Spurgeon the Pastor: Recovering a Biblical and Theological Vision for Ministry

Written by Geoffrey Chang Reviewed By Ian J. Maddock

If, to borrow a phrase, “of the making of many Spurgeon biographies there has been no end,” then, by way of contrast, books specifically examining the famous nineteenth century British pastor’s ecclesiology have been few and far between. The task of recovering this “forgotten”—or at least, underexplored and underappreciated—Spurgeon, is the worthy goal of Geoffrey Chang’s fresh and accessible treatment of his pastoral ministry and commitment to the local church. As a former pastor who now teaches at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as curator for the Spurgeon Library, Chang’s ambitions are more than simply to fill a notable lacuna. His hope is that Spurgeon’s model of eschewing pragmatism and convenience in favor of a principled ecclesiology driven by biblical and theological convictions will rub off on his readers. As he puts it in the introduction, “At the heart of [Spurgeon’s] pastoral strategy was the belief that the Bible is sufficient and speaks to how the church is to be led. So, the best way to think about this book is as a conversation partner to help you consider what faithfulness in ministry looks like” (p. 8).

His mission to commend Spurgeon as an ecclesial mentor covers the breadth of his church-based ministry, with the majority of illustrations drawn from Spurgeon’s 38-year incumbency at London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. Chang devotes the first two chapters to Spurgeon’s practice of preaching and the shape of corporate worship. The next three chapters focus on the boundaries of membership, including Spurgeon’s theology and practice of the ordinances and his high view of formalized church membership. Chapters 6–7 examine his unwavering commitment to congregational polity—one that emphasized governance by members of the church led by qualified elders and served by qualified deacons. Chapters 8–9 illustrate Spurgeon’s desire to prepare the church to engage the world with the gospel in a variety of ways—ways that included many charitable and evangelistic institutions, church planting and the famous Pastors’ College that quickly grew from its small beginnings in 1855.

While there is much biographical material embedded within these chapters to furnish Spurgeon neophytes with a compelling introduction to the scope and impact of his ministry, Chang’s primary focus is not so much on Spurgeon himself as it is on “the church and pastoral ministry through Spurgeon’s ministry” (p. 10, emphasis added). The Spurgeon who appears in these pages is not simply committed to biblicism, conversionism, crucicentrism and activism, but also, in a nod to Bebbington’s quadrilateral, an advocate of what Chang styles “ecclesialcentrism” (p. 3).

The many illustrations drawn from Spurgeon’s ministry serve Chang’s aim to set him before readers as an exemplar of principled-ecclesiology-in-practice. For example, while Chang appropriately begins his exploration of Spurgeon’s pastoral activity with a focus on his prolific preaching ministry (what Spurgeon memorably styled “the Thermopylae of Christendom” where the “fight will be lost or won”), he is nonetheless careful to accentuate that “Spurgeon’s pastoral ministry was more than just preaching”: “He did not occupy a preaching station but pastored a church” (pp. 15–16). Further, for all the reach of Spurgeon’s sermons beyond the Metropolitan Tabernacle (in addition to the many visitors who flocked to hear him preach in London, over the course of his lifetime some 3,563 of his sermons were published in sixty-three volumes), Spurgeon’s primary focus was always his own flock. As Chang observes, “The health and unity of the church”—first and foremost his own local church—“depended on the preaching of the Word” (p. 16).

Elsewhere, Chang highlights Spurgeon’s “convictional approach to the ordinances” as a facet of his pastoral ministry where his principled ecclesiology was on full display (p. 98). So seriously was Spurgeon persuaded that the whole membership should be able to physically gather together for corporate worship, especially to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, that when the congregation’s growing size prevented this from happening, a looming crisis was averted—Spurgeon had resolved to resign his pastorate—only when the congregation quickly approved the construction of the Metropolitan Tabernacle to replace the much smaller New Park Street Chapel (pp. 88–89).

Chang’s repeated, and well-made, point is that the local church was the locus of Spurgeon’s ecclesiology; even parachurch institutions as integral and intrinsic to Spurgeon’s legacy as the Pastors’ College existed to support, not supplant, the local church. “Seminaries alone cannot produce pastors,” Chang infers. “Rather, they work best when they come alongside local church pastors and support them in pastoral training” (p. 244).

In many ways, Spurgeon the Pastor functions as a historical-theological companion to Mark Dever’s The Deliberate Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005) or 9 Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013). But regardless of whether one subscribes to the precise contours of Spurgeon’s ecclesiological convictions (let alone those emerging out of the 9Marks stable), Chang’s evaluation of the Prince of Preachers’ pastoral ministry has immense value insofar as it offers a counter-cultural corrective to the besetting sin of evangelical ecclesiological pragmatism. Chang is to be commended for recovering this “forgotten Spurgeon” and setting him before a contemporary audience as an exemplar of a full-orbed pastoral ministry shaped by robust biblical and theological convictions.

Ian J. Maddock

Ian J. Maddock
Sydney Missionary & Bible College
Croydon, New South Wales, Australia

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