The first post in this series can be found here.
Carson’s “Cross and Christian Ministry” should don the library of every gospel minister or aspiring minister. I commend this book especially to those of us (like the Baptist 21 writers) who are preparing for gospel ministry. In addition, it should don the bookshelves of pastors who have been along the “trail of the years” in ministry, as we should never lose sight of the cross as we seek to shepherd those purchased by the precious blood of our King. I will attempt to glean implications based on the themes that Carson mined out of the Apostle’s first epistle to the Corinthian Church, and seek to assemble the picture of the minister who lives under the cross.
- The cross will affect what we preach- “the cross not only establishes what we are to preach, but how we are to preach… these sections from 1 Corinthians must be learned afresh by every generation of Christians, or the gospel will be sidelined by assorted fads” (9-10). The gospel minister seeks to know nothing except “Christ and Him crucified.” We have written on the importance of this on this site. This often makes me think of “the sign of Jonah”, which is an amazing narrative if you think about it. These men are asking for a sign from the Lord of creation. They are standing on ground that he spoke into existence. They have probably seen him heal and perform miracles and yet they ask him to show them “power.” Jesus responds, the same way the Apostle Paul is pleading for us to respond, I have nothing to show you except the gospel. These men must have been let down, and the Apostle Paul says they “miss it.” They miss that the ultimate sign of power is the “sign of Jonah”. The only means of salvation (an incredible miracle, the transformation of a life) is through this man going through the belly of “sheol” and coming out victorious over the grave. Ironically, it is the greatest sign the world has ever seen. They don’t see it, Paul tells us why (they think it is foolishness), and sadly often times we do not evidence that we see it in our preaching. This is what we are called to – - we are to look at the people in our congregations and the nations around us and show them the “sign of Jonah”, the most powerful and wise sign we know. The only thing we can show them is the gospel and it is the power of salvation.
Carson says “fads” will sideline the gospel, and we see that in some of our churches. This is more than just the “prosperity gospel”, although it entails that. We must avoid in our SBC pulpits preaching that imitates Fosdick (self-help). We should instead imitate men like Spurgeon who make “beelines” to the cross. Carson says “They (gospel ministers) will be wary of ‘gospel’ preaching that talks much about God meeting our needs and enabling us to feel fulfilled, if it is not squarely anchored in the message of the cross” (56). Carson adds, “Biblical preaching emphasizes the gospel and constantly elevates Christ Crucified” (40). This is the calling of the cross-centered minister.
- The Cross will affect how we preach- Again this is a message of “foolishness” to those who are perishing, but the power of the message is in the cross. The spirit does not act apart from this message, so it is “foolish” of the minister to seek to work through his own wisdom or cunning. The cross-focused minister preaches without ploy or manipulation. A word of concern needs mentioning here. This manipulative spirit seems expressly evident in Youth evangelism. Carson addresses this with warning. This is often for the sake of reporting “conversion numbers” evangelists manipulate youth (or even older men and women) by appealing wrongly to fear or manipulating them through shaming them. They may call them out in the crowd or ask for those to come forward that want to “follow Christ”, or may make a completely irresponsible statement like “if you’re 99% sure your saved, you’re a 100% lost.” Many manipulative techniques like these are used, but we need to heed the warning not to connive and ploy and manipulate. Instead we must preach with humility understanding the power of the cross is revealed to those whom the Spirit illumines. The Spirit illumines through the gospel message, which comes only through gospel preaching in every message. This quote from Carson sums up the matter, “That same Spirit prompts the spiritually-minded… to preach it (the cross)… they will strenuously avoid all ostentatious display; they will abandon all cheap manipulation; they will be happy to embrace the scandal of the cross, for the cross is what redeemed them” (56).
- The cross will affect how we minister- Cason says the gospel minister will enforce the way of the cross among his people. This covers two key topics, discipleship and discipline. Discipleship is the neglected aspect of the great commission call. The reason so many of our SBC churches are impoverished theologically is the lack of gospel-centered preaching and the lack of discipleship at the local church. I mean men on men training, living life together, sharpening one another, praying for one another, holding each other to account, and spurring one another on in study of the scripture so that the workman of God may be approved. Instead, we hear our sermons and go home. Thabiti Anybwile said in SEBTS chapel that we should be pushing all of our members to strive to be elders. That is the calling for the Christian, now not all will be “called” by God to that assignment, but that does not mean that they do not strive for it. This cannot happen without the minister of the gospel investing in the lives of his congregation. He will disciple through the pulpit and through “life together” training with men. Godly women will do the same with younger women in the faith. Secondly, Church discipline shows the enforcing of the way of the cross in a congregation. I will not write on it because several articles of note have come out on this topic. Some articles of note, one from our own Nick Moore and others from Ken Keathley and Danny Akin at Between the Times. The cross-focused leader will enforce the implications of the cross in the church, hoping to hear the “well done” of the master because he helped shepherd a flock from the wolves and from themselves.
- The cross will affect how we live and how we serve- Carson establishes that the Christian leader must recognize that he is a servant entrusted with the gospel and the care of people redeemed by Christ. This is a mighty, holy calling, not to be trifled with. Sadly, often times there are stories of pastors that work for financial gain or that abuse a people. We seek money, fame, cars, big houses, and comfortable living. This is not a minister that sees his ministry in light of the cross (I am not saying that there should be no compensation and provision for your family). This is hardly the elder pictured in First Peter 5. Instead, we must challenge ourselves to be servants, to follow the example of the Chief Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, and if necessary gives up the amenities. This is a call also to holiness. In light of the work of Christ and our redemption, we must endeavor to be “holy as He is holy.” (1 Peter 1:16) This is missing in the younger generation (see Wilson’s post) and this is missing in some of the older generations as well. This leaves no room for “rock star” pastors. Instead, what is needed is a commitment to a life of service and humility. Maybe one of the reasons some of our churches are in a wreck, especially in SBC life, is because of Pastors who are “pop stars” and not servants. Our calling, in light of the cross, is to serve and protect the flock. Nevertheless, it may just mean that we need more books on holiness than contextualization. Carson is clear, “We must return again and again to the cross of Jesus Christ if we are to take the measure of our Christian living, our Christian service, our Christian ministry” (13). In light of the cross, there should only be one star, the Bright and the Morning star.
A Final post in this series will deal with the cross’ implication for the church ministry and mission.