Book Review: The Crucifixion of Ministry

Purves, Andrew. The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2007. Paperback, 152 pages. $15.00

(Review copy courtesy of InterVarsity Press.)
The Crucifixion of MinistryPurchase: IVP | Amazon | CBD

Special Features: Case Studies for Reflection, Name Index, Scripture Index
Table of Contents & Excerpt

ISBNs: 0830834397 / 9780830834396

LCCN: BV4400.P87 / DCN: 253

Subjects: Christian Ministry, Pastoral Resources

Andrew Purves holds the Hugh Thomson Kerr Chair in Pastoral Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He is the author of numerous books, including Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (Westminster John Knox, 2004) and Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition (Westminster John Knox, 2001).

IVP Author Interview

Initially, the uniqueness of the title of this book arrested my attention. Being intrigued, I began to read the book, seeking to determine what the author’s point might be. I found that the burden of this little book is to convince Christian ministers that they are not the center of attention when it comes to ministry. Christ is the center, or at least He is supposed to be! Too many times, “we” get in the way and forgot what ministry is truly about. Purves begins this book with an interesting and thought-provoking rhetorical question: “Has God killed your ministry yet?” (p. 11). This provocative question is intended to startle the reader and prepare him to consider the following two major answers:

      1. Conceiving ministry as our ministry is the root problem of what ails us in ministry today.
      2. Ministry should be understood as sharing in the continuing ministry of Jesus Christ, for wherever Christ is, there is the church and her ministry. (p. 11)

    Purves takes up in detail the issue of clergy burnout and its major implications. He concludes that most ministers are in some stage of burnout—stress levels are at an all-time high—and that ministers ultimately have no spiritual life to speak of because they are burning the candle at both ends. Terminology that may be unfamiliar to some readers is carefully defined [i.e. “theological reductionism” (p. 19) and “essential tenetism” (p. 35)].

    Containing only five chapters, this book is packed with a lot of truth, helpful ideas, and suggested practices. Purves identifies his audience as “busy, tired, somewhat depressed, midcareer and fed-up ministers who can’t carry the load of ministry any longer” (p. 11). A book like this will help current seminarians and future ministers to avoid some of the pitfalls of ministry. Purves does a great job in going to the text in numerous places to get the reader to see the biblical truth instead of the author’s ideas.

    Purves urges ministers to understand that the true focus of their ministries should be on Jesus Christ. He begins by pointing them back to the text in order to gain an understanding of who God is. He asks the question, “What is in a name?” and explains that names identify who we are. He then speaks of the significance of the name of Jesus Christ and how that Christ is to be preached (Acts 4:12).

    He then takes the reader to the ever-present fact that ministry is who God is and what God does. Purves notes that the person and work of Christ are always in the present tense. We see words like “grace,” “love,” and “God,” but do we really understand what they mean? Do we ultimately understand the significance of such rich theological terms? We must come to the same conclusion as Purves did that “our ministries are NOT redemptive!” We would do well if we as ministers would quit referring to where we serve and what we do as “my church and my ministry.” That innocuous statement seems harmless, but it reveals more about us than we would possibly want others to know.

    The real essence of ministry is knowing Christ, and in our attempts at knowing Christ, the author confronts his readers with another paradigm that deserves our attention: transformation of the mind, conversion of the will, and amendment of life. What are we really thinking about? What do we need to do in order to live a life that is pleasing to Christ and that will allow us the opportunity to minister in His name? Are we guarding our eyes and ears? Are we watching our public and private behavior? These are all things that, if we do not pay close attention to them, will cause a minister to be led astray and possibly become shipwrecked.

    This book is great in that Purves is willing to ask thought-provoking and much-needed questions. He argues that we need to be reminded about things that we normally would consider being elementary or basic. We are given the admonition to re-commit ourselves to prayer, to take time to study both biblically and theologically, and also to take time to rest.

    Overall, the book is well–written and will meet the needs of the stated audience. There were so many good things written in this book. Here are a few gems, which will hopefully whet your appetite to go out, purchase this book, and read it!

      Ministry kills us with regard to our ego needs, desire for power and success and the persistent wish to feel competent and in control. (p. 21)
      We must spend time with Jesus. If he is as important as I am suggesting he is, as the faith tells us he is, as you know he is, then he is worth our time. (p. 45)

    Ministry without appropriate skills leads to malpractice. (p. 51)

    Even though I agree with the premise and the conclusions of the book itself, I found that the author includes some things in the book that have made me uncomfortable due to my theological background and beliefs. I believe that the reader must understand that Purves is a member and an active minister in the more liberal wing of Presbyterianism (the PCUSA) and that his wife is also an ordained minister. Also, the discerning reader will notice a few scattered statements that he will need to read with a grain of “theological” salt; I found a couple on pages 138-139.

    The book has impacted me in that I finally found an author with whom I agree regarding the nomenclature that we use with reference to churches and ministries (i.e., not using the personal pronouns “me” or “mine” with reference to the church as one’s own personal property). I appreciated his straightforward approach of turning the reader’s attention “back to the basics”—to commune with Christ and through that communion realize that we can do nothing without the authority and power of Christ.

    Terry LangeTerry Lange is an M.Div. student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN) in 2008. He was ordained to the gospel ministry in July of 1992 and has served as the Missions Administrator for Baptist Missions to Forgotten Peoples, Inc. (Jacksonville, FL), as a Sunday school teacher, and in various other capacities at both Trinity Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, and Fourth Baptist Church of Plymouth, Minnesota. He is married to Heidi, and they have a son named Joseph. Terry blogs at From The Unknown.

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