Book Review: The Pastor’s Justification, by Jared Wilson
Jared Wilson, The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in your Life and Ministry. Crossway, 2013. 192 pages. $15.99.
This book is so good that I suggest that instead of reading the rest of this review, you simply go and purchase The Pastor’s Justification and dig in. If you need more convincing, then read on. Then go and purchase it: today, or tomorrow at the latest.
THE LIFE OF A PASTOR
A word about the author. Jared Wilson knows the life of a pastor. He not only lives it, but he can express it in terms that fellow pastors resonate with. “Then comes Monday. Many pastors take Mondays off because of the Sunday hangover. I do not. It is my worst day, so I refuse to give it to my family. Instead I work through it. It is a slog” (33). He speaks to our insecurities, describes our challenges, and exposes our idols with grace, even as he gets into our grills.
The subtitle, “Applying the Work of Christ in your Life and Ministry” is the working theme of the book. Wilson is answering the question of how the gospel enables a pastor to minister grace from a life that is continually set free by this grace. He knows that pastoral ministry is so dangerous because it is so personal. He writes with a vulnerability that helps us see the heart of the issue, and yet compels us to run and hide in Christ for our validation.
THE LIFE OF A CHURCH
Wilson knows the life of a church. He does not hide the fact that messy sinners make for messy ministry and a messy church. He acknowledges that this messiness is overwhelming because there is no seminar that can teach us how to rid the church of the ragged issues of living in a sin-cursed world. Again he takes us, along with him, back to Christ.
I have been in many a counseling session or discipleship meeting where, upon hearing the deep pain and conflict in the lives of others, so fresh in their hearts and fresh on my ears, I simply share in their feeling of being completely overwhelmed. Advice is cheap. My mind races for some wisdom. What can I do? I am powerfulness to help. I throw my hands up in despair of my own pastoral ingenuity. I take them (and myself) to Jesus. He will help us. He bids the harassed and helpless come to him. We will have to stoop, but if we will, he will lift us up. (68)
Wilson is a good writer. His writing is both witty and winsome, but what he speaks to is serious, and it shows. I reread many of his paragraphs not because they were ambiguous, but because I wanted to. He knows how to make a compelling point and paint a captivating picture. It is a delight to read a work that is needful, organized, interesting, and so well done.
AN EXPOSITIONAL MEDITATION
A word about the book as a whole. This book is expositional. The first part of the book, “The Pastor’s Heart,” is based on 1 Peter 5:1-11. If you only read the first chapter, it will be worth the purchase. Wilson speaks about pastors’ tendency to serve because you have to, or to sub-contract the messy part of shepherding to someone else, or to keep doing it because you want to get paid. He writes,
Pastor, will we seek justification in our reputations? In our church’s numbers and figures? In our retweets and links?…This is sand. Or will we look up and out, and away from ourselves, away from the fickle fellowship, away from Satan’s accusations and insinuations, up to the right hand of the Father, where our righteousness sits, firmly fixed eternal?…Brother, you are free. (39)
In the rest of the part one, Wilson unpacks for us how the gospel frees us, sets us apart, humbles us, emboldens us, and drives us to watch carefully over our flock, but ultimately to rest in Christ and not in our ministry as our justification.
The second part of the book is a call to pastoral reformation. Wilson organizes this section around the five “solas” of the reformation. He recognizes that these solas (Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, to God alone be the glory) must be embraced personally by a pastor in order to be embraced congregationally by our people.
Without apology, he calls us to preach the Word boldly. “Preaching assumes authority from God and from his infallible word. So we don’t preach like ninnies, as if every sentence ends with question mark” (122).
He reminds us that grace is absolutely essential for the gospel and the church. The pastor and the church cannot properly function apart from grace, which is why there are so many distractions and temptations to discard it.
Pastoring by faith means that we have to give up pastoring by sight. “The problem with pastoring by sight is not just that it places hopes in things that can be taken away, but it neglects to hope for what only God can give” (151).
God does not bless his competition. Shepherding the flock of Christ cannot be done well if it is being done for our glory. There is one Lord, and we are not him.
Pastors, we are privileged to shepherd the flocks of God among us into this glorious reality [that God’s glory will fill the earth]. We are on the forefront of God’s glory made manifest in both our strengths and our weaknesses. And we will learn the secret to joy in all ministerial circumstances when we set our hearts on God’s glory above our own. (165)
Buy it. Read it. Give it to your elders. Then read it again.