Thursday, December 01, 2011

Book Review: The Pastor as Scholar & The Scholar as Pastor

For many, the spheres of academia and pastoral ministry are worlds apart, and never the twain shall meet. Academics ascend (or is it descend?) into their ivory towers of papers and essays and dissertations, dealing with minutiae which may be interesting but not particularly helpful. On the other hand, pastors may be seen cowering from academic theology, caught up in preparing the next sermon and drinking cups of tea with the flock.

One night several years ago, during a conference organised by The Gospel Coaition, two leading figures in Western evangelicalism got together to share their own life stories and thoughts on pastors and scholars. The remarkable insight from that evening is shared in this book, suggesting that each 'world' can, and should, inform the other, so that scholars aren't cut off from pastoring, and pastors aren't anti-academic.

In The Pastor as Scholar & The Scholar as Pastor John Piper and Don Carson tell how they've ended up where they are - Piper as Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis and Carson as Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Illinois. Their paths haven't been straightforward, and ironically Pastor Piper began as an academic (including a spell in a German university) while Dr Don began by following in his dad's footsteps as a pastor. Their autobiographical sketches are interesting and varied, as we hear how God's grace and providence has guided them to where they are now.

It was very helpful to explore Piper's driving motivation for all he does, that Christian hedonism, which is the mark of his preaching and teaching: 'that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.' It's all about 'treasuring the treasure', in a serious, 'blood-earnest' way. So while there is undoubtedly a need for careful study of the text, there is a danger 'that the whole thing can be made to feel academic rather than heart-wrenchingly real' if there's an academic bent in the pastor. He continues by giving some very useful principles for pastors seeking to make sure they use the full power of their intellect, in scripture study and in sermon prep.

Carson's chapter traces the other direction, moving from the pastorate to the professorate (a new word I've just made up!). Dr Don is at the top of his game as he urges rightly that every Christian's calling is to love the Lord your God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and that not unthinking, ignorant devotion: 'Love for God must never degenerate into sentimental twaddle. It must be shaped by thinking God's thoughts after him, and loving him precisely in and through and by means of knowing and delighting in his words.'

There are many provoking pieces of advice for those tending towards academia, urging them to not be swallowed by the scholarly world and lifestyle, but to be of use to the wider church, serving God through study by being involved in the local church. Personally, this chapter was probably less helpful for me, as I'll never be (as far as I can see) involved in academia, but it was nonetheless enjoyable and a good read.

This is mainly a book for those involved in the worlds of pastoral ministry and academic theology, and will provide a good basis for reflection on the practice of each discipline so that we grow interdependent and together use our gifts for the glory of God and the good of the church. At just over 100 pages it's not a long read, but it's a great primer on the issues.

The audio from the original event can be found at this website, although the introductory and concluding chapters found in the book are also well worth reading, and aren't found on the website.

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