Paul David Tripp’s book has been titled incorrectly. Dangerous Calling should be titled, Lessons in the Woodshed. The author guides pastors to the woodshed again and again and again. While this is clearly not the most glowing and winsome way to begin a book review, readers will see firsthand that the author is committed to telling pastors the truth and leading them out of the desert of sin and into the high places of victory.
In the opening section, Tripp explores pastoral culture and expresses deep concern from the start. His primary argument: Many pastors are headed in the wrong direction – and fast! The author draws the reader in by using his own life and ministry as an example of one who was headed for disaster – both in his ministry and in his marriage. Evidently, pastors around the country are in a similar situation. Some pastors are ignoring the need for biblical community, neglecting personal worship and devotional priorities, and carry the attitude that they have “arrived.”
Next, Tripp uncovers a problem among pastors that appears to be somewhat of an epidemic, namely – the danger of forgetting the majesty of God: “It is that familiarity with the things of God will cause you to lose your awe. You’ve spent so much time in Scripture that its grand redemptive narrative, with its expansive wisdom, doesn’t excite you anymore.”
Tripp reminds pastors to regain their sense of awe by cultivating humility, tenderness, passion for the gospel, confidence, discipline, and rest. He urges pastors, “… Run now, run quickly to your Father of awesome glory. Confess the offense of your boredom. Plead for eyes that are open to the 360-degree, 24/7 display of glory to which you have been blind … And remind yourself to be thankful for Jesus, who offers you his grace even at those moments when that grace isn’t nearly as valuable to you as it should be.”
Finally, Tripp warns pastors of the danger of “arrival.” He confronts the propensity of pastors who falsely assume that they have nothing more to learn, what he refers to as “self-glory.” His challenge is bold and timely: “You and I must not become pastors who are all too aware of our positions. We must not give way to protecting and polishing our power and prominence. We must resist feeling privileged, special, or in a different category. We must not think of ourselves as deserving or entitled. We must not demand to be treated differently or put on some ministry pedestal. We must not minister from above but from alongside.” Challenges and admonition like this appear throughout the book; challenges that call pastors to be servant leaders.
Each page is filled with sobering challenges for men who call themselves a pastor/shepherd/elder. Indeed, there are many “lessons in the woodshed” but the author does not leave pastors in a hopeless condition. Rather, he applies the gospel to pastors who have been wounded in light of unconfessed sin, pride, and arrogance. I believe that Paul David Tripp has accurately accessed the condition of pastoral ministry. But the assessment is not the most important observation. What stands at the center of this discussion is the gospel. Pastors must return again and again to the gospel. It is true that pastors must deliver the message of the gospel from the pulpit each week. But pastors must also preach the gospel to themselves. They must see themselves as recipients of grace; sinners in need of grace; sinners in need of forgiveness. May God raise up a new generation of pastors who are humble, contrite, and tremble at God’s Word (Isa. 66:2b).