pastor and scholar

Such is my life now that I can describe a book by how many boarding passes accumulate within its pages as I work my way through it. So, for example, that book on Pakistan in July was a "thirteen (international) boarding pass" book. It was long and slow and intense.

Last week I read a "three (domestic) boarding pass" book. It was short and quick and fun...

John Piper & DA Carson's The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor. It was originally delivered on a single occasion in 2009 to which the crowds flooded as one might expect, given the Christian celebrity status of the authors. In the first half we hear from John Piper, a pastor whose "mind never fully left the academy" (108), while the second half is devoted to DA Carson, a scholar whose "heart never left the church" (108).

The purpose of the book comes in its final paragraph: "So in charging pastors to be more serious about the life of the mind, and in challenging scholars to be more engaged with the life of the church, (our prayer) is that all our thoughtful shepherding and all our pastoral scholarship may be to the great end of having the gospel message about Jesus dwell richly (Col 3.16) both in us and in our people...(111)."

My response to the book?! Quite polarised ... sorry!

Try as I might I am rarely able to find Piper's wavelength in his sermons and books. Something must be wrong with me. The temptation is there to say that "he just does not do it for me" - but that would sound hyper-consumerist of me, so I won't say it :). His section is too focused on his own story for my appetite, interesting though it is at various points (for example, his early 'disabilities' surrounding a "paralysis before people and painfully slow reading" (29)). And I guess, if I'm honest, I was stunned to read that his church is in the process of starting its own seminary. "Why, oh why, can that possibly be necessary?! Who on earth came up with that idea? What can a seminary of this ilk possibly contribute to the global church which is not already represented elsewhere? I just don't get it."

Enough. Let's move on. Because in his half of the book Carson is at his brilliant best. Every faculty of every evangelical theological college should make these 35 pages the focus of a daylong retreat. I kinda miss that I am not in a position to make this happen anymore myself! A briefer(!) personal narrative gives way to 'twelve lessons for the scholar as pastor'. Here they are with a great quotation thrown in for free::

1. Take steps to avoid becoming a mere quartermaster
"It is possible to write learned tomes on apologetics without actually defending the gospel in the current world; it is possible to write commentaries without constantly remembering that God makes himself present, he discloses himself afresh, to his people, through his Word ... Unless you are actively involved in pastoral ministry in some sense or other, you will become distant from the frontlines and therefore far less useful than you might be." (82, 84)

2. Beware the seduction of applause
"(it) means that for you it becomes more important to be thought learned than to be learned. The respect of peers who write erudite journal articles becomes more immediately pressing than the Lord's approval (84-85) ... (then after a potentially corrosive discussion with his doctoral supervisor) In a flash I knew that I would rather have the gospel, knowledge of forgiveness of sins, and a reverence for God's Word than all the academic applause in the world" (88).

3. Fight a common disjunction
(the 'critical' vs the the devotional reading of Scripture)
"My response, forcefully put, is to resist this disjunction, to eschew it, to do everything in your power to destroy it ... when you read 'devotionally', keep your mind engaged; when you read 'critically' (ie with more diligent and focused study, deploying a panoply of 'tools'), never, ever forget whose Word it is. The aim is never to become a master of the Word, but to be mastered by it." (91)

4. Never forget people
"We don't have mere students, organic sponges whose primary function is to soak up data and then squeeze it back out again on demand. Rather, in our classrooms are blood-bought children of the living God ... because of the content we teach, because of the Lord we serve, we who teach in such institutions must also be eager for relationships with students." (92, 93-94)

5. Recognise different gifts
"Through their books, get to know some epochal thinkers reasonably well. Slow down; read, take notes, think, evaluate ...What is virtually never justified is never reading anything slowly, seriously, analytically, and evaluatively, for such reading of good material not only fills our minds with many good things, but teaches us how to think." (97, 98)

6. Recognise what students learn
"If I happily presuppose the gospel but rarely articulate it and am never excited about it, while effervescing frequently about, say, ecclesiology or textual criticism, my students may conclude that the most important thing to me is ecclesiology or textual criticism ... I dare never forget that students do not learn everything I try to teach them but primarily what I am excited about." (98-99, 99)

7. Make the main thing the main thing
(on the danger of being teachers who love to focus on "the weaknesses, aberrations, and assorted blindspots of contemporary evangelicalism") ... "This may work its way out in students who become more and more critical of confessional evangelicalism, and pretty soon even of the evangel itself. They are in danger of becoming smart-mouths. Their superciliousness guarantees that they cannot minister effectively anywhere. Instead of becoming believers whose lives fruitfully foster change within the church, these students become condescending critics ... In all our legitimate concern for the innovative, what is of greater importance is the changeless." (101, 102)

8. Pray and work for vision
"If you are a pastor-scholar, you ought to be asking yourself what might be especially helpful at the present moment, what work of scholarship is crying out to be tackled, what popularization would benefit the Lord's people ... If you write only what others ask you to write, I fear you may be displaying a want of scholarly imagination, and, still worse, a lack of pastoral care." (102, 103)

9. Love the church
"If we are training a preponderance of pastors and others who will serve in the local church, it is essential that the faculty members truly love the church that Christ loved and for which he gave himself. Many students will learn to love what their professors truly love. So love the church." (103)

10. Avoid lone-ranger scholarship
"Some projects are better undertaken with collaboration ... if you are beginning to press into arenas of thought that are not your first area of competence, you are wise to run your work by others in the field, to solicit criticisms and suggestions." (104)

Carson ran out of gas (or was it time?) with the last two...
11. Be interested in the work of others
"Be at least as interested in the work of others as you are in your own." (105)

12. Take your work seriously but not yourself
"Make sure you have some people around you who feel free to laugh at you ... Walk humbly - you have far more to be humble about than you realise. Take your work seriously, but not yourself." (105)

And then a delightful concluding word from the editors:
"To Jesus, the great pastor-scholar, be all the glory."

nice chatting



Stephen Bond said…
#3 under the heading Critical Reading I would guess Carson includes sermon preparation. If it doesn't affect me along the way then I figure I'm not doing it right.

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