Many Christian leaders seem to be aware that the evangelical movement in the United States is weakening, while they see no consensus as to a solution. Remedies seem to abound; yet time has rendered most of them illusory.
The external cause of the diminution of spiritual health in the Western churches is rooted, according to Tripp, a counselor and former Reformed pastor, in the gradual assimilation of cultural values of the Enlightenment expressed in rationalism and ultrarationalism (i.e., postmodernity). These destructive orientations find their locus in an overemphasis on external qualifications such as education, personality, and skill, and external controls expressed in management techniques brought into the churches through the training of its leadership. Tripp states that the great privilege of education is one source of the problem, that the seminaries stress learning, skills-acquisition, and management technique that singularly define a “successful” ministry. These important qualifications are emphasized by elder boards and pastoral-selection committees, and consequently pastors and churches may lack other more seminal qualities. In short, the unwitting overembrace of Enlightenment values has caused a neglect of important internal spiritual truths. Like secularist solutions to problem-solving, the external has taken precedence over the internal, management over the spiritual. The result is a blighting sterility that often temporarily fills pews but has not reversed the attrition of religious seriousness across the Western, industrial nations.
The solution, according to Tripp, involves recognition that the issues of life are rooted in the delights and affections of the heart, mankind’s innermost faculty of the soul. The Enlightenment resulted in enormous physical prosperity but at the cost of emptying the soul (the material at the loss of the aesthetic). The crisis in the churches finds its source in several places: the educational preparation of ministers, the secular perspective of church leadership, and oft-jaundiced values of ministers. “Bad things happen when maturity is more defined by knowing than it is by being” (p. 42). Many churches lack a sense of the awe of God; with the result that many leaders settle for mediocrity in worship. “The pastor must be enthralled by, in awe of—can we say it: in love with—his redeemer so that what he thinks, desires, chooses, decides, says, and does is propelled by love for Christ and the security of rest in the love of Christ” (p. 63).
In addition to Tripp’s analysis of the current malaise and the importance of the spiritual life of the pastor, the book is filled with wonderful insights about danger signs, accompanied with sound corrective advice. This book is important for the health of churches that are dependent on sound pastoral leadership. It continues the tradition of B. B. Warfield’s famous address to students at Princeton Seminary at the beginning of the last century and the pietistic emphases of the English Puritans of the seventeenth. The book is not a classic, like Richard Baxter’s Reformed Pastor or Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, because it is uneven in quality. But it is a treasure of insight and counsel.
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