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Darrin Patrick. Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission. Crossway Books, 2010. 240 pages.

Church planting is a growing movement in the evangelical world. There are a number of books, articles, conferences, boot camps and networks devoted to planting churches. Even The Gospel Coalition is supporting this trend with an event tied to their national conference next April. Enter Church Planter written by Darrin Patrick. Patrick is the vice president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and the founding pastor of the Journey Church in St. Louis, MO.  Serving in ministry for over twenty years as a pastor and planter, Patrick has helped Acts 29 plant more than 300 churches and is more than qualified to write on this subject.

The book is divided into three sections: The Man, The Message, and The Mission. The first section, The Man, takes a look at the type of man God uses as a pastor/church planter to “carry the message of Jesus into the world.” He is a rescued man, a called man, a qualified man , a dependent man , a skilled man , a shepherding man , and a determined man .  Patrick ends each chapter with stimulating questions or thoughts on how to improve in each of these areas, emphasizing what God has done for the man in Christ, how He gifts the man to “honor God with a life devoted to his kingdom and his people.”

The second section focuses on the message the man carries into the world. First, the gospel is a historical message, centered on the Person and work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, which calls for faith and repentance, and exposes and shatters the idols of the heart.

The final section deals with the man’s mission. For Patrick, the heart of mission is compassion and is carried through the local church. This mission is to be characterized by “care” and aim for transformation, endearing people to the gospel.

A few strengths deserve mention. Every chapter begins with a page of excellent quotes dealing with the chapter’s topic. John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Richard Baxter, and many more set the tone for each chapter. Also, the book focuses on the character and work of the pastor/planter and the message he proclaims. This is not a how-to manual and that might be its greatest strength. Church Planter is packed with exegetical, theological and pastoral insight that will be more helpful to any planter than a mere how-to manual filled with strategies and principles.

I have a few concerns with Church Planter. First, the writing style of the book represents a trade-off, which will attract some and repel others. There are phrases, sentences, and illustrations throughout the book that will come across to some readers as edgy and shocking for the sake of being edgy and shocking. For instance, dealing with qualification of “one-woman-man,” he writes, this qualification suggests “an unspectacular sex life would keep a man from being a qualified pastor.” This overstates the main point of the qualification because the Bible certainly does not teach that having an average sex life will disqualify a man from ministry. Unfortunately, Patrick’s edgy style and use of overstatement throughout Church Planter will cause of large percentage of his potential audience to be thoroughly put off and not hear his important message. There are I know men who would benefit from reading this book, but I cannot give it to them, much less recommend it without some qualifications.

Secondly, Patrick writes in the preface about working with other churches, denominations and networks to plant gospel-centered churches in spite of theological disagreements on the issue of gender roles in the church. He writes, “We must learn to disagree well. Why? Because the gospel must go forward. And the gospel will not likely prevail in a given city with only Reformed, male-led churches.” This sentence is out of step with the rest of the book and Acts 29. Two of the three convictions of Acts 29 are that they are Reformed and male-led. Patrick himself is Reformed and complementarian. I am convinced the gospel championed in this book will prevail in any given city because the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16), even if the only church in the city proclaiming it is Reformed and male-led. Patrick’s argument that we must cooperate with theologically differing churches in order for the gospel to “go forward” and “prevail” is unpersuasive and paradoxical.

Finally, I was not convinced that the “heart of mission” is compassion.  Quoting a number of passages in Matthew and Mark, Patrick says, “It is clear that compassion motivated Jesus’ ministry.”  Further, “The motive for mission is compassion… We go on the mission of the Savior because we share the compassionate heart of the one who sees people as sheep without a shepherd.” Nothing Patrick writes in this chapter is false, it seems this is just not all that could be said about the heart of the pastor’s mission.  There is nothing on how compassion partners with truth, God’s glory, or the passages in the New Testament where Jesus, as in John 4:34, says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” It seems that compassion flows from the heart of the ministry, rather than being the heart itself. Reformed pastors and church planters will do well to hear Patrick’s call to have a heart that imitates the compassion of the Savior, but the message of the gospel can be easily lost in the fog of compassion.

Church Planter will greatly serve the church and the planters they raise up because it focuses so much attention on Christ, the gospel and the calling and qualifications of the pastor/planter, and less on methodology and planting strategies. Patrick’s experience and insight fill every page. He casts a much needed vision that incorporates every important aspect of church planting and gives churches, networks, and planters a solid foundation. My concerns aside, Church Planter will be foundational for church planting networks, denominations and churches, seeking to plant gospel-centered, Christ-exalting churches in areas needing a witness to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

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God is infinitely happy in being God. He does not need us. The Father, Son and Spirit are perfect, needing nothing, and all-glorious in who they are.

“He is the great God… “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” and created not angels and men because he wanted them, for he is being itself, and as such must necessarily be infinitely happy in the glorious perfections of his nature from everlasting to everlasting; and as he did not create, so neither did he redeem because he needed us; but he loved us because he loved us; he would have mercy because he would have mercy; he would show compassion because he would show compassion.”

~ Susannah Wesley

From Fred Sanders, The Deep Things Of God, 67

Thomas R. Schreiner. Run To Win The Prize: Perseverance In The New Testament. Crossway Books, 2010. 128 pages.

“Once saved, always saved.”  As a missionary and pastor’s son growing up in the church, I have lost count of how many times I have heard that phrase.  But is that the central theme of the New Testament’s teaching on perseverance?  Dr. Thomas Schreiner, James Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary takes up the New Testament’s collective passages on perseverance in Run To Win The Prize.  A follow-up to The Race Set Before Us, he tackles issues and criticism raised from that work, while seeking to open up the doctrine of perseverance to a wider audience and arguing that “all believers need the warnings and admonitions of Scripture” (16).

Chapter one explores the exhortations to persevere found in the New Testament given to both new and mature Christians. Schreiner argues that these texts are not to be understood as calling for works-righteousness in the life of the believer, but they are actually calling for a “continual reliance upon the grace of God” (17).  He displays the New Testament authors’ pattern of teaching new believers. The texts do not teach that new Christians “will inherit the kingdom no matter what they do.  Rather, they are urged to remain and continue in the faith” (18). Not only does the New Testament exhort experienced Christians to remain in the faith, these calls for perseverance are “a staple of NT teaching” (19). The charges to “stand firm”, “resist”, “keep” and “hold fast” are examined and argued to show that experienced believers are exhorted to “continue in the faith to the end in order to receive the end-time reward of eternal life” (23).

Chapter two seeks to demonstrate that “warnings threatening final judgment are pervasive in Scripture” (25).  Beginning with an overview of the different scholarly interpretations of the warning passages, Schreiner introduces the warning passages found in the New Testament and that they are found in every genre of New Testament literature.  Schreiner convincingly exegetes the warnings in the Gospels, Paul, 2 Peter, 2 John, Revelation and Hebrews to show they all have the same character of admonishing the reader “against falling away” (48), not because they have, but so do not!  The warning passages are a means to final salvation and redemption from judgment in the life of the believer.

Chapter three fights the criticism of Schreiner’s interpretations of the warning passages, namely that the Christian needs to attain perfection to run the race to the end in order to be saved. He clearly demonstrates that cannot be attained in this life and, indeed, there is not even a hint that perfection is required. Through a close look at Philippians, 1 John, 1 Corinthians and James, Schreiner shows persevering is not the same as perfection. In fact, theses texts teach that perfection will only be attained on the Last Day. Although the Christian will not attain moral perfection in this life, believers must still run the race “with effort and energy in order to obtain the eschatological prize on the last day” (54). This does not equate to a works-righteousness because though believers keep running the race, they “run the race in faith, not trusting their own righteousness but looking to Christ” (55). Sin is our ever-present enemy and our lives will be forever filled with imperfection. The warnings and admonitions in the New Testament are for the believer’s benefit and call them look to Jesus’ perfect righteousness “to continue in the faith until the end” (65).

Chapter four interacts with the criticism that this view of perseverance amounts to works-righteousness, but Schreiner demonstrates that putting the right emphasis on obedience for salvation is not contrary to believing in faith alone.  He argues that “obedience is necessary for salvation as the fruit or evidence of faith” (72), not the foundation of faith.  God calls his children to “run the race to the end, not by concentrating on doing good works but by faith.”  In turn, this means that perseverance is “a call to faith, not a call to work up the energy to make it to the end by our own strength” (73).  In looking at the cross in Galatians and Hebrews, one sees that saving faith “looks to Christ alone for salvation and trusts him entirely. Hence all good works stem from faith, and… genuine faith always produces works” (86).

The final chapter concludes by tackling the issue of assurance and the warnings. How can the believer have assurance if the warnings are meant for them?  Schreiner believes the warnings are “one of the means God uses to keep his own trusting him and persevering in faith until the end… The warnings provoke them to continue to look to Christ and his righteousness” (92).  He broadly deals with other interpretations, such as the Arminian and Federal Vision views, but finds them lacking in biblical warrant and they strip the power and comfort the warnings and promises are meant to have in the life of the believer. Some object to this view by saying it rules out the need for warnings.  However, Acts 27, 2 Thessalonians 3, Matthew 6 and Mark 13 are used to show that promises of life do not “excluded a need for a warning” (95), nor “rule out the mandate” that believers must endure (100).  Finally, he concludes by demonstrating that all true believers heed the warnings and those who fall away never truly belonged to God.

The strengths of this book are numerous.  First, the length and clarity open up a difficult theme to a wider audience.  Those in the church who would feel The Race Set Before Us a daunting challenge could easily understand the argument of this book, be challenged, encouraged and helped.  Second, Schreiner continually points the reader back to the Bible, the cross and Jesus’ perfect righteousness to answer the objections to his view of perseverance.  Thirdly, this view of perseverance gives the warnings found in the New Testament their teeth back, while at the same time granting comfort and assurance to the believer.  The warnings are shown to be one of God’s tools to keep us running the race and fixing our eyes on Jesus. Fourth, the Appendix is worth the price of the book alone.  It is a wonderful meditation on Galatians 5:2-6. Finally, Schreiner’s ability to make the biblical teaching simple to understand makes it useable in a wide array of venues.  It would make for a great small group study, adult bible class, leadership training resource, biblical counseling guide, new believer’s training and a host of other ministries. Run To Win The Prize gives back the church the misunderstood and misapplied warnings passages.