Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reaction to Erwin Lutzer’s Book, Pastor to Pastor

In his book, Pastor to Pastor (Kregel Publications, 1998), Erwin Lutzer offers practical advice to pastors and ministers on a range of topics related to pastoral care and shepherding a congregation. Lutzer’s intended audience for this book is professional clergy, those called to ordained ministry. The writer begins the book by establishing his biblical understanding of the call to ministry and his understanding of the qualifications a person should possess before being accepted and ordained as clergy. Lutzer goes on to give advice on practical issues dealing with conflict, pastoral care, church leadership, and worship, along with some other topics important to pastors and church leaders. Lutzer concludes with a chapter outlining his ecclesiological view and his view of Christ’s role in the church and Christ’s relationship to the church (his Christology). The purpose of this paper is to briefly summarize the advice given by Lutzer in Pastor to Pastor and to discuss my reaction to specific passages from the book.

Lutzer begins his book by addressing the call to ministry. He defines call as “God’s call is an inner conviction given by the Holy Spirit and confirmed by the word of God and the body of Christ (the church).” (Lutzer 11) He goes on to describe the “inner conviction” as more than a feeling, but a “God given compulsion” which is “not deterred by obstacles.” (Lutzer 12). Lutzer holds that 1Timmothy 3 provides the Biblical foundation for determining a person’s qualifications for ministry (Lutzer 12). Finally, he emphasizes the authority of the church helping persons discern their call and explore their place in ministry.

After establishing how and why certain persons are set apart for ordained ministry, Lutzer goes on to give practical advice to those persons regarding their duties and responsibilities as ministers and outlining hurdles and obstacles they may face. In chapters 2, 3, 4, and 7, Lutzer addresses various forms of conflict a pastor may encounter. He addresses conflict with the lay leadership of the church, conflict with individual members, and conflict that threatens to divide a church. In each instance, Lutzer cautions the reader to use scripture as the foundation for their response to conflict (Lutzer 30). Pastors are advised to be good listeners (Lutzer 28). Lutzer’s best advice regarding conflict comes in his discussion of how to proceed once the conflict is resolved. “Blessed is the pastor-elder who can accept wrong without compromise but also without retaliation.” (Lutzer 23).

Subsequent chapters cover topics from preaching and teaching to a pastor’s role in secular politics. Lutzer gives advice on designing worship (chapter 13), evangelism (chapter 19), and pastoral care (chapter 12). Some of Lutzer’s best advice concerns a pastor’s care for themselves. He addresses burnout (chapter 10), competition amongst clergy (chapter 9), the importance of setting priorities (chapter 17), and dealing with personal and professional failures (chapter 18). In all these areas Lutzer, again, stresses the importance of scripture as a pastor’s ultimate guide.

It is clear to me that Erwin Lutzer’s theology emphasizes scripture as the only authoritative source for God’s truth. Additionally, he adopts a literal approach to interpreting scripture and promotes the belief that only men are suited for leadership roles in the church, especially in the role of ordained clergy (Lutzer 12). While I disagree with much of Lutzer’s theology and interpretation of scripture, I did find that the book, Pastor to Pastor, offers some practical advice that could benefit clergy from any faith tradition or theological background.

Lutzer fails to document his sources for much of the information and ideas that are critical to many of his arguments. For example, he references “liberalism” (Lutzer 83) and “evangelical feminism” (Lutzer 96) in negative ways without defining either term or providing a Biblical or theological basis for his dismissal of those schools of thought. In the chapter on “Public Invitations,” Lutzer throws out specific numbers regarding a “major denomination” that “recorded 294,784 ‘decisions for Christ.’ But they could only find 14,337 in fellowship.” (Lutzer 84). This information is critical to his argument that responses to public invitations to come forward in church and accept Christ are not clear indicators of salvation, yet Lutzer fails to cite the source of the data.

This lack of scholarship is problematic for me. Lutzer seems to assume the reader will simply accept him as the authority on matters of fact. Even more problematic is Lutzer’s assumption that readers will forego researching theological concepts that are contrary to the author’s own beliefs. It is difficult for me to trust a writer who says, in essence, “I’ve done the research and I know the facts, you just believe what I write.”

In addition to my objection to Lutzer withholding sources, I am also troubled by what I see as a major contradiction in his theology. Lutzer clearly asserts that women are not called to leadership roles in the church (Lutzer 96). Additionally, Lutzer states that the audible voice of God has not been heard by anyone on earth “now that the New Testament is complete” (Lutzer 11). The author contradicts those serious assertions when he writes, “but let us never limit the means God might use to get our attention and help us understand that His hand is upon us for special service.” (Lutzer 13). Lutzer first purports to seal God’s lips, and then seemingly binds God’s hands, preventing them from being laid upon the heads of women in the call to ordained ministry. But he contradicts those views when he cautions his readers not to limit God.

As we read in Thomas Oden’s book, Pastoral Theology, There is a clear Biblical basis for the ordination of women to leadership roles in the church (Oden 35). Oden supports his position with scripture, citing Philippians 4:2-3 and Romans 16: 1-16 as just two of many places the Bible acknowledges the leadership abilities and qualifications of women (Oden 35). In Pastor to Pastor, Erwin Lutzer fails to give clear Biblical sources for his position that women are subordinate to men, both in church and in the home.

Though I struggled with Lutzer’s theology and Biblicism, I was able to glean some valuable advice for pasturing a church. Lutzer’s continued emphasis on the use of scripture and prayer as the primary resources for guiding a pastor and ordering the life of the church are important to remember. I also found the chapter on priorities helpful and encouraging. Lutzer writes that a pastor must “guard our time for prayer even more closely than we guard our time for study” (Lutzer 103). He exhorts pastors to fight discouragement with faithfulness and to avoid envy of other ministers who may appear to be more successful (Lutzer 105).

Lutzer also offers sound advice for avoiding burnout writing that pastors must “be satisfied with doing the will of God and not overly dependent on the opinions of men (Lutzer 62). He goes on to say developing our “inner world” by spending time in silence, listening for God, is key to staying fresh and committed to one’s ministry (Lutzer 62). Finally, professional burnout can be avoided by developing close friendships and relationships with other pastors in whom we can confide (Lutzer 64).

While I found Pastor to Pastor to be an interesting book with some valuable tips for those already serving in ordained ministry, I would not recommend the book to anyone in the process of discerning their call to ministry. Lutzer’s conservative theology and lack of inclusive language could easily discourage women from seeking ordained ministry. Additionally, anyone with a more liberal theological background and understanding of scripture would be turned off from ministry if they thought answering God’s call meant thinking like Erwin Lutzer.

On the other hand, Lutzer’s book is an excellent choice as one point of view in a larger theological discussion. It is valuable, and important, to a well-rounded theological education that we are open to ideas contrary to our own. Understanding others helps us understand ourselves and exploring ideas is how we learn. For those reasons, I would recommend Pastor to Pastor to students of theology and to pastors seeking to deepen their understanding of themselves and to sharpen their tools for ministry.

Works Cited

Lutzer, Erwin. Pastor to Pastor. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998.

Oden, Thomas C. Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry. New York: HarperCollins, 1983.

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