Burridge, Richard A. Four Ministries, One Jesus: Exploring Your Vocation with the Four Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019, pp 242, $17.09, paperback.
Rev. Professor Richard A. Burridge is the Dean of King’s College London where he serves as a professor of biblical interpretation. In 2013 he became the first non-Catholic to receive the prestigious Ratzinger Prize. Burridge is a member of the General Synod of the Church of England and served on the Evaluation Committee for ordination and theological education.
Four Ministries, One Jesus examines the somewhat mysterious “call” of those entering into vocational ministry. Though designed with the Anglican context in mind, Burridge addresses all faith traditions in his engaging and articulate manner. The introduction to Four Ministries, One Jesus clarifies that this edition began as a collection of addresses given at an ordination retreat for the Diocese of Peterborough in England and serves as the foundational context for the instructions given by Burridge. The author divides the gospels into four categories of ministry: the teaching ministry of Christ in Matthew, the pastoral care of Christ in Luke, the suffering servant in Mark, and the divine spiritual life of Christ in John. Each chapter includes a perspective on the life of Christ, a practical application for those entering ministry, tips for prayer and reflection, then a final charge to continue in this aspect in one’s ministry.
While there are countless resources examining the difference between the four gospels, Burridge’s approach to seeing each account through the lens of ministerial calling is unique. By examining each gospel and their portrayal of Jesus, Burridge gives a holistic challenge for those entering the ministry. Burridge builds on his previous work, Four Gospels, One Jesus, in which he addresses the multifaceted aspects of Christ’s earthly ministry. Though not required to understand and appreciate this work, familiarity with the later volume would aid the reader in grasping the context for Burridge’s discussion as he addresses those considering vocational ministry. Burridge makes no attempt to defend his chosen topic for applying each gospel to one entering vocational ministry and offers no novel ideas in his application, though his chosen topics are essential for the aspiring minister.
In the first section, Burridge places a high priority upon the teaching role of the minister. One of his best exhortations is to remind those anticipating ordination that, “A well-prepared missional candidate understands that the candidacy process is the beginning of a lifelong process of learning and formation for leadership” (p. 22). Burridge is committed to life-long learning and reminds the reader that no ministry career is fulfilling without diligent study for the benefit of those he (or she) serves. This introductory section is perhaps Burridge’s strongest because he maintains growth in one’s teaching is always done to serve others. A minister who does not commit to leveraging the resources available in today’s vast array of knowledge is inexcusable.
In the second section, Burridge adjusts by examining Luke rather than Mark. There is no stated reason for this order, but it flows well in his analysis of Christ and benefits the reader. Pastoral care is the application of one’s teaching ministry, and caring for hurting souls demonstrates the truthfulness of one’s preaching. This portion is perhaps Burridge’s weakest because the majority of his thought comes from citing the ordination practices of various denominations. Though what he says is clear and compelling, there is little new information. However, one line stands above the others in his final exhortation. He instructs those entering ministry to submit themselves to the pastoral care of others. The trap, he claims, is that “it is all too easy for those of us undertaking pastoral care of others to start to believe our own propaganda…” (p. 86). Under the supervision of other trusted leaders, one is able to pour out one’s life in the true service of others.
In his section on the gospel of Mark, Burridge paints the minister as a reflection of Christ as the suffering servant. The suffering presented is a result of the cosmic struggle between Satan and God, and those who serve the Savior are destined to encounter resistance and oppression. The antidote for this is twofold. First, Burridge exhorts the aspiring minister to remember his or her strength comes from the Holy Spirit and not one’s ingenuity. Second, one must observe the pattern of Christ in retreating to a solitary place after the flurry of ministry. Burridge gives practical advice to develop a pattern of rest and enjoy the companionship of others. While there is little engagement with scripture in his admonition, this portion contains pastoral wisdom seasoned with years of ministry experience. Regardless of one’s faith tradition, they would do well to observe the practical encouragement presented by Burridge.
Finally, the gospel of John calls the reader to participate in the divine life of Christ through observation of the sacraments and prayer. Those of the Free or Baptist church traditions (such as the author of this review) may be tempted to easily discount Burridge’s theological perspective of the sacraments without pausing to glean from his wisdom. While this section relies heavily on the Anglican and Lutheran view of the sacraments, the call to see these ordinances as symbolic of the communal life of God’s people is helpful if one can set aside the theological disagreements. Rather than focusing on the individual nature of the call, Burridge encourages the reader to reflect upon the communal nature of spirituality and how it is essential to those who serve in a ministerial context. Though at times Burridge is confusing as he diverges into personality tests and other modern contemplative practices, a careful reader can navigate this portion to glean some helpful bits of wisdom in seeing the call to ministry as a call not merely to an individual, but from a people to a people.
Burridge gives no apologies for his conversational style in this book. One reads as if listening to a mentor describe the joys and challenges of serving the people of God. While helpful and pastoral, there are moments when the awkward outline dilutes otherwise helpful information. This volume reads more like a recording of lectures rather than the helpful handbook it desires to be. Though Burridge admirably attempts to widen his audience to those of different faith traditions, at times, his multi-denominational approach is confusing and even unhelpful. Burridge would have served the reader better if he had focused on his Anglican practices and then added commentary in ways he perceived would be helpful to those of other denominational traditions.
Additionally, Burridge attempts to present practical steps for application as the reader examines his or her call to ministry. These sections are cumbersome and quickly glossed over if one does not take careful care to practice them, causing the reader to miss beneficial wisdom. While his raw content his helpful, it suffers from the format chosen. The work would better serve the reader if care had given to clarifying the outline and reformatting the presentation of material to make the application more accessible to the reader. For those considering creating an ordination process or for those who are seeking to reflect on their ordination experience, Four Ministries, One Jesus could be a helpful contribution in developing one’s training emphasis. However, the novice reader who is wrestling with a personal call to minister to the people of God would benefit more by choosing other works on this topic. Four Ministries, One Jesus is a noteworthy and readable reflection best reserved for a seasoned minister desiring personal renewal, but an unhelpful resource to those exploring vocational ministry.
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary