Shepherding God’s People | Book Review


Dr. Siang-Yang Tan is professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and senior pastor of First Evangelical Church in nearby Glendale. In Shepherding God’s People, he examines “biblical and theological foundations for pastoral ministry” (Part 1) and “areas of pastoral ministry” (Part 2). The author himself describes the book this way in the Preface:

The book presents a biblical perspective on pastoral and church ministry that emphasizes faithfulness and fruitfulness in Christ (John 15:5), through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; Eph. 5:18; 6:10–18), made perfect in weakness, brokenness, and humility (2 Cor. 12:9–10) rather than in success or excellence of the wrong kind … . Each chapter includes a substantial review of the literature available on the topic as well as my own biblical, theological, psychological, cultural, and personal reflections.

Baker Academic published the book, and I imagine its intended readers are seminarians preparing for ministry. Although it is well, clearly, and simply written, it at times feels like an introductory survey rather than a how-to guide. Being nearly 25 years out of seminary — I attended Fuller but did not have Dr. Tan as a professor — I found this off-putting at first.

But as I kept reading, I realized that I was benefitting from the author’s extensive reading of the relevant literature, especially as it was focused through the lens of his own pastoral ministry. I came to regard the book as the equivalent of a refresher course on the theology and practice of pastoral ministry. An added bonus is that each chapter includes an extensive list of recommended readings. You can use the book as an introduction to best practices and the recommended readings as a guide to what you should read next, should a specific topic interest you.

As a Pentecostal minister, I appreciated Chapter 2 especially. It is titled, “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit as Crucial and Essential for Pastoral Ministry.” Though Dr. Tan does not write from a classical Pentecostal perspective, this chapter reminded me of the breadth of the Holy Spirit’s work as well as the many points in common between Pentecostal and evangelical theologies of the Spirit.

Book Reviewed
Siang-Yang Tan, Shepherding God’s People: A Guide to Faithful and Fruitful Pastoral Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It is posted here by permission.

The Miracle Lady | Book Review


Readers of a certain age remember Kathryn Kuhlman (1907–1976). She was “the miracle lady,” whose catchphrase, “I believe in miracles because I believe in God,” inspired millions to seek faith in Jesus Christ and the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements even described her as the “world’s most widely known female evangelist.”

Younger readers are likely unfamiliar with Kuhlman, however. Her miracle services, radio ministry, and syndicated television show, though well attended and widely consumed in her day, lost influence after her death. This decline was not unexpected. The ministries of charismatic leaders rarely outlive them, especially when, as in Kuhlman’s case, their estates are diverted away from ministry maintenance toward personal gain by unscrupulous heirs.

And yet, Kathryn Kuhlman should be better known because she played a crucial role in what biographer Amy Collier Artman calls “the gentrification of charismatic Christianity.” Until the middle of the 20th century, classical Pentecostalism was the primary bearer of “Spirit-filled Christianity.” Starting on the wrong side of the tracks, socially and ecclesiastically speaking, classical Pentecostalism had increasingly moved toward respectability by mid-century, as symbolized by the Assemblies of God joining the National Association of Evangelicals as a founding member in the early 1940s. (Today, it is the NAE’s largest denominational member.)

It was charismatic Christianity that accelerated the popularity of Spirit-filled beliefs and practices in the second half of the century, however. “Kuhlman was a leader in the transformation of charismatic Christianity from a suspect form of religion to a respectable form of religiosity that was accepted and even celebrated by mainstream Christianity and culture by the end of the twentieth century.” The Miracle Ladytells the story of how this happened, focusing especially on Kuhlman’s skillful use of talk-show television.

Rather than broadcasting her spiritually charged miracle services themselves, Kuhlman invited people who had been saved, healed and filled with the Spirit to share their own testimonies, first on Your Faith and Minein the 1950s, then on I Believe in Miraclesin the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. These television shows presented normal looking, intelligent people calmly telling others what God had done for them. Out were the pyrotechnics of the Pentecostal revival service. In were normal folk talking normally about the supernatural. Artman says that Kuhlman and charismatic Christianity “came of age” together. The same could be said of them and television. Kuhlman was an early adopter of the talk-show format, which was perfectly suited for introducing otherwise cautious viewers to charismatic Christianity.

By the same token, Kuhlman in her day made it clear that she was not a “faith healer,” an appellation she shunned. Unlike Word-of-Faith evangelists, she did not believe healing was dependent on the character of one’s faith, or that faith would inoculate a person from suffering. Additionally, she did not use her television show to make continuous appeals for money, despite the high costs of production. (In this respect, she needs to be distinguished from televangelists such as Benny Hinn, who despite implicitly claiming Kuhlman’s “mantle,” never actually met or worked with her.)

Artman also discusses how Kuhlman navigated the tensions of being a woman leader in a theologically and morally conservative movement. Kuhlman adopted a rhetoric of “negation,” often stating that she wasn’t God’s “first choice,” but no man had been willing to step up and do the work, so she volunteered. “Take nothing and use it,” she often said.

Artman contrasts this rhetoric of negation with Adele Carmichael’s rhetoric of “affirmation.” She recounts a 1974 interview Kuhlman conducted with Carmichael on the set of I Believe in Miracles. (Carmichael, five years Kuhlman’s senior, lived until 2003, dying on her way to teach Sunday school at 101 years of age. She continues to hold the record as one of the Assemblies of God’s longest-serving ministers, having been first credentialed in 1918.) In that episode, Kuhlman remarked to Carmichael, “It was not the easiest thing in the world to be a woman preacher. How did you master it?” Carmichael responded, “I had a wonderful husband who was 100 percent for women preachers. As I study the Word, I believe God needs women, has a place for their ministry.” In fact, she went on, “Many times I’ve prayed thanks that God gave you your ministry and not a man,” Kuhlman demurred, saying “I always thought I was second or third choice.” But Carmichael boldly declared: “I think you were his first choice.”

Even today, unfortunately, Spirit-filled women continue to navigate the difficult waters of leadership, sometimes justifying their ministries through negation rhetoric like Kuhlman’s. Carmichael’s affirmation rhetoric offers a better way forward, it seems to me.

The Miracle Ladyis not a who-did-what-when type of biography. If you’re looking for a more traditional biography, I’d recommend Wayne Warner’s excellent Kathryn Kuhlman: The Woman Behind the Miracles. The strength of Artman’s The Miracle Ladyis that it uses Kuhlman’s life as a lens through which to view a crucial period and a key mover in the transformation of charismatic Christianity. A 2008 Barna study estimated that 80 million Americans self-identified as either “Pentecostal” or “charismatic.” This happened, at least in part, because of the efforts of Kathryn Kuhlman to mainstream Spirit-filled Christianity and broaden its appeal. For that, Kuhlman deserves to be remembered.

Book Reviewed
Amy Collier Artman, The Miracle Lady: Kathryn Kuhlman and the Transformation of Charismatic Christianity(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

The Pietist Option | Book Review


American Christianity is in a parlous state. It constitutes a shrinking share of the population. And in terms of worship service attendance, most of its churches are shrinking too.

Regarding share of the population, most Americans continue to identify as Christians, but that number is declining. According to America’s Changing Religious Landscape, a 2015 report from Pew Research Center, 70.6 percent of Americans identify as Christians, down from 78.4 percent only seven years earlier. Over the same period, so-called “nones” — that is, Americans with no religious affiliation — increased their share of the population from 16.1 to 22.8 percent.

Regarding worship service attendance, Thom Rainer argues that 65 percent of churches are plateaued (9 percent) or declining (56 percent) in worship service attendance. That’s better than the 80 percent figure often bandied about, but it’s still not good. Just a little over 1 in 3 churches (35 percent) are growing.

These data are rough metrics of church health, of course, but it’s difficult to believe the American church is doing well when its numbers head south over such a short period of time. What is to be done? How should American Christianity be renewed?

That is the question Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie III take up in their new book, The Pietist Option. Gehrz is a professor of history at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Pattie is senior pastor of Salem Covenant Church in nearby New Brighton. Both are members of the Evangelical Covenant Church, a denomination with Swedish Pietist roots.

Pietism arose in late-17th-century Germany as a response to the perceived spiritual coldness of orthodox Lutheranism. Its first advocate was Philip Jacob Spener (1635–1705), whose 1675 book Pia Desideria outlined a Pietist plan of renewal. (The book’s full title is Heartfelt Desire for a God-pleasing Reform of the True Evangelical Church, Together with Several Simple Christian Proposals Looking Toward This End.)

Gehrz and Pattie self-consciously utilize the outline of Pia Desideria in their book. Noting differences between the circumstances of German Lutheranism in 1675 compared to American Christianity today, they nonetheless think Spener’s basic themes were on target. Thus, their proposals for renewal include:

  • A more extensive listening to the Word of God
  • The common priesthood for the common good
  • Christianity as life
  • The irenic spirit
  • Whole-person, whole-life formation
  • Proclaiming the good news

The authors illustrate these themes from Scripture and Pietist history, but they also show how each theme is desperately needed in today’s churches.

Although I am a Pentecostal, not a Pietist, these themes deeply resonated with my heart. The primary reason for this is that they have deep biblical roots. But a secondary reason is that Pietist instincts long ago slipped the boundaries of Pietist institutions and affected the broader Christian world. Moravian Pietists, for example, deeply influenced the spirituality of John Wesley, who in turn formed the spirituality of Methodism and evangelicalism, which in turn shaped my own tribe’s spiritual sensibilities.

A final reason why The Pietist Option so deeply resonated with me is its Jesus-centeredness. The entire program of Pietism, if program is the right term, can be summarized in four words: Come back to Jesus. Gehrz and Pattie write:

… Pietists who live in, with, and for the person of Jesus probably feel his presence more than they think about the idea of Christ. But they also tend to suspect that if we answer the call to “Come back to Jesus,” we’ll soon find that being a Christ-follower is both less and more than we’ve assumed.

Less because if those four words are the call, then there’s a good chance that we’ve made Christianity too complicated. So Pietists simplify. For example, their lists of essential doctrines tend to be short…

More in that answering that call leads to growth, to change so radical that we can only start to describe it with two of the New Testament’s most audacious metaphors: new birth (Jn 3:7) and new life (e.g., Rom 6:4). Pietists fully expect the encounter with Jesus to be transformative …

The Pietist Option is not a full-orbed battle plan for the Christianization of American society. It doesn’t outline a rigorous intellectual apologetic, for example, nor does it detail the shape of the reform of church and culture. It doesn’t necessarily oppose those things, I should add — although “irenic spirit” and “culture war” don’t jibe. But my guess is that Pietism doubts Christian ideas and reforms will work if Christians themselves don’t first and foremost have a living trust in Jesus.

So, come back to Jesus! It’s not the only thing to say about the renewal of Christianity, but it’s certainly fundamental.

 

Book Reviewed
Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie III, The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal’ by Gordon T. Smith


Gordon T. Smith, Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2017).

A few years back, I made friends with some young men who were leaving the Assemblies of God (my denomination) for the Episcopal Church. They had grown up in AG congregations and attended AG schools, but they felt something was missing. That something was tradition, liturgy and the sacraments.

Growing up in an AG church in the 1970s and 80s, I knew people whose spiritual journeys were moving in the opposite direction. They were leaving liturgical churches and joining Pentecostal ones because tradition, liturgy and the sacraments seemed like lifeless forms compared to the life-giving power of the Spirit they experienced in the Charismatic Renewal Movement.

And then there were the Baptist Calvinists I debated online who argued that Pentecostalism was overrun by touchy-feely emotionalism, health-and-wealth hucksters, and preaching that’s Dr. Phil and Oprah and Tony Robbins with a patina of Bible proof texts. They thought we’d lost the gospel — and, as a result, lost everything.

I have come to realize that each of these people had a point. The gospel is central. The sacraments are important. Pentecostal experience is vital. The question Gordon T. Smith asks in his new book is why Christians identify as one or another. Why must we choose to be evangelical or sacramental or Pentecostal? Why can’t we be all three?

Smith argues that each is necessary to an “ecology of grace,” which he describes as “…a dynamic, a kind of eco-system, with distinctive contours that brings us to an appreciation of the very way that grace functions, with a generative counterpoint between Word, sacrament, and the immediate presence of the Spirit, with each known and experienced in the fullness of grace precisely because this is how grace works.”

He goes on to define three principles that should exist in every church.

  1. Evangelical Principle. “Scriptures play an animating role in the life of the church, not in a secondary sense, but as a primary means by which the church appropriates and lives in the grace of the risen and ascended Christ.”
  2. Sacramental Principle. “God is revealed and God’s grace is known through physical, material reality, including, most notably, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”
  3. Pentecost Principle. “[T]he Christian life is lived in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit and that is experienced immediately.”

Put that way, the necessity of each principle seems almost self-evident, at least to me. Think of Acts 2, a passage we Pentecostals love. It begins with the disciples’ experience of the Holy Spirit (verses 1–11), continues with Peter’s Scripture-filled sermon that calls hearers to repentance and salvation (verses 12–40), and concludes with the description of a Church that, among other things, baptizes converts and shares the Lord’s Supper among disciples (verses 41–47). In other words, the Acts 2 Church was Pentecostal, evangelical and sacramental.

Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal is a short work readers can finish in a couple of hours. It is a suggestive treatment of the issues rather than a definitive one. And, no doubt, readers will find nits to pick — points where Smith doesn’t do their tradition full justice, in their opinion.

Still, it is an important book that left me longing for a church with an ecology of grace that includes Word, sacraments (or ordinances, as Pentecostals like to call them) and Spirit. If the Acts 2 Church embodied all three principles, shouldn’t contemporary Acts 2 churches do so, too?

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P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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“The Pastor: A Memoir” by Eugene H. Peterson


Eugene H. Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir (New York: HarperOne, 2011). $25.99, 336 pages.

In The Pastor, Eugene H. Peterson tells “the story of my formation as a pastor and how the vocation of pastor formed me.” Peterson is best known as author of The Message, his “translation” of the Bible into “American words and metaphors and syntax.” He recently completed a five-volume series—“conversations”—about spiritual theology. And he has written numerous books about the pastoral vocation, the seedbed out of which all his other books has grown. This memoir narrates the journey of a Pentecostal kid from Montana becoming a Presbyterian pastor in Maryland.

For pastors, it is must-reading. For one thing, Peterson’s story shows how God uses the particularity of our circumstances to shape us into the people he wants us to be, under the tutelage of Holy Scripture. For another thing, it offers a searing critique of the commoditization of American religion that turns “each congregation into a market for religious consumers, an ecclesiastical business run along the lines of advertising techniques, organizational flow charts, and energized by impressive motivational rhetoric.” And finally, it does all this through a storytelling that alternates between humor, anger, frustration, and hope—the emotions all pastors face in their ministries.

Example: Peterson recounts being bullied by Garrison Johns in elementary school. Instructed by his mother to “turn the other cheek,” Peterson endured the insults and beatings until “[s]omething snapped within me.” He wrestled his tormentor to the ground, pinned him with his knees, and began pummeling him with his fists. His entreaties, “Say ‘uncle’” met with no response, so he began shouting, “Say, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.’” After a couple more hits, Johns said the words, gaining Peterson his first “convert.” How easily the “world” infects the “church” with disease-ridden modes of ministry!

Another example: Early in Peterson’s ministry, a local mental health institution invited him and other clergy to a two-year course in therapeutic technique. In the 1960s, when this took place, the pastoral counseling movement was gathering steam. Peterson learned much that was helpful from this instruction. But he also learned that counseling was not the pastor’s vocation. “The people who made up my congregation had plenty of problems and more than enough inadequacies, but congregation is not defined by its collective problems. Congregation is a company of people who are defined by their creation in the image of God, living souls, whether they know it or not. They are not problems to be fixed, but mysteries to be honored and revered.” That is the pastor’s task.

In Peterson’s telling, the pastor is “not someone who ‘gets things done’ but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to ‘what is going on right now’ between men and women, with one another and with God—this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful ‘without ceasing.’”

Local, personal, and prayerful. For me, these three words summarize Peterson’s take on the pastoral vocation. Pastors lead congregations in a specific place. Montana is not Maryland. American is not Africa. Wise pastors understand the conditions of the place to which God has called them.

And they pay attention to the people among whom God has called them. Peterson quotes Baron Friedrich von Hügel, “there are no dittos in souls.” Pastors must minister to people in their individuality, attentive to their inherent contradictions. Like his Uncle Sven, who was adored by his little sister (Peterson’s mother), but abhorred by the wife he abused, and who killed him in self-defense: “When I finally did become a pastor, I was surprised at how thoroughly Sven had inoculated me against ‘one answer’ systems of spiritual care.” Souls are not dittos, and no ministry is one-size-fits-all.

But mostly, pastors pray, by which Peterson means that they enter an ongoing conversation with God characterized by listening and speaking to him. Early on, Peterson learned that “the vocation of pastor had to be understood entirely under the shaping influence of the biblical text,” which teaches the redemption of creation and calls for a response of worship.

Peterson’s memoir alternates between exasperation at what American churches so often are and hope at what they could be. He experienced both emotions in his ministry as a Presbyterian pastor in Maryland. But the dominant note of this personal narrative is hope. The church is “a colony of heaven in the country of death, a strategy of the Holy Spirit for giving witness to the already-inaugurated kingdom of God.” This definition is not theological boilerplate. Peterson learned it from “wise Christians, both dead and alive.” And though a Presbyterian, he shares the Pentecostal conviction that “everything, absolutely everything, in the scriptures is livable,” including a different way of being pastor and church in the world.

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P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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