3.0 out of 5 stars
Helpful Diagnostic Manual but lacks further substance
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on December 31, 2015
Dangerous Calling sets out to be a diagnostic book that functions as a mirror to confront the current unhealthy state of pastoral culture (11-12). It is important to keep Tripp’s purpose in mind as one reads or decides to read this book. He will often spend multiple pages simply asking similar questions because he is intending to achieve this purpose.
He has three main parts in this book: Examining Pastoral Culture, Forgetting who God is, and Forgetting who you are. The largest section is examining Pastoral Culture and contains the vast majority of his overriding main points. The final two sections are intended to be more specific to the individual Pastor as he draws on ideas he has uncovered in the first section.
The two largest ideas that span the length of the book are that Pastors need humble community and that Pastors need personal and private worship.
He continually drives home the first point with statements like the following: “They are comfortable with living outside of or above the body of Christ. They are quick to minister but not very open to being ministered to.” (23) “Because sin blinds, God has set up the body of Christ to function as an instrument of seeing in our lives, so that we can know ourselves with a depth and accuracy that would be impossible if left on our own.” (34) “Perhaps every pastor needs to humbly recognize that because of the blinding power of remaining sin, self-examination is a community project.” (73) – The idea is that Pastors often become prideful from various avenues and need others to help them grow in humble grace. Tripp thinks that the current pastoral culture is toxic with isolation and cold academic rigor. He says, “It is a dangerous intellectual and knowledge-based method of assessing your spiritual condition.” (152)
He drives home the second point with statements like the following: “Pastoral ministry is always shaped, formed, directed, and driven by worship.” (167) It is the personal worship of God through individual and private study of the Bible for the Pastors own heart rather than the hearts of others that produces health. When the Pastor begins to study for teaching or preparation alone – thinking of others more than himself – he is heading for disaster.
A few of the other major ideas are that, “No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.” (21) He also pushes that “it’s not just my mind that needs to be renewed by sound biblical teaching, but my heart needs to be reclaimed by the powerful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (26) Two final major ideas are captured in the following quotes: “How can we realistically expect anyone in the middle of the sanctification process to live outside of one of God’s most important means of personal insight and growth and be spiritually healthy at the same time?” (78) and “It is very difficult in ministry to give away what you do not possess yourself (a major theme of this book).” (119)
As a way of a brief critique, as the summary shows, he generally repeats the same points throughout the book. It is true that this can be helpful if one is currently stuck in an unhealthy Pastoral Culture or is unaware of such a culture but otherwise it can become burdensome. So this could be seen as a negative depending on where you are at within Pastoral Culture. I personally saw it as a major negative as I quickly tired of his continual repetition of the same points – especially his many paragraphs where he would ask similar but distinct questions for the entire paragraph. I admire his desire to uncover all variations of what he is trying to speak to, but there is a point of diminishing returns with such breadth.
One major negative, in my opinion, is his continual negative attitude toward academic knowledge and seminary. It appears that he thinks all seminarians are unhealthy and proud – like he was. While it certainly is true that some are purely academic – I have witnessed and been friends with them – it doesn’t seem to be the best way forward to constantly refer to the academic seminary as a dead and dry place full of arrogance. Tripp does try to correct the generalization that all in seminary are only academic but after continual jabs, his correction rings a bit hollow. Granted, my critique is somewhat based on my experience at an excellent institution full of pastoral care and local church membership.
A further negative, along with the repetition mentioned earlier, is the striking lack of original content. If one has read anything from Tripp in the past, this seems somewhat… well… repetitive. And to have a book length treatment of a subject, one would expect that Tripp would cover a lot more ground than he does. Many of the chapters are so similar that it is hard to distinguish why exactly a new chapter began.
A critique of mine would relate to his purpose for the book as a diagnostic manual and his achievement of this goal. As I mention throughout this review, he is repetitive, asks lots of similar questions, and tells many stories which can serve well to achieve his goal. But he also attempts to add a lot of teaching to his book that ultimately fails to achieve his major goal. It appears that he wants to do two things at once in his book. He wants it to be a diagnostic manual but he also wants it to be much more, as evidenced from the major content of the book, and in trying to make it more than a diagnostic manual, I think he fails.
One Positive from the book was his use of personal stories throughout. Since his book is mainly diagnostic, this aspect really helps. By telling stories he allows the reader to enter into the story and experience the pain and anguish of what happens when the Pastor loses sight of God and himself. So the stories certainly helped him achieve his objective and they all were fairly well written.
Another positive in my opinion was his humble tone throughout the book. Often authors can come off as arrogant and self-righteous – especially in critiquing others. Yet, Tripp excels at remaining humble and continually proclaiming his own personal failures and need for continual grace. He is an author who intends to live what he writes. This is worth a lot of respect in my opinion.
Now, is this book worth recommending or buying?
For someone in my current context with my current experience, I can’t imagine recommending this book to be read in full. There are a few good quotes and a few good paragraphs but for my personal tastes it was extremely repetitive and could have been cut in half at the minimum and still carried the same weight and points. For my personal context, I think I would have benefited just as much from a lengthy blog post that covered his main ideas as I would from this entire book. For a little clarity – my context is having a father who has been a pastor my whole life, a grandfather who was a pastor my whole life, and me personally who is finishing my M.Div. in Seminary while interning at my current church.
But as I noted in the beginning, this book is intended to be a diagnostic manual. A book that sheds light on pastors who are living in an unhealthy cycle. This is why Tripp is so often repetitive (in my opinion) – he intends to make sure no disease escapes and can be ignored. So, while the repetitive nature can be tedious and makes for rough reading I can see how it would serve its purpose well. While I would prefer him to distill his points and ignore the extra fluff, it is helpful in ensuring the Pastor faces the reality of his condition. And this repetitive style did work by the end of the book as I was unable to escape his continual critiques of the unhealthy Pastoral Culture.
So, it really depends on where you are at if this book is worthy of a major recommendation or not. Certainly I find nothing theologically or practically wrong with the book. My only major problems relate to style and emphasis for the most part. Some Pastors who have become hardened and lack personal intake of the Word or who have become isolated from any and all community could definitely benefit from this book. Though I can’t say in good conscience that I will ever pick this book up again and use it in future situations personally.
Rating the book is somewhat difficult. It does appear to achieve its purpose as a diagnostic manual so that is worth a high rating but the way it is marketed and the contents are set up somewhat betray the introductory explanation of the purpose. The content is also highly repetitive at times which makes the book somewhat burdensome to read. Therefore, based on my brief critique, I can’t imagine giving it a full 5 stars. I know nearly all have given it a perfect rating, but I don’t think the contents of the book warrants it. I can see why someone who needs a Pastoral critique would be willing to give this book 4 stars – even 5 – based on how it helped them practically, but if other aspects are taken into account – including but not limited to literary acumen, I think the proper rating is 3 stars. But judge for yourself based on my critique if 3 stars is worthy. I wouldn’t go lower than 3 stars but felt the major critiques left me unable to give it 4 stars in good conscience though I would not quibble over anyone who did rate it as such.
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