**This post was originally published on my old site
in January, 2015
I am deathly afraid of being presumptuous when dealing with another’s writing. This is particularly true of writers whom I deeply respect. With that being said, I would like to place the guilt of any special pleading squarely on the heads of my elders; who decided to charge me with the task of writing a theological analysis of an excellent book, written by a man who is much smarter than myself. If, in this post, I am putting words in the mouth of this man, I blame my pastors.
I’d like to take a moment to explore one of the theological concepts that serves as a foundation for the pastoral exhortations in The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson. A post like this runs the risk of being embarrassingly redundant, because Pastor Wilson does the work of unpacking orthodoxy for orthopraxy himself in the book. Nevertheless, I’m going to tackle one particular doctrine; namely, the atonement. Definite atonement, in fact. Now, this doctrine is never explicitly singled out as uniquely foundational in this book, but I think I can make a pretty good case for its position as the backbone of a lot of Wilson’s application. But first, let me make a point to say what this post is not. Obviously, it is not an exhaustive theological analysis of The Pastor’s Justification; there are many doctrines in play within this book, and Wilson plainly identifies most of them. Systematic theology is by nature akin to a spider’s web; each thread is woven to another, so to focus on one idea is to neglect many of the others to which it is closely connected. This post is also not position paper, defending the position of definite atonement (John Owen does a far better job at that than I could even dream of anyway); instead, I’m going to take the truth of this doctrine for granted here. It is therefore most helpful to read this post as a brief examination of definite atonement in The Pastor’s Justification.
No Atonement, No Justification
The obvious relevance of definite atonement in Wilson’s book is in the manner by which it makes his thesis possible to begin with. The tag of the book is Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry. This is what gives the Pastor his justification; the work of Christ. And this work is… yep, you guessed it: the atonement.
You cannot have justification without the atonement; the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross is precisely how God can be both the just and the justifier. This is probably the most important correlation between this doctrine and the book. In chapter one, the pastor is encouraged to be freed from the legalistic goals of worldly “success;” a freedom which has been purchased for him by virtue of Christ’s atonement. In chapter two, the pastor is charged with living up to the holiness that Christ has imputed to him; which were both (the holiness imputed, and the abilityto actually live up to it) purchased for him at the cross. In chapter three, the pastor is charged to live in humility, being confident in his reconciliation to the Father apart from prideful endeavors; a reconciliation made possible only by the atoning work of Christ on his behalf. Chapter after chapter, Wilson encourages pastors to be secure in their position in Christ; a position which was secured at a costly, bloody price.
When we see that the call to holiness is to an unattainable standard, we remember “the good news that was preached to us,” that while we were yet unholy, Christ died for us, and that his righteousness is now counted as our righteousness, as he has traded our filthy rags for the covering of himself…Make no mistake: he has declared us holy in Christ and he will make us so. He will complete the work he has begun in us. Pg. 57
Total forgiveness, total security, total justification. Peter brings to mind Christ’s death on the cross as the central point in his own pastoral vision and connects this vision to his status as a “partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.” Pg. 114
Even though the pastor is an undershepherd, he is justified by virtue of being a sheep. The Good Shepherd laid down his life for his sheep, including his pastor-sheep. “The Good Shepherd wrote a check, signed it with his blood on the cross, and cashed it when he rose from the dead; and you, little pastor-sheep, can rest assured that you are a beneficiary! So go serve your fellow sheep; be their undershepherd and serve with the confidence of knowing that you’ve been justified by the Good Shepherd!” This is the main thrust of the book.
However, this doctrine of definite atonement doesn’t stop at the general point of undergirding the main thesis of The Pastor’s Justification; it makes its way into the little nooks and crannies as well. Now, the primary role of the atonement is substitutionary; Jesus dies as a substitute for his church, taking her guilt as his own, and giving his righteousness as her own. This is the glorious great exchange made possible by union with Christ. This is how a pastor can “nail self-pity to the cross.” (Pg. 25) It’s an activity only fit for the God-man; he did it once and for all. However, there is another way the atonement is described in the bible, which is as an example for Christians to follow. “Have this mind among you,” says the apostle Paul to the Philippians, “which is yours in Christ.” Paul tells his readers to be like Jesus; be like the man who humbled himself and poured out his life on a cross for the sake of his beloved–be like that guy! Think in categories of Macro and micro.
Macro-atonement: performed by Jesus, it serves to actually saves sinners.
Micro-atonement: performed by pastors, it serves to point people to Jesus, who actually saves sinners.
The freedom from shameful gain is found in the cross of Christ, the shame of which our Savior scorned, counting all the privileges of his deity but loss for the surpassing worth of the Father’s will in the purchase of the elect, by his blood, freely given. So let’s talk about what we are owed. Jesus is the pastor who does his job; everybody else is the other guy. Pg. 38
Pastoral ministry is cross-taking, and it is doing it out in front, for all to see, as much as in the privacy of the study or prayer closet, when the pastor is wrestling with the weight of the church. Pg. 65
Because you are a present partaker in the glory to be revealed, a future partaker in the crown of glory, and a beneficiary of God’s total saving dominion, you are free and empowered to shepherd the flock of God among you. You are justified in doing so by Christ’s doing so. Pg. 114
So the capitol “S” Shepherd–you know, the Good one–lays his life down for his sheep, and the little undershepherds are to be copy-cats and do the same thing for the flocks that are under their care. We have to be careful not to go too far here; a pastor cannot be the Savior of his flock. After all, as Wilson write, “You are not one flesh with your church, but with your wife. Christ will sanctify his bride; you sanctify yours.” (Pg. 51) But there is a sense in which the pastor is charged to humbly pour out his life for the flock under his care, just like how Christ did. The way that Christ will sanctify his bride is by washing her with his word, and one of the ways he does that is through the pastor, who dispenses the word every Sunday Morning.
Many Christians are focused on their own journey; the biblical pastor is too, but he’s also focused on yours. Pg. 24
Monday through Saturday, he is…pouring himself out in grace as often as he can for the flock…Then, in preaching, he is broken open upon the rock of Christ that the living water of Christ might flow out freely and flood the valleys of his people. Pg. 25
And let’s not miss the importance of the seemingly obvious phrase “that is among you.” We frequently find ourselves trying to shepherd the flock of God that we want, the one we imagine them to be, the one we want them to be. But God through Peter commands us to shepherd the church we’ve actually got. Pg. 30
That last quote is very important with respect to our exploration of definite atonement in this book. “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you,” the pastor is told, “the one that you see from your pulpit.” There are actual faces of actual people with actual names in your actual flock. It is actual. It is real. It is definite. Definite atonement is the doctrine that says that Jesus didn’t die for some undefined group; a faceless category (which is the same thing as saying he died for no one). He came from heaven to save his bride; he gave his life to justify and sanctify her. He laid down his life for his sheep; the same sheep that answer to his call because they know him, and he knows them. In the same way, the pastor is charged not to shepherd the flock in his mind; the nameless, faceless, ideal church of his imagination. His flock is made up of distinct individuals; he will pour out his life for them when he goes to their emergency counseling sessions, we visits them in the hospital, when he preaches their funerals, when he officiates their weddings, when he endures the same dreaded story for the hundredth time at the pot-luck. He can’t love his flock without loving them. He can’t pour his life out, in theory, for a category of folks; if he pours his life out, it must be for the individuals he sees week in and week out.
To Wrap it Up
In The Pastor’s Justification, we see that the implications of the atonement oozes into every little crack and crevice of pastoral ministry. The pastor is justified by the self-giving atonement of his Shepherd, and it is his responsibility to be a self-giving undershepherd to his flock; this is how he will point his congregation to their one and only, true, Good Shepherd.