I finally got around to reading The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians, by D.A. Carson, after hearing C.J. Mahaney comment on how influential it was for his vision of the centrality of the cross in ministry. I read part of it last week while I was backpacking with Vince, and finished it during my sacred study times this week. I cannot begin to express the impact this book might have on the evangelical church if it were to gain an even wider readership among its leaders. And I cannot possibly imagine how I could have come through three years of seminary study (at the institution where Carson teaches, no less), including several classes from the pastoral theology department, never having been required to read this short (137 pp.) book.
I have worn out an entire highlighter on the book, so it is difficult to pick out any one quote to help commend the book to you, but here is one of my favorites:
“Paul sternly writes, ‘Do not deceive yourselves’ (3:18). Do not think that you can adopt the philosophies and values of the world as if such choices do not have a profoundly detrimental impact on the church. Do not think you can get away with it. Do not kid yourself that you are with it, an avant-garde Christian, when in fact you are leaving the gospel behind and doing damage to God’s church.
“The path of true wisdom, as Paul has already explained in detail in the first two chapters of this epistle, is to side with God. There one discovers that the Almighty utterly reverses so many of the values cherished by the world. What the world judges wise, God dismisses as folly; what the world rejects as foolishness is nothing less than God’s wisdom. The world loves power and prestige; God displays himself most tellingly on the cross, in sublime and wretched weakness – yet that ‘weakness’ effects God’s utterly breathtaking redemptive plan, and thus proves stronger than all the world’s ‘strength.’ The world pants after strong leadership, but leaders in the church must first of all be servants of the Lord Christ. The world parades its heroes and gurus: Christians remember that God loves to choose the weak and the lowly and the despised – the nobodies – so that no one may boast before him. The world tries to impress with its rhetoric and sophistication, cherishing form more than content. The apostles of Jesus Christ prize truth above style and quietly refuse to endorse any form that may prove so attractive, even diversionary, that the centrality of gospel truth is jeopardized. That is the kind of great reversal that anyone who understands the cross must come to grips with” (84-5).
This is the best book I’ve read so far this year (possibly excepting On Mortification, by Owen) and while I will likely never teach at a seminary, this will be required reading, from here on out, for any intern I supervise, any elder I train, and any other person who aspires to leadership in Christian ministry for whom I am responsible.