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548005A long flight to Asia two weeks ago gave me the time to read Sinclair Ferguson’s wonderful new book, The Whole Christ (Crossway, 2016).  The wisdom of this book guides us away from both legalism and antinomianism, not by compromising somewhere in the middle but by looking up by faith into the heart of God for sinners.

A striking thing, for me, about the book was one of Dr. Ferguson’s desires in writing it.  He says, on pages 19-20, that the gospel, clearly understood, gives a certain “tincture” to the pastoral ministry.  “Tincture” was Thomas Boston’s own word for how God changed him as he pressed more deeply into the gospel.  This old word “tincture,” of course, means a trace of color or flavor or aroma imparting a special quality.  This gospel tincture in pastoral ministry “is not linked to a particular personality type or a way of preaching.  It is both more profound and more atmospheric than that.  But God’s discerning people recognize it when they see it, even if they cannot articulate what exactly it is.”  Sinclair hopes that his book “will do something to encourage the desire for, the expression of, and then the recognition of this tincture.”

This matters because, rightly, inevitably and powerfully, pastoral ministry includes intangibles.  Call it flavor, aroma, vibe, whatever.  But the importance of this reality became clear in the Marrow Controversy of the early 1700’s in the Church of Scotland, the story of which provides the point of departure for this book.  Both sides in the Marrow Controversy were aligned with The Westminster Confession of Faith, with its detailed definition of justification by faith alone.  Still, these sincere Christians disagreed sharply.  Why?  Because, as crucial as doctrinal definition is, ministry strongly entails more.

Gospel doctrine creates gospel culture, when the doctrine is allowed to exercise its full authority.  Gospel truths, acting naturally, just being true to themselves, always show their power in a personal bent and a social environment flavored with grace, mercy, cheerfulness, trust, gentleness, and the like.  If the doctrine, even great doctrine, isn’t allowed to percolate through everything in a church, then a theologically solid church can become touchy, rigid, harsh, and so forth — maybe not even realizing what’s going wrong because doctrine is the only category the church is sensitive to.  But wherever the gospel not only defines the theological content but also sweetens the relational flavor, it feels like Jesus has come to town.

I hope every pastor will join me in reading The Whole Christ so that, together, we might be more deeply dyed red with the merciful blood of Jesus at every level of our beings.  I believe the next great revival will fall upon us through this more profound saturation in the gospel.


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2 thoughts on “Ministry includes the intangibles of flavor, aroma, vibe”

  1. Well said! So thankful that the gospel is more than just a tincture in your own ministry and that this gospel marrow is saturating more and more congregations.

  2. Charlie Albright says:

    I listen to the lectures by Sinclair Ferguson that the book comes from. Excellent stuff! Grace gives forgiveness and transformation. Both pitfalls of legalism and antinomianism reduce the glory of God’s grace.

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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