Book Review: A Portrait of Paul, by Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker
In the modern Evangelical world of incessant novelties and pastoral pop-stardom, how can a church discern between a glitzy, charismatic, flash-in-the-pan pulpiteer and a faithful, humble, minister of the gospel? The question is perhaps more difficult than most Christians appreciate â€“ and answering it correctly can have immense consequences for the health of a church. If this matter is currently on the front burner of any church or pastoral search committee today â€“ and I suspect it must be â€“ then I can say this to you without reservation: before you take another step, read A Portrait of Paul, by Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker. The portrait that these men draw out faithfully from the text of Colossians will prove to be invaluable for showing in a full-orbed way just what a faithful and worthy (even if not perfect!) gospel minister should be striving for â€“ imitating Paul even as he imitated Christ.
Colossians 1:24 through 2:5 â€“ the passage forming the basis of this book â€“ is one of those passages which, when you start to examine it in detail, cannot fail to surprise you in the depths and expansiveness with which it treats of its subject. How manifold and daunting are the roles and attitudes and actions that a true gospel minister must be characterized by as he pursues his work! And how easy to lose balance and perspective! What a daunting array of tasks to perform: warning against false doctrine without losing gentleness and humility; admonishing and rebuking those who err without failing to display a genuine, soul-deep love and compassion for them; pleading in prayer, leading in the pursuit of holiness, showing patience and compassion to the weak, preaching God's word faithfully, shedding the light of doctrine and the heat of practical application, and most of all, bringing every passage to bear on the Person and work of Christ, who is the sum and substance of divine revelation. Where can a minister find all of these various elements brought out and made to co-exist, not at variance with each other but in a mutually-supportive whole? The portrait of Paul in Colossians is one outstanding such case, and Ventura and Walker's book is an outstanding treatment of that passage.
It is difficult to highlight a few chapters from the book, because every chapter, in its way, is worthy of spotlighting; but if I had to pick a favorite, after a few moments of waffling, I would probably settle on the sixth chapter, which describes in detail what an effective preaching ministry looks like. After all, as the book suggests, the â€œdeclaration of Jesus is the central duty of the true servant of the Lordâ€. Faithful pastors â€œnever proclaim a mere system, nor a set of rules...They do not preach positive thinking. They do not preach themselves...[they] declare a person, a living person who is the source of all true life, in whom lies the hope of glory, the only fulfillment of the deepest needs of sinful men... This matter reveals the crucial difference between a true servant of Christ and a false oneâ€. After thus emphasizing the importance of a scriptural, Christ-centered preaching ministry, the chapter then goes on in very practical terms to describe just what that means and does not mean. This segment of the book should be required reading for any preacher or aspiring preacher.
As I previously suggested, this book is a must-read for anyone involved in searching for a pastor; but it is also geared for a much wider audience than that â€“ it is not simply a â€œhow toâ€ manual for pastoral search committees. Its nature as a book describing in detail what a faithful minister looks like makes it an obvious choice for present or aspiring pastors; and one structural feature both underscores that use and effectively extends the target audience to virtually any believer in Christ: after the bulk of each chapter deals at a very practical and expositional level with a portion of the passage in Colossians, there are concluding segments addressed first of all to fellow-believers, and then to fellow-pastors of the authors. These segments are always suffused with intentional, practical wisdom appropriate both for the sheep and the shepherds. Not only will the pastor gain much insight into how to fulfill his ministry well, but the sheep will gain much insight into how to benefit from the labors of the pastor most fully, and how to support and uphold him, not just for his own good, but also for their own. I cannot think of any class of believer that does not stand to benefit by this marvelous book. It really is, as John MacArthur expresses it, â€œa wonderful, powerful, soul-stirring examinationâ€.