that Owen and Edwards differed in their understanding of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. (Bush: 175, 176) A comparison of the language used by the two writers appears to confirm this difference. However the thought of Edwards might be closer to Owen’s than Bush allows. Owen does stress that the incarnating act of the Son on Christ’s human nature was immediate, and that this act caused the personal union of the human and divine natures of Christ. (Owen 119) However this comment is in the context of Owen’s explanation of the work of the Holy Spirit on the human nature of Christ. The overall description is that the Holy Spirit is the agent of all the external operations of God upon Christ’s human nature. And the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Son. (Owen 120) So the only difference between Edwards and Owen is that Owen states the Son’s active contribution in the work of the incarnation, whereas in Edwards the Son or the Logos takes on a passive role in the work, sharing in it in so far as the external works of the trinity are indivisible. Both Edwards and Owen are agreed that the union is between Christ’s human nature and God’s Logos or Son.

If the Father and the Holy Spirit were involved in the incarnation it should be obvious that the Son was too. Although the Spirit christology of Edwards has been emphasised by recent studies, an overwhelming number of references demonstrate that Edwards was orthodox in the idea that the pre-existent Christ became incarnate.


Bush, M. D. 2003 'Jesus Christ in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards.' Ph.D. diss., Princeton Theological Seminary.

Lee, S.H. (ed) 2005 The Princeton Companion to Jonathan Edwards. Princeton: Princeton University Press



Thursday, April 12, 2007

Edwards Paper: part 1

In Book III of Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin defined his understanding of faith. Calvin described saving faith as ‘a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us,’ which affected both the head and the heart of the believer. This faith was based on the promise given in the Word of God in Jesus Christ, and it was ‘sealed’ through the internal work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Calvin refused to separate the heart from the brain, or the disposition from the understanding. True faith combined intellectual assent with ‘devout disposition.’ Faith rested upon the knowledge of Christ, and Christ could not be known apart from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. (Calvin: 551-553)

Calvin’s definition of faith has influenced a long tradition in Reformed theology reflecting on the nature of Christian assurance. Christian pastors and theologians have wrestled with the implications of Calvin’s apparent suggestion that saving faith is certain: ‘faith is a knowledge of the divine benevolence toward us and a sure persuasion of its truth.’ (Calvin: 556) In the same section of Institutes Calvin denies the distinction between formed and unformed faith he found in the works of Lombard and Aquinas. He admits that something resembling faith, a ‘shadow or image of faith,’ can and often does exist within the non-elect, the reprobate. They are ‘sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect.’ (Calvin: 555)

The theological reflections of Jonathan Edwards on his ministry in the 1730s and early 1740s wrestle with the same questions raised by Calvin’s comments on the nature of saving faith and assurance. Or, at least, a reading of the works of Edwards from this period can be enriched by placing them in the context of the quest for assurance among Protestant Christians in the 17th and 18th centuries. In at least one place in his writings, Edwards hints at a definition of saving faith that resonates with Calvin’s own definition: ‘He that has true faith is convinced of the reality and the certainty of the great things of religion…’ (Charity: 230) And yet a substantial part of Edwards’ theological writing from this period is an ongoing evaluation of the practical realities of such a well defined and certain understanding of saving Christian faith. Although this paper will not be concerned with the history of Jonathan Edwards and his ministry, it is interesting that Edwards had such problems and difficulties as a minister during the same period. Perhaps Edwards was unable to apply the consequences of his theological reflections. Perhaps the reason for the departure of Edwards from Northampton in the late 1740s was theological as much as it was practical or political. One interesting note from an older biography of Edwards comments on the lack of assurance that his close followers in Christian ministry, Nathaniel Emmons and Samuel Hopkins, experienced throughout their lives. If Emmons and Hopkins remained uncertain of their conversion how could other Christians expect to meet the Edwards standard of Christian assurance? (Allen: 231)

In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God published in 1741, Edwards provided one of his first widely read attempts to describe the differences between true and false Christian religious experience. William Cooper, in his preface to the work, wrote of how Edwards drew on Scripture, reason and experience for his arguments. This is an early and interesting use of three words that are now commonly understood as labeling three sources for theology. Edwards based his text on 1 John 4:1: ‘Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world’, and he restricted his use of Scripture in the book by concentrating on the teaching contained in 1 John 4. (Marks: 88) From the first paragraph of the book, Edwards warns about the need for rules in the church to identify true works of God. Rules are required because of the work of the devil, who produces copies of all the different types of work of the Spirit of God. In the second paragraph of the book, Edwards mentions ‘the indwelling of the Spirit, as the sure evidence of an interest in Christ,’ (Marks: 86). Edwards is both modern and traditional in his approach. He wrestles with real events and experiences of a spiritual nature. But he struggles to break away from the language that had come to dominate his Christian community. Edwards, at this stage at least in his career, is unable to leave aside his Reformed and Puritan heritage as he describes practical piety and associated theological questions.

The first part of Distinguishing Marks is a list of things that do not provide evidence against a real work of the Spirit of God. Unusual and extraordinary occurrences do not rule out God’s working in a situation. Here Edwards is probably defending the events of revival that he had experienced in his ministry in the 1730s. He even suggests that the last and final great work of God ‘in the latter ages of the world’ will be extraordinary. This is interesting because in a series of lectures delivered in 1738 based on 1 Corinthians 13, Edwards suggested that the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit given to the church in the New Testament period could not be assumed to appear again during ‘the glory of the latter times of the Church,’. (Charity: 45) The reason Edwards gives for this is that in those latter times ‘there is no dispensation to be introduced, and no new Bible to be given.’ (Charity: 47)

What, then, were these unusual and extraordinary occurrences that did not rule out a work of God? In the second category Edwards begins to answer this question. Effects on the bodies of people, such as tears, trembling, groans, faintings, and other ‘agonies of body’ could not be used one way or the other to judge if a work was from God or not. Edwards seems to be ambivalent about such things ‘because the Scripture nowhere gives us any such rule’ for testing in this area. Moreover, Edwards asks if anyone could be ‘so foolish as from hence to ague that in whomsoever these things appear, their convictions are not from the Spirit of God?’ But Edwards builds into his argument the use of reason and experience. There is no ‘need of express scripture for every external, accidental manifestation of the inward motion of the mind,’ and, citing the example of the jailer in Acts 16, there is general reason to believe that such effects on the body do accompany the work of the Spirit. (Marks: 93)

In a later heading of things that do not rule out a work of God, Edwards adds mental effects to physical effects. Great impressions on the imagination are not an evidence against the work of the Spirit of God. Defining the idea of imagination is extremely difficult, as is understanding the use of the term in the writings of Edwards. Lee refers to the definition that Edwards gives in The Religious Affections, and he carefully distinguishes old and modern uses of the word. He also suggests that the language Edwards used could not really express his actual thinking clearly. (Lee 2000: 126, 127) This has been noted in a growing number of academic reflections on the nature of language and imagination in the thought of Edwards. Within the limits of Christian orthodoxy Edwards, perhaps prefiguring the work of Coleridge, tried to move beyond his Puritan context to describe the limitless truth of God’s work in the lives of Christian individuals. (Piggin and Cook: 407) The Christian imagination, or, perhaps more accurately God’s use of human imagination, was one area for Edwards to use, develop and explore in his explanations of pastoral work in times of revival.

Experience and imagination were important for Edwards. Indeed Edwards makes an appeal to the experience of human nature in this regard: ‘we cannot think of things invisible without a degree of imagination.’ (Marks: 96) While Edwards recognized the difference between ‘that which is imaginary and that which is intellectual and spiritual,’ he made the astonishing claim that it appeared to him manifest ‘in many instances with which I have been acquainted, that God has really made use of this faculty to truly divine purposes; especially in some that are more ignorant.’ (Marks: 96) This one sentence opens up the complexity of Edwards and his thinking about God’s action in the world, and human experience of that action. How does Edwards understand spirituality when he thinks of it in distinction to imagination and in conjunction with ‘that which is intellectual’? How comprehensive must the sovereignty of God be for Edwards, when God can use imagination to reach those who do not or cannot understand the ‘ordinary’ word of God?

In the same way, Edwards defends following the example of others as one way in which people experience the work of the Spirit of God in their lives: ‘it is no valid objection against examples being so much used that the Scripture speaks of the word as the principal means of carrying on God’s work;’ (Marks: 99). ‘It is the word of God that is indeed held forth and applied by example.’ (Marks: 100) The use of the word of God to uphold and explain these categories is metaphysical. For Edwards the word of God in some metaphysical way grounds and transcends even the spiritual and the intellectual aspects of knowing God. Perhaps there is even a hint that Edwards understood the word of God as transcending Scripture itself.

The final four headings marking things that do not rule out a work of the Spirit of God are all associated with morality and the law. People associated in general with such a work of God can be guilty of ‘great imprudences and irregularities in their conduct.’ (Marks: 101) Errors of judgment and delusions of Satan can be intermixed with work that is from the Spirit of God. (Marks: 103) When people fall away into gross errors and scandalous practices this need not be evidence against the general work being from God. (Mark: 104) And it is not against a work of the Spirit of God that ‘the terrors of God’s holy law’ are emphasized. (Marks: 106) Edwards sums up this final point: ‘(t)he gospel is to be preached as well as the law, and the law is to be preached only to make way for the gospel, and in order that it may be preached more effectually.’ (Marks: 107)

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Familiar Stranger

The Familiar Stranger: an account by a former cynic. A sermon based on Luke 4:21-30.

Jesus began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked. Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.' " "I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian." All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

The day Jesus came back, he was a like familiar stranger to us. We’d heard about his teaching, how he gripped and amazed people with the power and the clarity of his preaching. We’d heard about his way of reading the Scriptures, bringing them to life in a way the other teachers never could do. We were told that hearing Jesus was like hearing a prophet speak the very word of God. The sayings of Jesus were already legendary, they were already catchphrases in all the towns of Galilee. But it wasn’t just amazing teaching that marked Jesus out from the others. He had power, apparently. He healed people, so we were told. We’d heard about Simon’s mother-in-law cured of her fever. He even had control over demons, so it was claimed. We’d heard about the demon possessed man at Capernaum.

The day Jesus came back, we expected to see and hear great things. We expected Jesus to preach and speak with the same power and the same passion we’d heard about. We expected Jesus to perform great works of healing, to demonstrate that his words could be matched by his actions. After all, actions speak more loudly than words. And in the synagogue Jesus certainly showed us how well he could speak. He amazed us. Not with his insights. Not with the craft of his sermon. We were amazed by his assurance, and by his claims about fulfilling the Scriptures. Jesus believed that the day of the Lord’s favor had arrived! He believed that he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord, that he was bringing in the kingdom.

The day Jesus came back, we remembered Jesus as a boy. We remembered how well Jesus had been to us friend, colleague, member of the local community. We remembered how he worked with Joseph, how he had learned the family business. We remembered how diligent he was in everything. We remembered then how he grew in wisdom and in good reputation. We remembered our surprise and our shock on the day he left us, on the day he quietly left town to seek out John the Baptist. We were surprised, but we had no right to be surprised. Although we were familiar with Jesus, even then he was a stranger to us. We just didn’t realize how strange he was, he different, how set apart, how holy he was compared to us. And yet, he was so familiar. We’d grown up with him, we’d gone to school with him, we’d played with him, boys growing and sharing, fighting and jesting. We had no right to be surprised. Jesus was a familiar stranger all along.

The day Jesus came back, we were surprised to hear him rebuke us. We were so angry, we almost threw him over the cliff to his death. You might think that Jesus was stirring things up, that he was out to cause controversy, that he had some chip on his shoulder, a tragic psychological flaw against his home town, against his roots. Maybe the quiet boy secretly loathed and hated his small town upbringing. Maybe getting out of Nazareth had always been his aim, and now that he was back, now that he was somebody, he could express his true feelings against the town that had failed to recognize his true nature, his true character, and his true destiny. But that would be the cynic’s take on the story, the blind man’s view of Christ’s history.

The day Jesus came back, we really did think he needed help. Some of us really thought he’d lost it. We couldn’t piece together the jigsaw puzzle. How could this man be the same man we knew for all those years as a boy, as a young adult? Why did he not perform any miracles here? How was he able to pierce our minds and our hearts with his remarks? With his self-awareness? He compared himself to the prophets. We thought he was mad. The people tried to kill the prophets. We tried to kill Jesus. In doing so, we fulfilled his words. In doing so, we vindicated his claims.

The day Jesus came back, he walked away from us. He actually walked through us as he walked away from us. He’d seen through us in the synagogue, and we couldn’t handle it. He’d disappointed us, and so we tried to destroy him. But for all our rage against him, he remained untouchable, indestructible. He exercised his power in walking away from us, and yet, for a time, most of us didn’t get it. We couldn’t see that his demonstration of power that day was not through miraculous healings. It was through restraining grace. It was through a meekness that defied simple explanation. Had we killed him where would we be now? Had he retaliated would we be alive today?

The day Jesus came back, I never thought I’d end up calling him Lord. He was Joseph’s son, so I thought! His reputation for preaching and teaching and works of power seemed to us phony. For months after that day we all held him in contempt. He had rejected us, he had mocked us, he had spurned us, so we felt. Now I see it the other way around . We rejected him. We mocked him. We spurned him. When we heard about his execution, few of us were surprised, and some of us were actually pleased. He got what he deserved! When I started to hear the reports of his resurrection I was angry at first. How could this be true? How could he have so brainwashed people, that they made him into some kind of god?

The day Jesus came back, I started out on a new journey. The familiar stranger had returned to show himself to us again. He lodged himself in my consciousness. My anger and my rage, my insecurities and my fears, were all brought to the surface in seeing Jesus again. My hope in God was shown to be confused. I had no sense of God’s ways in the world. I didn’t know that God’s servant had to be a suffering servant. I didn’t then realize that I was the cause and the reason for his suffering. He suffered my rage and my abuse that day on the edge of the cliff. On that other day he suffered again to the depths, falling over the edge into the pit. He who had no sin became sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus died on the cross for my sins, just as the scriptures taught, the scriptures that he had taught with such power.

I wont see Jesus again until the day he comes back. Nobody will have the option of rejecting him then. He’ll be here to stay. He’ll be here for good. Love him or loathe him we will all bow the knee to him. Don’t be a stranger to Jesus when he comes back! Get to know him now. Now is the time of salvation, the age of opportunity.

When Jesus comes back he will not be a stranger to me. Rather, he will be strangely familiar. I will see the marks on his body, those marks of his suffering. I will recognise his frame, his silhouette, his features, his looks. But, for the first time ever, I will see him as he really is. I will see his goodness. I will see his grace, and his power in meekness and majesty. I will understand why his history, his life story, had to be the way it was. I will welcome him as friend, as Lord, as Saviour. I will start to enjoy the freedom and the new life that he proclaimed that day in the synagogue. I will begin to know him as he is, and forever in his presence I will grow familiar with his ways. I will no longer be a stranger to his grace. Together with all his people I will share in his reign of love and peace over the new humanity, that new world where every face is familiar, and no face is a stranger.

‘Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.’

Friday, February 09, 2007

Book Review

Book Review: Re-Calling Ministry. James E Dittes.

‘…the discovery that the minister is mostly in a wilderness, that ministry is in that wilderness.’ (139.5)

I began reading this book with several thoughts about the prospect of studying pastoral care this semester. How much reference would there be to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ? Would I recognize the gospel in the readings? This book provided plenty of references to Jesus. I gave up noting references or allusions to him after reading page 63. (63.8) Yet I am not sure I recognised any descriptions of the gospel in this book. No doubt this reveals more about me than the book. However I did learn something about ministers of the gospel. Many passages confirm my growing conviction that, if God really does work in the world, the gospel of God is worked out through the weakness of men and women. I was also concerned by the way in which this book confirmed my doubts about the very role of one person as the pastor in one church. I have a theory that ordained pastoral ministry began to die with the success of the Reformation. My problem is that it has taken three years of ministry training for me to test that theory, a theory that became apparent on working closely with pastors and ministers in churches in Glasgow, Scotland. Congregations remain tied to the idea of one senior pastor.

I read the Editor’s Preface and the Foreword. These did not encourage me to continue reading. In the long list of identities in Dittes’ career Capps did not list church pastor, and in the rest of the book I could not find any evidence that Dittes had ever been the pastor of a church. The foreword discouraged me even more. It read like an apology for the masculine emphasis in the book. (4.3, 4.7, 4.8, 5.3, 5.4) Au contraire! The book is powerful because it has a masculine emphasis. My frustration with mainline denominations, in particular, Presbyterianism, is that decades of gender equality have made no noticeable impact on the shape of ministry and church government. Committees now have males and females but they perpetuate the same organisational frustrations that have ever stifled pastoral ministry. This book charts those problems in four parts. (The editor has done an astonishing work. I had to be reminded that the book was a compilation of articles and chapters from other works.)

The Prologue encouraged me greatly. There was a reference to JC almost immediately (10.3). I began to query his definition of ministry from the first paragraph: if ministry is about going to the people, why do ministers insist on church buildings for people to congregate within? Is there really such a thing as ‘the minister’ without structures? (10.5) I recognised the metaphor of sexual roles from my reading of another writer on this subject, Larry Crabb. (10.7) And I was amused by reading that I should always be concerned about my performance, about being up enough. (10.3) Physically, perhaps, but otherwise not.

Part One contained some of the best material I have read about the nature of Christian pastoral care and ministry. My only doubt was about the idea or role of ‘minister’/‘pastor’ that Dittes had in mind. Most of the material in the book seemed to assume a church context (e.g. 18, 19), or an acknowledgment of being in that role (as the examples in 72, 73 require). This assumption seemed to me quite dated. Perhaps this reflects my experience of Christian ministry in a country where the church is disappearing at an alarming rate. Ministry as grief work described ministry as an inevitable struggle, a calling to be shackled into new (not better) forms of ministry. (27.8)

Part Two continued this excellent, provocative material. Chapter 6, Thirty-eight Years on the Verge concluded with a section that made me consider the weakness of Dittes’s assumptions. I was left asking the question, ‘What is ministry?’ To write that events only find meaning in retrospect (82.7), and that we need to look for ministry in our life (82.9), is not peculiar to the life of Christian pastors. Indeed, why do I feel as if I need to look for ministry opportunities as a pastor? Why do I feel as if I need to be in the ‘real’ world again to really minister in my life?

Part Three (chaps 9-11) was puzzling for me. They confirmed my sense that Dittes and I have a different understanding of what a minister or pastor should be doing. This was especially true in chapter 9. I found it remarkable that Dittes did not understand why a pastor might need to give attention to administrative tasks. (108.3) Ministers do not choose to do the amount of administration that they do, contrary to the thoughts behind paragraph 114.8. Denominational structures and social constructs impose this work on ministers. The sharp polarity (112.3) between administration and other tasks a pastor must do, simply suggests to me that our current models of church pastor are misguided. Our denominations have messed up and confused pastoral ministry with ideas such as the role of chief executive or chief administrator officer. This is a major concern that few books I read ever recognize or analyze.