Four Ministries, One Jesus (Richard Burridge) - A Review

FOUR MINISTRIES, ONE JESUS: Exploring Your Vocation with the Four Gospels. By Richard A. Burridge. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019. Xviii + 227 pages.

                What might the Gospels have to say about the nature and call to Christian ministry? What is it about Jesus, and the four pictures the Gospels offer of him, that might speak to our understanding of the Christian vocation? These are the kinds of questions that those who feel the call and those who have already answered a call might be asking. What does Scripture say, and more specifically the gospels?

                Richard Burridge, the Dean of King's College at the University of London, seeks to answer just these kinds of questions. Burridge is a biblical scholar and author of a similarly titled book Four Gospels, One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading. While I haven't read the earlier book, I'm assuming that the two are linked in some way, though this book is focused on the ministry vocation. Burridge notes that this book emerged out of four addresses he gave at a retreat for the Diocese of Peterborough in England. He then expanded it into book form for use by those who were exploring their ministry calling or in the process of training for ministry.

While the book is focused on the exploration of vocational ministry calling, Burridge envisions the book—and I agree—being used not only by those exploring a call, but also those who are currently engaged in ministry. We who have been on the trail for a while could use a refresher course on the nature of our call once in a while.

Burridge’s book has its origins within the context of the Church of England, but Burridge has expanded the conversation to include other traditions. This particular edition includes traditions from the United States, including my own. This inclusion did surprise me, but it is appreciated (I am part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)).

The book is centered around four portraits of ministry that have their origins in the four gospels. Burridge takes notice of the symbols attached to each of the four gospels, as illustrated in the Lindisfarne Gospels. For each Gospel he provides a chapter that explores the portrait found in that particular Gospel. Thus, with Matthew, the symbol is the human image, and the portrait is that of Jesus as the Supreme Teacher. After laying out the portrait of Jesus and its implications for ministry, he has a chapter that takes note of that form of ministry in the selection for ministry, followed by an exploration of how this particular ministry is laid noted in the ordination services of various denominations. He notes that while there are differences, there are many similarities in structure. His encouragement is that the reader/user take the ordination service of one's denomination, and with differently colored highlighters go through the service and mark those areas connected with the symbol. After looking at the ordination services, he moves to the way this particular ministry (with Matthew it is teaching and preaching) fits into one's ministry. Finally, there is a chapter on sustaining one's ministry. He does this for each of the Gospels (and its corresponding symbol).

The first Gospel explored is Matthew, which he suggests illustrates the ministerial calling of teaching and preaching. He notes that this is a core ministry for Jesus, and that in some form those called to ministry will exercise the teaching/preaching ministry. The second Gospel and second vocation is found in Luke, illustrated by the ox, and focused on the pastoral side of ministry. We see here how Jesus' own ministry serves as an example for us. Why the ox? Burridge suggests it is because the ox is a burden bearer, and so is the one called to Christian ministry (as Jesus did himself). 

The symbol in the Lindisfarne Gospels for Mark is the Lion. Why the lion? Mark as a gospel is focused on the cross, and the Lion illustrates the role of ministry as part of cosmic struggle that can lead to suffering. In these chapters we learn that ministry is challenging and requires courage. Thus, in the section on sustaining ministry, he encourages clergy to take time away from the daily work to be with God, to spend time with family, and to be refreshed, because the calling will push in on you. 

The final image, used for John, is the Eagle. The focus here is on prayer and spiritual disciplines. The eagle illustrates Jesus' farsightedness, his being "fierce in conflict, yet tenderly caring" (p. 128). The cosmic nature of John's gospel is demonstrative of the centrality of spirituality to one's ministry calling. 

Using the four gospels as guides to Jesus' own vocation, we see illustrated the ministerial callings of teaching, pastoral care (burden-bearing), suffering on the way of the cross, and participating spiritually in the life of God. The book will speak to people in different ways, depending on where they find themselves on the journey. The chapters that take note of sustaining ministry are especially important to those of us who have been on the road for some time, but they are also important to those just getting started, so they know that the road is long, and they will need refreshment along the way. In other words, we don't fill up for the journey at seminary and figure that will sustain us for the rest of our ministries. 

The book concludes with four appendices. The first appendix lists biblical call stories, so that one might explore the concept in other portions of scripture. Appendix 2 summarizes the "processes, competencies, and criteria for selection for ordained ministry." Burridge, as one might expect, focuses his greatest attention to the Anglican traditions. But what he shares, even if geared to the Anglican tradition, can be useful in exploring one's own processes. Appendix 3 explores liturgies and services of ordination, and finally, in Appendix 4 there is a listing of "further reading, websites, and other resources.”

If we believe that Scripture has something important to say about the Christian life, then surely it speaks to the call to ministry. We talk about the role that Jesus plays in modeling for us the Christian life, so how does he model the life of ministry? To answer that question, we’ll need to go to the Gospels. Burridge does exactly that. Therefore, I believe that this book will be a useful resource for those exploring the call to ministry. As for those of us who have been on the road, well it might help us recenter our own sense of call. That is, how does my ministry vocation reflect the life and ministry of Jesus? There are theoretical answers here (theological paradigms), but there are also practical suggestions for the life of ministry. While practical, these words of wisdom are rooted in the biblical story and in the narrative of Jesus' own life and ministry. That, I believe, is crucially important. 

Burridge’s concern here is not only getting a good start in ministry, but also sustaining one’s ministry over time. He uses in several places the image of the camel filling up for the desert crossing. We are not camels!  Thus, he writes: “The image of a camel filling up at an oasis and plodding for years across the desert may be trivial, but sadly something similar is all too real a possibility, given the pressures on so many clergy these days” (p. 181). We can’t just fill up at the beginning of the journey and expect to survive. We have to continue being filled. This is an important word for our times. Thus, Four Ministries, One Jesus is highly recommended!


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