Carson, D. A. The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993.
The cross not only establishes what we are to preach, but how we are to preach. It prescribes what Christian leaders must be and how Christians must view Christian leaders. It tells us how to serve and draws us onward in discipleship until we understand what it means to be world Christians.
The chapters are “The Cross and Preaching” (1 Cor 1:18-2:5), “The Cross and the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 2:6-16), “The Cross and Factionalism” (1 Cor 3), “The Cross and Christian Leadership” (1 Cor 4), and “The Cross and the World Christian” (1 Cor 9:19-27). The approach is exegetical (interpreting the text) and the application is to Christian leadership.
Critique (strengths & weaknesses):
Carson does the work of interpretation convincingly and thoroughly. He teaches, using different words, the same thing that I heard at WTS: our message, methods, and character need to reflect Jesus. His approach is balanced — explaining that Paul was a competent communicator (cannot appeal to 1 Cor 2:1-5 to be lazy in sermon prep or delivery). The example of the preacher who switched from high Arabic to street Arabic is especially illustrative — people should not be more interested in his Arabic than his Savior. (We might add great accents from across the pond?) He challenges popular ways of reading 1 Cor 2:6-16 and 1 Cor 3…interpretations that result from sin. And he reminds those who follow Christian leaders that their leaders are accountable to the Lord Christ “and therefore to avoid judging them as if the church itself were the ultimate arbiter of ministerial success” (98). In other words, he teaches those who follow Christian leaders as well as Christian leaders themselves. Overall the book is interesting and challenging. Its weakness lies in its brevity.
Application (specific, shows just how valuable & relevant the book is):
I found the chapter “The Cross and Factionalism” especially helpful. He explains that the architectural analogy in 1 Cor 3 is about the work of Christian leaders. Even when building on the right foundation these leaders might use materials that will not withstand the heat on The Day. The worker whose building materials are not going to withstand the heat will be saved (as if running out of a burning building) but will have nothing to show for their labors. We must give an account of our service on The Day. As Carson says,
People may come, feel “helped,” join in corporate worship, serve on committees, teach Sunday school classes, bring their friends, enjoy “fellowship,” raise funds, participate in counseling sessions and self-help groups, but still not really know the Lord. If the church is being built with large portions of charm, personality, easy oratory, positive thinking, managerial skills, powerful and emotional experiences, and people smarts, but without the repeated, passionate, Spirit-anointed proclamation of “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” we may be winning more adherents than converts. (80)
The immediate application (of which I need to constantly remind myself), in my own words, is to remember to whom we must give an account and therefore to remember how we must focus our energies and to die on that hill (as the saying goes, and very appropriate for the cross). This is different than the measures of the world and the tendency of factionalism (‘I follow so and so’), which makes a particular leader their hero to be praised rather than God.
An excellent illustration of his son vomiting if he was not burped as an infant is applied to 1 Cor 3 this way:
There are Christians who are international-class projectile vomiters, spiritually speaking, after years and years of life. They simply cannot digest what Paul calls “solid food.” You must give them milk, for they are not ready for anything more. And if you try to give them anything other than milk, they upchuck and make a mess of everyone and everything around them. At some point the number of years they have been Christians leads you to expect something like mature behavior from them, but they prove disappointing. They are infants still and display their wretched immaturity even in the way they complain if you give them more than milk. Not for them solid knowledge of Scripture; not for them mature theological reflection; not for them growing and perceptive Christian thought. They want nothing more than another round of choruses and a “simple message”–something that won’t challenge them to think, to examine their lives, to make choices, and to grow in their knowledge and adoration of the living God. (72)