Review: Feasting on Theology for Ministry

Daniel P. Clifford

At a well-provisioned church dinner, members happily load up their plates as they move through the line. Reading Theology for Ministry provides a similar experience for theology lovers. Those who journey through this book will enjoy exploring a rich array of doctrinal themes.

Sinclair Ferguson
Sinclair Ferguson

This volume contains a collection of articles in honor of Sinclair Ferguson, a well-loved Presbyterian pastor, theologian, author, and seminary professor. In keeping with Ferguson’s legacy as a minister-theologian, the themes of the pieces roughly track with the chapter headings of the Westminster Confession, with each article also drawing out implications for pastoral ministry. This Festschrift therefore functions as a compendium of Reformed theology and, to a lesser degree, a commentary on the Confession and a pastoral handbook.

The twenty-five contributors to this volume share Ferguson’s commitment to Reformed theology and ordained ministry, which is not surprising since many of them were his colleagues or students. This common frame of reference gives the work a high degree of conceptual coherence, while the diverse personalities and interests of the authors bring a pleasing variety of approach.

Noteworthy Contributions

Most of the articles address a doctrinal topic generally, seeking to explain its overall meaning while also drawing out its significance. The volume contains many examples of writers who took this general approach with precision, insight, and practical usefulness. The constraints of this review only allow a few to be mentioned, however. Ligon Duncan’s article, “Adoption” (chapter 13), is a devotional delight that sets forth with warmth and clarity the privileges of being received into God’s family. William Edwards’s article, “Sanctification” (chapter 14), helpfully explores the mysterious nature of the Christian’s quest for holiness. Edwards argues that believers can only make progress through participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, as opposed to self-generated victories in which crude sins get replaced with more refined forms of self-centeredness—an insight worth pondering. Joel Beeke’s article, “Assurance of Faith” (chapter 17), sheds light on the delicate topic of assurance by contrasting it with a presumptuous “easy believism” on the one hand and a clenched “hard believism” on the other. Beeke also distinguishes between the grounds for salvation and the grounds of assurance, which he also helpfully unpacks. Numerous other articles explain their respective topics in an engaging way that connects theology to the life of the church. If space allowed, we could note appreciatively the contributions of Venema, Wolfe, and many others.

Some of the contributors chose to investigate a narrower aspect of their topic rather than treating it generally. Notable examples include Lane Tipton’s article, “The Person of Christ” (chapter 8), which explores how Christ’s divine immutability grounds the telos of his redemptive work, the uniting of heaven and earth. Tipton explains how Christ undertakes his redemptive role as the second Adam; he concludes by arguing that true heavenly-mindedness means anticipating joining with Christ in the heavenly glory he has inherited through his exaltation. This provides a helpful specificity to the duty of seeking “the things that are above, where Christ is” (Col. 3:1). Philip Ross makes a thought-provoking contribution to his topic, “The Law of God” (chapter 18). Ross asserts that the Westminster Confession presents the moral law as fixed rather than further evolving in the New Testament. Ross also argues that only a stable conception of the moral law can preserve coherence in law as well as theology generally (e.g., by providing a fixed significance for the atonement). Ross then uses this principle to explore case studies regarding whether head coverings and tithing are normative for New Testament believers. Ross’s article will probably affect the thinking of many readers. Michael Horton’s article, “Eschatology” (chapter 25), explores how man’s purpose is to be rightly related to God and to the creation, per God’s original, covenantal design. Horton argues that reconciliation through Christ involves ethical restoration in which people’s embodied relationship to God and neighbor are restored in keeping with God’s original aim. Horton draws the conclusion that in our identity-confused age, ministers should teach the true nature of human identity as established at creation and fully restored by Christ in the new creation. Readers eager to engage with more technical or complex thought will enjoy these specialized articles.

In the final chapter of the book, Chad Van Dixhoorn presents a brief biography of Ferguson’s life from childhood to the present, outlining his conversion, education, and ministry. This chapter provides an encouraging record of how Ferguson was providentially prepared for a ministry that impacted many others.

A Valuable Resource

This book will provide a resource for pastors, giving them new ways to express theological truth in their preaching and teaching. Pastors may choose to work through this volume in a devotional mode to refresh their doctrinal knowledge and ministerial values. Those training for the pastoral ministry will find it useful to solidify and expand their knowledge. Church members who wish to learn more about theology will find a resource in this book. Church librarians should consider adding it to their collection, since it is a reference that will remain useful for many years to come.

Those who read this volume will notice the contributors’ respect and affection for Ferguson. Certainly this stems not just from his intellectual talent but his willingness to invest in so many others. As a student sitting under Dr. Ferguson, I remember how, when he finished answering a question in class, he would continue to look at his questioner, gauging the level of comprehension while also allowing a chance for a follow-up. It was clear that he cared about those in his classes. Ferguson’s willingness to build into the lives of others—students, congregants, colleagues, and readers of his books—has left a residue of benefit and appreciation that is reflected in Theology for Ministry.

The author is pastor of Grace Presbyterian in Vienna, Virginia.

Theology for Ministry: How Doctrine Affects Pastoral Life and Practice, edited by William R. Edwards, John C. A. Ferguson, and Chad B. Van Dixhoorn. P&R, 2022. Hardcover, 680 pages, $25.99.