“Pastor Paul” (McKnight, 2019) Review

My review of Scot McKnight’s latest, Pastor Paul: Nurturing a Culture of Christoformity in the Church.

Goals of the Book:
Today’s pastor is called to wear many hats. In their regular, day to day life? They are called to be preachers, teachers, small group leaders, ministry leaders, volunteer organizers; they are expected to do hospital visits, open their home to guests for meals and coffee, to study the Bible and theology, yet be always open to new people. On the bigger picture? They are called to be CEOs, vision casters, culture creators and leaders, political pundits, and, probably, quite a bit more than that. (Take a minute and ask yourself: what roles do you think a pastor should inhabit?)

But what if we’re wrong, and we shouldn’t be looking to worldly models as the means by which we define the pastoral office? Dr. McKnight goes back to Scripture’s pre-eminent pastor, the Apostle Paul, for advice on how to be a pastor, how to think about others as pastors, and what the office really is and what it means to inhabit that role. Looking through the letters of Paul, Dr. McKnight brings to the surface a beautiful and comprehensive picture of the office.

While calling on the church to stop letting culture define the pastoral office, Dr. McKnight reminds us that pastors set the pace of the pastor in their own churches. Remember Paul’s call to imitate him as he imitates Christ: the contemporary pastor is just as much as an exemplar for life in Christ as Paul was. This creates an obligation on the pastor to view themselves and their role through the lens of Scripture rather than the culture. The pastor, through the grace of God, can learn from Paul (and Dr. McKnight’s examination of Paul) and set a good course for the life of their church. For example, as they grow in Christlikeness, so will the church.

What does this offer the Church?:
Really, both the pastors of a church and the congregation will benefit from this book. For the pastor, this book will be a breath of fresh air. This book stands apart from most books on pastoral leadership because it looks to the Bible for inspiration rather than business models. That means that, if they follow the patterns and models set forth in this book, they will be walking more in line with the idea Christ had for his church. They will also not be called to do more than the Bible asks them to in their ministry. Instead, the book calls pastors to walk in cruciformity, creating a cruciform culture, that will help the church function more in line with the way she is supposed to.

For the church, the congregation will quickly realize that a cruciform pastor leading them into a cruciform culture is a welcome relief from walking in the cultural patterns of the world. Let me bring these two together with an example: one of the ways that Paul speaks, emphasized by Dr. McKnight, is with the language of family. He does not have friends, but he has brothers and sisters in the faith. When the pastor starts to see their co-laborers and congregation as family members, the whole church will shift and start to see each other as family members as well. And when the church feels like family, the presence of God is more easily discerned and appreciated within the community. This will change the life of the congregation, encouraging them to be more inclusive and welcoming as the Spirit opens their hearts to the kin(g)dom of God.

How effectively does this communicate its goals?:
So, I have a confession. In my tenure at Northern Seminary, which is soon coming to an end, I had the chance to take a class with Dr. McKnight entitled “Paul’s Pastoral Theology”. A lot of the material covered in the class was also covered in this book, so I was tracking with a lot of the arguments being made. In this sense, I am a little biased. But I think the books works well, is organized in an easy to follow fashion, and effectively argues his points. (It helps, though, that McKnight does not create categories out of thin air; instead, he brings to the surface what is already present in Paul’s theology.)

Are you a pastor, or do you know a pastor? If so, I can’t recommend this book enough. You’ll find plenty of encouraging ways to think about the office of the pastor, and you’ll be encouraged as you see how the office can open up to new possibilities and wonders that God had planned for it. You can pre-order this book on Amazon now, or discover more about it on Baker’s website.


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