Review of William Edgar, R. Kent Hughes, and Alfred Poirier, The Pastor and the Modern World, Pennsylvania: Westminster Seminary Press, 2022.

            This short work actually consists of three addresses – Are We Really Secular? by William Edgar; The Heart of the Pastor and the Pulpit by R. Kent Hughes; and a surprising but very pastorally helpful patristic study, Gregory of Nazianzus: The Pastor as a Physician of Souls, by Alfred J. Poirier. The most intriguing essay is that by Edgar. He is correct in saying that the Christian view of cosmic warfare (Gen.3:15; Rom.16:20) does not equate with the modern culture wars (note Matt.13:30).

However, there are a number of doubtful claims. Edgar wrongly says that Philip Jenkins and Rodney Stark are Roman Catholics (p.26). He also maintains that Max Weber did not teach that wealth gave assurance of election (p.20n22). Weber – and more particularly his translator, Talcott Parsons – turned incomprehensibility into an art form, but Weber did teach that Calvinists looked to worldly success as a sign of God’s favour upon them. Edgar also views Impressionism in art as secularising (p.47), which I think has something to it, but may be overdone.

The case for secularization, or at least ecclesiastical decay, is not hard to make. The Church of England closes about twenty churches per year (p.22). In Germany the Roman Catholic Church has closed over 500 churches in the last decade (p.22). In the Netherlands the figures are higher (p.22). The problem is not faith versus reason. As Nietzsche saw: ‘What is now decisive against Christianity is our taste, no longer our reasons’ (p.48).

The actor, Alan Alda, advised us to go into the wilderness of our intuition, and ‘what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself’ (p.12). One can only feel embarrassed. Matthew Arnold was at least more quotable:

            Wandering between two worlds, one dead,

            The other powerless to be born,

With nowhere yet to rest my head,

Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.

But that was another age.

R. Kent Hughes deals with the pastor’s labours especially in preaching. He cites Phillips Brooks’ well-known words from 1877: ‘Truth through personality is our description of real preaching. The truth must come really through the person, not merely over his lips … It must come through his character, his affections, his whole intellectual and moral being. It must come genuinely through him’ (p.65). Accordingly, Kent Hughes considers that ‘Sermon preparation is twenty hours of prayer’ (p.70). So he spends 2-3 hours early each Lord’s Day not memorizing his sermon but internalizing it (pp.75-76). Remarkably, perhaps, both Jonathan Edwards and Martyn Lloyd-Jones thought that with sermons what is crucial is the impression left at the time, not so much the imparting of information (pp.81-82).

Thirdly and lastly, Alfred J. Poirier presents a study on Gregory of Nazianzus. In late 361 Gregory ordained his namesake son into the ministry. Gregory fled for a time, and in his Defence he answered three questions:

1. Why did he flee the ministry?

2. What does a pastor do, and what kind of man should a pastor be?

3. Who is the man worthy of this call?

To Gregory, ‘The goal of our art is to provide the soul with wings’. In fact, ‘For the guiding of man … seems to me in very deed to be the art of arts and science of sciences.’ (Or.2.16) ‘No one … no one is worthy’ (Or.2.95-99). But He who calls also gives.

The modern pastor will find much to inform and help in these three addresses.

– Peter Barnes