This book, Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp, is a book about pastoral ministry. However, it is not about the general aspects of pastoral ministry; it has a more specific focus. The focus is on pastoral ministry gone wrong. So this book is not for pastors who are generally on the right track of humble service. It is not for weary and fatigued pastors looking for refreshment, encouragement, and renewed motivation for ministry. It is not for pastors, seminarians, and churches who are looking for a book to challenge and encourage them to stay the course of biblical, pastoral ministry. It is for pastors and churches who have gotten off the biblical path of pastoral ministry.
I realize Dangerous Calling is marketed as a book meant for all pastors, elders, and laypeople who want education in this area, but I don’t believe it is for just anyone. I’m actually a bit disappointed since I picked this book up hoping for a broader discussion of the pastoral ministry, including bold encouragement to stay the course in pastoring and preaching. Perhaps I shouldn’t have trusted the marketing blurbs (why do I keep doing that?). Though everyone can certainly learn from different parts of the book, it really isn’t for all pastors, elders, and laypeople.
Here’s who the book is for: pastors who struggle with pride (thinking they are better than or above others in the church), hypocrisy (preaching godliness while living ungodly secret lives), mediocrity (writing sermons on Saturday), and formality (going through the motions of the ministry without the heart). Tripp does talk about a few more issues like those, but all the discussions fall under one of these things. Certainly most pastors (myself included!) struggle with some of these things from time to time, but the book is really for pastors who struggle with all of those things at once. For those pastors who do struggle with all these things at once – who are “off the track” – this book is exactly what they and their churches need! I cannot recommend it enough for that audience.
I should also point out a few subjective critiques. First, Tripp’s writing style was tough for me to read. Many times in the book entire paragraphs were filled with rhetorical questions. This got overwhelming after the second chapter – I found it far too difficult to answer all those rhetorical questions (well over 100 in all). Also, the repetition in the book drove me crazy. Many paragraphs had sentences that started the exact same way. For example, on page 97 one paragraph contained “I knew…” ten times. This wouldn’t have been annoying to me if it happened once or twice, but I was distracted by this by the middle of the book. Again, those are subjective critiques about things that annoy me as writer and reader.
Before I conclude, I should point out one sentence that summarizes a major argument of the book (the pastor’s heart). For the pastor, Tripp writes, “Public ministry is meant to be fueled and propelled by private devotion” (p. 197). Both are, of course, important, but I believe it would be better to say that private devotion is meant to be fueled and propelled by the public ministry of the word and sacrament – for both the pastor and parishioner. Indeed, Tripp didn’t even mention the sacraments in this book on pastoral ministry! This is a glaring omission.
To summarize, this book is a valuable and essential resources for those pastors and churches who have gotten far off track in the pastoral ministry. For those pastors who think they run the show and are above the common parishioner, this book will be a ministry saver. For pastors who preach one thing and live another, this book will convict and lead to repentance. But if you’re a pastor who is generally headed in the right pastoral direction – with humility, a true heart, and hope in the gospel – this book isn’t one that will challenge, refresh, and encourage you along that path. Dangerous Calling will, however, be helpful for many larger churches who have begun to exist more like a religious business than a body of Christ. And one of Tripp’s oft-repeated phrases is indeed one all of us can take to heart: preach the gospel to yourself constantly!