Monday, February 7, 2011

The Resurrection of Ministry Reviewed

Andrew Purves has written a two-part theology of ministry. In The Resurrection of Ministry (the first volume is ominously titled The Crucifixion of Ministry), Purvis, a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, sets forth his argument for a theology grounded and a ministry sustained in the resurrected and ascended Lord.

For the practically minded, the book has few personal illustrations and even when Purves attempts them, they are second and third person via negativa, using students, his Presbytery, and other ministers as examples of what not to emulate. My attention was awakened when Eugene Peterson's diatribe against clergy "shopkeeping" in Working the Angles was referenced.

Ya, it worked in getting my attention so that I was at least awake when I came across the thesis of the book, found on page 46: "The ministry in the mood of Easter Sunday and Ascension Thursday means reclaiming...Jesus as an active Lord and making sure that he and not we are at the center of things." It means clergy ask the question, "What are you up to, Lord, and what does it mean for me to get in on it?"

I found chapter 6, or "Ministry in the Power of the Resurrected Jesus" to be the best one overall, while the development of the "steps" of the theology, developed throughout the first five chapters, somewhat tedious. Were they supposed to be deductive, where each step follows the other in a logical succession? If so, there were 17 such "steps" that seemed somewhat random and poorly connected to each other. In my opinion, a biblical, not systematic, theology would connect better with the narrative of the four gospels. For example, the 14 "Stations of Light" could have provided the framework, as each are apart of the Easter and post- Easter narrative.

Yet there are nuggets, and some are worth noting:
  • What constitutes the ground and content of ministry is that Jesus lives. (p.141)
  • Expectations change because the center of attention has shifted from what we do to what the resurrected Lord is doing. (143)
  • Never leave home without anointing oil.
  • Expect that Jesus in his Spirit is up to something in people's lives, and oil is the symbol of that ministry.
  • Never sit in a committee meeting without...spiritual discernment of what the Lord is up to. (145)
  • Expect astonishment (146)
  • Ultimately, it is not up to us to exercise messianic let us not even try. The kingdom is not carried on our shoulders. (152)
To the extent we put "me and my" ministry in the center of things, and for all the times we regularly do not choose to receive the living Lord, who is intimately connected to us and every person we will ever serve, The Resurrection of Ministry provides a helpful corrective for too much self  and too much doing in ministry. However, as I read these pages, it was a LONG time getting there. My recommendation: skim, don't read.

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