Eugene Peterson & Marva Dawn on "Unnecessary Pastors"

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A Book Review

The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call by Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson, edited by Peter Santucci. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company & Regent College Publishing, 2000. 256 pages. 
 
Books spun from conferences often make better insulation for pastors’ studies than they spark spiritual fire. This book will keep you warm, all right, but not because it leans against an outside wall. Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson teamed up for a Regent College pastors’ conference I regretted missing in 1998. Combining Dawn’s and Peterson’s gifts with splendid editing, Eerdmans and Regent College have produced a daring book that also conveys the original conference’s sparkling give-and-take. 
 
In his introduction and four essays on 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, Peterson provocatively shows that “The Trinity–not the culture, not the congregation–is the primary context for acquiring training and understanding in the pastoral vocation” (p. 5). If pastors let the world write our job descriptions, we become “necessary”–predictable, maybe prosperous. If, however, we follow God’s relationship with the world to write them, we become “unnecessary”–yet faithful and effective. That’s a tough, worthy aim.
 
First, Peterson courteously and articulately eschews critical scholarship that denies factuality of the Pastoral Letters’ background. Then he artfully sketches in miniature the churches and communities Timothy and Titus served, explicating those letters in terms of Paul’s work and relationships recorded in Acts. We become part of Timothy and Titus’s pastoral worlds so God’s Word in those letters informs our callings and builds ourworlds. 
 
After Peterson’s lead-off hits, Marva Dawn cleans up with several grand slams. Ever respectful to an elder statesman, Dawn expands on Peterson’s contributions in her significantly longer lectures on Ephesians. Her treatment of “the Powers” is thrilling in its reach and virtuosity, yet chilling in its implicit warnings of how close to the knife edge of evil and manipulation we pastors often can come. Dawn develops Paul’s “mutual submission” theme so thoroughly yet graciously, that those opposed to women’s leadership might nod appreciatively without necessarily agreeing.      
 
Never showing off, Dawn shows great breadth and width of accessible biblical erudition. She weaves among Ephesians’ themes of worship, “the Powers,” community life, Christ breaking ethnic and gender barriers--and more. Frequently citing her earlier work on such subjects, she also courageously uses her own multiple physical illnesses and handicaps as illustrations without drawing undue attention to herself. I imagine conference listeners first scribbling madly to keep up, then finally dropping their pens and simply enjoying the ride.   
 
Pass this live-action commentary on the Pastorals and Ephesians it on to colleagues, deacons and elders.   It’s a necessary book for unnecessary members of God’s team.
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James, thanks for the review. I read this at the beginning of my ministry about four years ago and it was incredibly insightful and "necessary" reading for entering the ministry. It is so easy to give into the temptations to feel needed, to thrive on that, and to ultimately sell our souls to be necessary. As John the Baptist so truthfully stated, "I must become less, he must become more." May this be true of all our ministries, that Christ is the necessary one and not us.
Blessings,
Ben