Gospel-shaped pastoral ministry

This post continues a series examining key points of Andrew Purves' book Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 4567891011.

For Purves, pastoral ministry is fully Christian when it flows from a pastoral theology that is understood as a hermeneutical discipline formulated in reference to the being and acts of God who, in Christ, and by the Spirit, is actively ministering in our world. But how is the ongoing ministry of the triune God identified so that we may participate? According to Purves, the all-important hermeneutical (interpretive) key is the gospel of Jesus Christ:
He That is Without Sin by Liz Lemon Swindle
(used with permission)
[The gospel] reveals and interprets the reality of the human situation and heals, sustains, reconciles and guides. It is the actuality of the gospel, the presence of the living Christ clothed with his saving works, that defines and enables the pastoral ministry of the church, giving it a power from beyond itself.... Insofar as pastors interpret the lives of their people before God in the light of the love of God in Jesus Christ [the gospel], they are able to bring doctrine to a deeper and more faithful articulation on the basis of their pastoral work.... Pastoral practice of the faith is possible only as we develop a deep practical wisdom rooted in a graced participation in God's missional reality in, through, and as Jesus Christ, knowledge [that is] illumined and clarified by the study of situations and events where the gospel is preached, taught, and lived out.... 
Pastoral theology begins as a theology of the ministry of God for us in, through, and as Jesus Christ, and as such brings to expression the gospel of revelation and reconciliation. Jesus Christ as the mission of God to and for us is the ground of and the basis for the church's ministries of care [i.e. pastoral ministry]. To insist that the ministry of the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit is the primary subject matter of pastoral theology means that there is no faithful content to speaking forth and living out the gospel pastorally apart from knowing and sharing in the mission of the God who acts in and through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit precisely in and as a man for all people. (pp. 11-12, 22) 
Note how Purves identifies Jesus (who he is, not merely what he does) as God's mission. Thus we see that God's mission is not principally a "what" but a "who." Another way to say this is that God's mission is fundamentally personal---it focuses on the personal, healing presence of Jesus who comes to us clothed in his gospel. God's mission is to heal the world, and Jesus both the healer and the healing medicine. We are not merely healed "by" Jesus, but "in" him (in "union" with him).

Unfortunately, pastoral ministry in contemporary evangelicalism often is focused on the question "What would Jesus do?" instead of "Who is Jesus" (his being) and "What is Jesus now doing?" (his ongoing acts). Our calling is not to merely mimic what Jesus once did, but to share in his love adn life and thus in his ongoing ministry, by the Spirit, in the world.

On a related note, we understand that Jesus is not merely a messenger who left us with information (rules and principles) but the living Lord who comes to us clothed in his gospel as the person he truly is, Emmanuel---God with us in human flesh. Jesus also comes to us as Savior---bringing salvation not as a commodity or transaction, but as what it truly is---union with his incarnate person. Our salvation is not merely "by" Christ but "in" Christ (with all that the phrase "in Christ" means).

In the continuing humanity of Jesus we find what it means to be truly human---human nature fully conformed to the image of God. Therefore, in Jesus (Colossians 3:3) we find our true (fully healed/glorified) humanity. As Purves notes, "Our union with Christ is the ontological basis of true humanity" (p, 25).

What does all this have to do with how we conduct pastoral ministry? The answer is everything! Redemption/salvation (and all it means, including justification, sanctification and glorification) occurs... "Within the mediatorial life and person of Jesus Christ. Our salvation takes place in the inner relations of the mediator in the unity of his person as wholly God and wholly human" (p. 25). And so the focus of pastoral ministry must be none other than the incarnate Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, himself---pointing people to him as the one (exclusive) source of their true humanity, who, by the Spirit includes all humanity in his vicarious (representative, substitutionary) human life.

Reflecting on these thoughts, Purves makes an important statement that concludes with a question:
Pastoral theology must be clear that the gospel and not the social sciences provides the foundation for pastoral work, all the while recognizing that the social sciences have much to teach concerning our understanding of and response to the people in our pastoral charge. It is unacceptable to be in ministry without a working knowledge of people. On what basis, or according to what kind of a relationship, however do we proceed to speak of Christian faith and social sciences sharing in a common task? (p. 30)
We'll explore Purves' answer to this question next time as we continue looking at the nature of pastoral ministry that is true and meaningful participation in the love and life of the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit (and thus fully Christian).

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