Review of a Really Bad Book

Akin and Pace have a simple goal – to use theological categories to examine the role, requirements and responsibilities of a pastor.[1] They believe ministry will fall victim to a host of errors if it is not grounded in objective, scriptural truth.[2] To that end, they consider (1) the trinitarian foundations of ministry, (2) the doctrinal foundations, and (3) the practical considerations. They are both professors at Southern Baptist institutions, and approach their task from that perspective.

Theological foundations

In Chapter 2, the authors use God’s holiness as a pattern to describe pastoral requirements and calling. “Our personal holiness derives from God’s essence and his expectations.”[3] Next, they explore Christology as a “incarnational” model for pastoral identity and a philosophy of ministry. “A philosophy of ministry that lovingly engages people where they are, humbly sacrifices to meet their needs, and intentionally delivers the gospel, can be described as ‘incarnational.’”[4] In Chapter 4, the authors stress that the Holy Spirit works through pastors as they minister, primarily by compelling their service.

Doctrinal foundations

Chapter 5 surveys the doctrine of man as a foil to help pastors. “As pastors we must recognize the principal role of grace in our own lives, while also extending grace to others and encouraging them to grow in it.”[5] The next chapter discusses ecclesiology and emphasizes that God has a covenant people. However, “the New Testament provides the authoritative basis and instruction regarding God’s church.”[6] Akin and Pace then unpack the implications.

Chapter 7 discusses the great commission. “[I]t is clear that often we do not allow the Scriptures to drive our methods of evangelism, missions, discipleship, church growth, and church planting. We find ourselves speaking loudly about inerrancy, while undermining that same conviction by our practices.”[7]

Practical facilitation

Chapter 8 examines the role of a pastor through use of Christological metaphors. “Daily ministerial tasks find their basis in the doctrinal truths we have explored: the identity of our Shepherd/King, his example as our Shepherd/Keeper, the nature of his sheep, and the invitation to serve as his undershepherds.”[8] The next chapter presents a study of several texts to develop a philosophy of the preaching ministry. Chapter 10 is about the doctrines of marriage and family, to help the pastor balance his responsibilities.

Evaluation

Pace and Akin produced a book that has no heart and no passion. The prose is overly formal and ponderous. The precepts they draw from the doctrinal studies are obvious and unhelpful to any seasoned pastor, and thus unworthy of the reading time it took to reach them. The entire manuscript is alliterated in a distracting and artificial manner, from the section divisions in the table of contents down to the third level sub-headings within the chapters. In short, if another text is unavailable, this book would be an adequate doctrinal introduction for a freshman undergraduate taking a pastoral studies major at a Christian university.

Insofar as they provide doctrinal bases for pastoral ministry, Akin and Pace succeed in their goal. However, the book’s flaws are so spectacular that they manage to entomb the author’s modest accomplishments under an avalanche of stodgy execution.  

Pace and Akin offer not one unique or valuable insight for the experienced pastor. Not one. Everything they have to say has been said better and more concisely by others. 

The book’s structure is clumsy and laborious. Each chapter follows the pattern (1) introduction, (2) theological premise,[9] (3) biblical precepts, (4) pastoral principles, (5) conclusion.[10] Pace and Akin do not just state the premise; they set out to prove it. Then, they pivot to explain the precepts from the premise – most of which were obvious from the discussion of the premise.

Afterwards, Pace and Akin distill some principles from these precepts. However, because “precept” and “principle” are virtual synonyms,[11] the distinction is artificial and frustrating. Indeed, one suspects their fondness for alliteration drove the chapter structure more than common sense; an irony that only grows stronger in their discussion on grammatical-historical homiletics.

The result is that the prize at the end of the chapter is never worth the effort the reader expends to get there. For example, consider a representative selection of precepts and principles from the discussion on homiletics.

After surveying several texts, Akin and Pace produce precepts for pastors, and declare they must (note the alliteration, italicized for emphasis):

  1. Have the spiritual precedent to preach (Neh 8)
  2. Have the spiritual passion to preach (Ezra 7)
  3. Have a sincere prayer for preaching (1 Cor 2:1-5), and
  4. Enjoy the sacred privilege of preaching (2 Tim 3:16-4:5)

This is rather thin gruel for approximately eight pages of exposition.[12] However, that is not all. In perhaps the most unfortunate discussion in an already unfortunate book, Akin and Pace list the following principles to help pastors prepare a sermon:[13]

  1. A text-driven sermon reviews the selection of the text.
  2. A text-driven sermon requires the study of the text.
  3. A text-driven sermon reveals the substance of the text.
  4. A text-driven sermon relays the significance of the text.
  5. A text-driven sermon reflects the structure of the text.

These are shallow insights. Indeed, the thin gruel is now gone, and we are left with ditch water. No seasoned pastor will find anything of value in this guidance. A very specific philosophy of preaching, Akin and Pace declare, drives this approach:[14]

  1. God has given us the mandate to preach.
  2. God has given us the message to proclaim.
  3. God has given us the method to practice.

The entire text proceeds in this fashion. The alliteration is distracting and artificial, yet it saturates every column inch of the text. This contrived approach, like a dead cockroach in your mother’s chocolate-chip cookie dough, negates any helpful insights Akin and Pace may otherwise offer. Even their section headings of (1) theological foundation, (2) doctrinal formulation, and (3) practical facilitation are contrived. Trinitarian considerations aredoctrinal, and categories of systematic doctrine are also foundational, so the dichotomy in section headings is puzzling. If the goal was cute alliteration, however, then the puzzle is solved.

Akin and Pace, when they discuss a pastor’s calling, squander an opportunity to help ministers. They describe the calling as high, humble and holy. This is obvious and unhelpful. But, how to know if one is called to the ministry? The authors retreat to alliteration once again, and explain the calling must be authentic, must have authority, and it must be affirmed.

No faithful minister on earth would disagree with this. But, what does it mean? They explain that, in order for a pastoral call to be authentic, it “must be confirmed as God’s will for our lives through spiritual discernment within the context of our personal relationship with Christ.”[15] This is a sentence that communicates nothing.

They go on to anchor the call in a lack of fulfillment doing anything else; “if it is impossible to find true satisfaction and contentment in any other career, and the biblical criteria are met, then a pastoral call may be confirmed.”[16] This may be accurate, but it hardly helpful to anybody but a undergraduate student.

Akin and Pace’s conclusions are always commonplace and unremarkable. This does not mean they are wrong; merely that they are obvious. It is as if one read a dense tome on all the inner workings of the internal combustion engine; a work intended to help drivers operate their vehicles better. Now, pretend the book concluded with these remarks:

  1. Get into the seat.
  2. Buckle yourself securely.
  3. Insert the key into the ignition and turn clockwise slowly.
  4. Shift to “drive” safely.
  5. Check for traffic approaching your blind spot surreptitiously.
  6. Press the accelerator and ease into traffic sedately.

The reader would likely believe the effort was not worth the reward. Indeed, he did not have to read the book at all if the conclusions were as tedious as all that.

This entire book could have been a pamphlet, but its practical value for advanced students would still be meager. They simply do not have anything meaningful to say to seasoned pastors.


[1] Daniel Akin and R. Scott Pace, Pastoral Theology (Nashville: B&H, 2017; Kindle ed.), KL 480. 

[2] “When we lose sight of how theological truth forms the foundation for ministry philosophy and practice, we run the risk of several ministerial pitfalls: pragmatism, moralism, egotism, and cynicism,” (Pastoral Theology, KL 340).

[3] Pastoral Theology, KL 665.     

[4] Pastoral Theology, KL1533. 

[5] Pastoral Theology, KL 2289. 

[6] Pastoral Theology, KL 2572. 

[7] Pastoral Theology, KL 3059. 

[8] Pastoral Theology, KL 3798. 

[9] The plural of “premise” is “premises.” Akin and Pace always conclude this section with more than one premise, so this chapter sub-heading is grammatically incorrect throughout the text. 

[10] Note the alliteration in #2-4, which I will address shortly. 

[11] The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, 3rd ed., compiled Christine Lindberg (New York: OUP, 2012)offers “principle” as a direct synonym for “precept,” (s.v. “precept,” 683). According to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 2003),precept means “a command or principle intended esp. as a general rule of action” (s.v. “precept,” n, 1), while principle means “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine or assumption,” (s.v. “principle,” n, 1a).

[12] Pastoral Theology, KL 4174 – 4283.

[13] Pastoral Theology, KL 4344 – 4384.

[14] Pastoral Theology, KL 4283 – 4384.

[15] Pastoral Theology, KL 948. 

[16] Pastoral Theology, KL 1013.

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