What We Believe
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A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin, David Charles and Rob Ventura, eds. Conway, AR: Free Grace, 2020, 163 pages, $30.00, paper.

Over the past several decades, Al Martin’s preaching and pastoral ministry has influenced many pastors across denominational lines. His power and presence in the pulpit and his gift at imparting pastoral wisdom to the next generation have marked a fruitful ministry. Honoring Martin’s contribution to the church today, the essays in this volume focus primarily on preaching and pastoring. These essays show the carry-over of Martin’s ideas to a new generation of pastors, helping those interested in the ministry to stay on the right track with the Spirit’s help.

The topics included in this volume are relatively divisible into preaching and ministry. While the contributors are mostly Baptists, they include one Presbyterian, plus a bonus chapter by eighteenth-century Baptist, John Gill, a foreword by Joel Beeke, and a biographical sketch of Martin’s life (lifted from volume 1 of his Pastoral Theology). Related to preaching, the authors cover Peter’s Pentecost sermon (ch. 1), how and why preachers should prepare new preachers (ch. 2), the witness of the martyrs (ch. 4), the content of the gospel (ch. 6), the Spirit’s work in preaching (ch. 7), and “the deeper Protestant conception and preaching” (ch. 11). Regarding pastoral ministry more broadly, authors explore Christian ministry in the church (ch. 3), shepherding the flock (ch. 5), the administration of Baptism (ch. 9), and the “form and substance” of worship (ch. 10). Michael Haykin’s intriguing and useful historical biography of William Kriffin (ch. 8) does not fit neatly into either category. While the order and organization of the book could be clearer, the targeted issues reflect the core aspects of Martin’s legacy. Chapter 10 is the most “Baptist” in content, arguing that the Baptist application of the regulative principle of worship is traditionally stricter than the rest of the Reformed world regarding the form that elements of worship take. Most of the chapters, however, reach across denominational lines, touching on genuine (and sometimes urgent) needs in the church today.

Some highlights stand out. Conrad Mbewe’s challenge to seminaries and churches in chapter 2 to pursue a model of pastors training pastors, instead of those with no pastoral experience filling academic positions, is particularly pointed and apt, even if readers do not agree with every detail. Regardless of how this point affects the process of training ministers, in light of Mbewe’s scriptural evidence, it is hard to reject his conclusion that “pastors should realize that they are the main instruments in God’s hands to prepare the next generation of pastors” (47). As a seminary professor (and minister), I find that this issue arises often when elders send students to seminary in order to let the seminary find out whether or not they are called to the ministry. My standard reply is that this is the job of the church and not of the school. While it is my view that such professors should be experienced pastors, seminaries are servants not substitutes of the church in training pastors. Additionally, chapter 4, treating the place of martyrdom in Scripture and the church, is particularly stirring and thought provoking. Jeffrey Riddle’s affirmation of the administration of baptism by ministers in the visible church is also timely in the aftermath of the modern patriarchy movement (117–18).

Yet there are a few drawbacks to this volume. The tone of the book is a bit too colloquial at times, and highly academic at others, making its general audience somewhat unclear. This makes the quality of the material a bit uneven. Sometimes major themes are missing as well. For example, Rob Ventura stresses that in order to understand the Spirit’s work in preaching we need to understand that he is both a person and divine (96–97).

While this is undoubtedly true, it is also vital to remember that the Spirit is the third person in the Trinity. This means that he not only comes to us personally with divine power but that his works reflect the order of the Godhead. He aims to glorify Christ because he proceeds from the Father and the Son. As Christ declares to us what he receives from the Father, so the Spirit declares what he receives from Christ. This is why the Spirit’s work in preaching, and in anything else, always directs us to Christ’s glory. This means that the Spirit as the power behind preaching and Christ as the content of preaching are wedded. A fuller Trinitarian ontology can better shape a practical responsibility. We not only need to understand who the Spirit is and what he does but why he does so. Otherwise, we run the risk of the detaching the work of the divine persons from each other, rather than integrating them. This point by no means implies that the content of this chapter is not sound and orthodox. It merely points out that the eternal relations between the divine persons strengthens the grounds on which we understand their temporal missions.

Lastly, Scott Aniol’s call for Baptists to become stricter in recovering seventeenth century Baptist principles regarding the minutiae of the forms of worship (132) runs a dangerous risk of promoting sectarianism in otherwise unified churches. In spite of such things, the book as a whole contains some solid material here to help readers meditate on important truths.

I have benefited greatly from Al Martin’s preaching over the years as well as from his solid counsel on pastoral theology. It is fitting that some of his friends and students have honored him in this volume. The editors note that, “By design, no new ground is broken in these chapters” (5). Old issues presented from Scripture continue to press upon new situations we face. The church continues to need Spirit-filled preachers who are compassionate and diligent pastors. As such, this book is one link in the chain of church history, showing the Lord’s faithfulness in sustaining gospel proclamation one generation at a time.

Ryan M. McGraw is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church serving as a  professor of systematic theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. Ordained Servant Online, May 2021.

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Ordained Servant: May 2021

The Importance of Elders

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