A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Jacob C. Boyd
As I have been so greatly influenced theologically by Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson, I am pleased to see a book dedicated to him for his many years of faithfully teaching God’s Word. Theology For Ministry is a book that aims to honor Sinclair Ferguson, showing the influence he has had on so many, while also teaching how the doctrinal truths we confess directly play into pastoral ministry. As one reads through Sinclair Ferguson’s lasting impact chapter by chapter by the doctrinal truths he taught and practiced, one gets a sense of true brotherly affection the authors of each chapter have for him. In fact, the concluding Afterword in the book is about friendship and how Sinclair Ferguson truly exhibited what it means to be a God-honoring friend to so many. This book is theologically engaging, devotionally fulfilling, and practically instructive for any pastor today.
Brief Book Summary
The contents of this book are divided into twenty-six chapters in addition to an introductory and concluding chapter. In the introductory chapter, William Edwards lays out the purpose of this book. He explains, “This book aims to encourage a thriving ministry through examining the biblical-theological framework that must inform our ministry in a way that addresses both the pastor and his work” (xxii). Sinclair Ferguson’s legacy is simply this, bridging the gap between the expositional and theological to the devotional and practical.
The chapters progress doctrinally like many systematic books, beginning with the doctrine of revelation and God. Chapter one begins with Scripture, unpacking that is it inspired, authoritative, sufficient, accommodating, clear, necessary, and it has a redemptive-historical framework. All of this is done to show Scripture’s finality and efficacy in ministry for the pastor today. Chapters two through five cover topics such as the Trinity, the Decrees of God, Creation, and Providence, respectively. Again, all of these chapters make devotional and practical implications for the pastor and his work. For example, in the chapter on Creation, Ian Hamilton talks about the sinister reality of God’s creation due to sin. He explains, “Ministering the Word of God effectively and sensitively requires… [a] twofold understanding of creation’s fallenness and the unseen but present activity of the devil… A faithful pastor will want his people to know that the resources they need… will be found alone ‘in the Lord’” (64).
As the chapters progress, chapters six and seven discuss Humanity and Covenant, respectively. John McClean, in the chapter on Humanity, covers topics such as humans as creatures, identity, sin, and the consequences of sin. David B. McWilliams, in the chapter on Covenant, unpacks what covenant theology is and describes it as biblical theology, trinitarian theology, redemptive theology, election theology, consummation theology, and finally pastoral theology. In the pastoral theology section, McWilliams explains, “Theology’s goal is covenant fellowship: Theology is unto godliness… Pastor, do you agree that you should radiate experiential piety in your life and preaching? Go to the Lord in secret prayer and humbly commune with the Father in his love, with the Son in his blood, and with the Holy Spirit in his effectual, saving application of the covenant of grace to the soul” (125).
Chapters eight through fourteen cover the doctrine of Christ, the Spirit, and blessings of justification, adoption, and sanctification. In chapter twelve, John Ferguson, Sinclair Ferguson’s son, brilliantly expounds on the important doctrine of justification in a way that is heartwarming and full of love both to our heavenly Father and his earthly father. In the first footnote, John Ferguson explains, “Written in honor of Sinclair Ferguson, who has taught me, as my minister, as my professor, and most of all as my father, salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone” (217). Another heartwarming section that brings the reader in amazement of the Lord is chapter thirteen on Adoption by Ligon Duncan. In this chapter, Duncan lists six blessings that are received in one’s adoption into God’s family as sons and daughters (247-53). Each item listed points to the greatness of God, which brings comfort to his children.
In chapters fifteen through twenty, the book covers doctrines on Faith/Repentance, Perseverance, Assurance of Faith, the Law of God, Christian Liberty, and Worship. Again, each chapter is worth exploring, which is why every pastor should buy this book. However, chapters seventeen and twenty are worth highlighting. In chapter seventeen, Joel Beeke covers the topic of Assurance of Faith and points to the promises found in Christ. Beeke takes the example of the Puritans and looks to Christ the assurance. He explains, “We gain assurance by looking to God’s faithfulness in Christ as he is revealed in the promises of the gospel” (329). In chapter twenty, W. Robert Godrey covers the topic of Worship and how it is to be grounded in God’s Word. A concluding and helpful thought from this chapter is found in Godrey’s list of what a pastor can do to have the Bible guide and direct corporate worship. He explains, “The minister must model something of his ministerial goals in his ministerial practice. If the minister wants his people to pray and to improve prayer in public worship, he must give time and thought to prayer in public worship” (400). The pastor leads worship, not just by preaching about worship, but also by exhibiting it in his life for the congregation to see.
Finally, chapters twenty-one through twenty-six consider the Church, Communion of the Saints, the Sacraments, Missions, Eschatology, and a short biography on Sinclair Ferguson. While all the chapters in this section are important and edifying for the church today, it is the last chapter that will make anyone smile. In this final chapter, right before the concluding chapter, Chad Van Dixhoorn honors Sinclair Ferguson by considering him as a teacher, pastor, preacher, and author. At the end of this chapter, Van Dixhoorn nicely explains, “When we look at Sinclair Ferguson as a man and minister, the publisher of and contributors to this book see a servant of Christ who has helped us to see the Master” (543). This statement is really what this whole book is about, to honor Ferguson’s legacy by continuing to help others “see the Master.”
Besides the heart-warming moments in this book, there are significant sections that need to be further analyzed in order to draw out the devotional nature and tone of this book. Some of these significant sections include chapters two, eleven, sixteen, and twenty-three. In each of these chapters, important observations are made that have meaningful consequences that exemplify Sinclair Ferguson’s legacy.
In chapter two, Robert Letham unpacks the doctrine of the Trinity, especially the eternal generation of the Son. He looks at how this doctrine impacts the way preachers preach and pray during a public worship service. Letham explains how he has never heard a sermon on “the generation of the Son by the Father in eternity,” even though “it touches every aspect of life – encompassing the entire cosmos and the world around us – and reaches to the heart of the gospel” (26). Throughout this chapter, Lethem gives eight reasons why this dogma is significant in order to show the reader “how vital it is to preach about God” (28). However, the eighth reason is the one worth highlighting. He explains, “The Path from the Doctrine of Eternal generation Leads Straight to the Heart of the Gospel” (32). In this final point, Letham shows how the doctrine of God is the gospel. Because God is the Father who eternally begets the Son ontologically, the Father sends his Son to manifest his love economically. It is because the gospel points to the character and nature of God, “the doctrine of God must be the bull’s-eye on the preacher’s dartboard, the center of our thinking, living, and preaching” (32). This means the gospel is the revelation of God’s love – which brings salvation – and it comes from the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. The gospel is not something believers gain from God, the gospel is gaining God. Therefore, “we [pastors] need to shape the liturgy around communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, ever one indivisible” (34).
Chapter eleven is written by Dennis E. Johnson on the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit is the power to redeem the people of God through the pastor’s ministry. A significant section in this chapter is when Johnson spends time looking at “The Presence, Purity, and Power of the Spirit in the Practices of the Pastorate” (205). Many times the Spirit’s redeeming work through the pastor’s ministry is overlooked because the pastor alone is the one mentioned. However, John rightly reorients his readers to look at the Spirit instead of the pastor. He attributes the work of the Spirit to redeem the people of God in the pastor’s preaching, counseling, discipline, and pastoral prayers. In preaching, Johnson explains, “Every aspect of our preaching ministry is dependent on the Holy Spirit. If the preacher is to understand God’s Word, which he is called to proclaim, he himself needs the illuminating work of the Spirit” (205). He continues to explain how the pastor’s communication of the Word is also dependent on the Spirit. In pastoral counseling, pastors are still dependent on the Spirit to understand and apply God’s Word to individuals and families with the gentleness of the Spirit (208). In discipline, Johnson says, “We humbly [and] hopefully rely on the Spirit’s boundless wisdom and his heart-piercing power to work repentance, rescue, and restoration” (210). In pastoral prayer, Johnson looks to the apostle Paul to show how he prays by the Spirit that the church might “preserve the Spirit’s unity through humility, gentleness, and patience” (212-13). This means pastors are completely dependent on the Spirit to do their work. A pastor cannot be successful unless the Spirit is first working in his life. Johnson concludes this chapter well when he explains, “We need the Spirit’s wisdom and compassion to care well for Jesus’ wounded, wayward, stumbling, stubborn sheep” (213).
Paul D. Wolfe, in chapter sixteen, looks to the doctrine of perseverance and applies it to pastoral ministry, specifically for the purpose of preaching. Wolfe explains after observing the “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon, “The prospect of preaching the gospel with the doctrine of perseverance removed from it. Deny that doctrine… and preaching proves pointless and the gospel is gutted of good news” (312). Wolfe is brilliantly showing how a specific doctrine – such as perseverance – greatly influences the pastor in their reason to preach the gospel. The argument goes – if the doctrine of perseverance is not true, then the gospel cannot be good news. The correct assumption here is that perseverance is a supernatural work of God. If God does not do the work in preserving the believer, then the work of the gospel is dependent on man’s effort in accepting or denying God. If the gospel were dependent on man’s effort to accept and preserve themselves in the faith, then no man would be saved because of sin. However, because the doctrine of perseverance is true, there is hope in the gospel. This hope is what makes the gospel truly good news. Therefore, because the gospel is a message full of hope, it is worth proclaiming and teaching for the pastor.
In chapter twenty-three, Chad Van Dixhoorn looks at the sacraments and how the pastor is to understand and administer them. In the last section of this chapter, Van Dixhoorn gives ten cardinal truths about the Supper; however, the ninth truth is worth further examination. He explains, “Ninth, and as we have discussed above, the Lord’s Supper is to be observed in the church as a powerful symbol of our communion with Christ by his Holy Spirit” (465-66). While the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of the spiritual reality of the substitutionary atonement of Christ and his broken body on the cross, real communion with God occurs as one participates in the Lord’s Supper. This communion is based upon Christ’s grace first received through the Word preached. Van Dixhoorn is correct to use the word “symbol” here; however, to say it is a symbol of our communion with God is not to explain it thoroughly enough. The Lord’s Supper is a means to outwardly express our communion with God; the Lord’s Supper does not just simply symbolize our communion according to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF 29:1).
Theology For Ministry should be on every pastor’s bookshelf. All the authors of this single volume make this book easy to access and apply pastorally the deep theological truths we confess today about God, salvation, the church, and even the end times. At the end of every chapter key terms are identified, recommendations for further reading are given, and discussion questions are listed. Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson is honored well in this theologically engaging, devotionally fulfilling, and practically instructive book.
Jacob C. Boyd