The Cross and Christian Ministry: An Exposition of Passages from 1 Corinthians

Written by D.A. Carson Reviewed By Jim Davis

Exegesis (showing what a text meant to its original readers) and exposition (showing what a text could mean to contemporary readers) are related but separate skills. Professors do exegesis. Preachers, if they’re good, know how to take the exegesis that’s offered to them and turn it into exposition. To know how to do both things today is rare, to care about doing both things even rarer. That’s what makes this book valuable.

How well then does it succeed? Pretty well. For exegesis and exposition work together in this book without one predominating over the other. There are five chapters, all of them looking at the way Paul’s understanding of the cross forms his view of ministry. The first four chapters treat 1 Corinthians 1–4 and the last looks at 1 Corinthians 9. Each one has concluding ‘Questions for Review and Reflection’.

There is good exegesis here, as for example in chapter 3, where the connection between 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 and 1 Corinthians 3 is appropriately emphasized (pp. 69–70), or in chapter 4, where the inferential force of the conjunction ‘therefore’ is clearly explained (p. 110). But occasionally there is also exegesis where conclusions are simply asserted, instead of being demonstrated (cf. p. 46, “The mature in this context really must refer to all Christians …’, or p. 82, ‘It is crucial to understand that in this context “God’s temple” does not refer to the human body, but to the church’; both statements, by the way, are probably correct but without a presentation of the evidence to show why they are correct they are much less useful).

There is good exposition here, as for example in chapter 1 when, after noticing how Paul is not ashamed of the low social status of the majority of the Corinthian converts (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26), the reader is asked some very good questions: ‘Why is it that we constantly parade Christian athletes, media personalities, and pop singers? Why should we think that their opinions or their experiences of grace are of any more significance than those of any other believer?’ (p. 29). Other examples of excellent attempts to apply Paul’s insights to our generation abound (cf. pp. 65, 80 and 86, where evangelicals need to reflect carefully on what is said about ‘restricting yourself to only one part of the heritage that is yours in Christ Jesus’). Occasionally, however, the exposition moves in a direction the text wasn’t intended to go (as, for instance, on p. 29 where the author asks with reference again to 1 Cor. 1:26, ‘When we tell outsiders about people in our church …’, ignoring the fact that Paul has admonition and not evangelism on his mind).

So where does that leave us? With a book this reviewer finds well worth taking the time to read and think about. Not because it’s perfect, but because it points us in the right direction—towards an equal appreciation for exegesis and exposition.

Jim Davis

Mercer Island Presbyterian Church, Mercer Island, WA