Having too much time on a plane (nearly 20 hours from Chennai), I went back to a small book I purchased, one that I included in my Kindle almost as an afterthought. But it was timely, for it helped confirm a decision I recently made. It also gets to the very heart of pastoral identity.
The Pastor as Scholar &The Scholar as Pastor (John Piper and DA Carson) came out of a lecture at Trinity in 2009. It affirms a core conviction we have here at Western—that professors are churchmen—and the pastors we are training will hopefully be tomorrow’s pastoral theologians.
This is nothing really new. In his Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition (one of the essential books every pastor should read), Andrew Purves notes that the earliest pastors (Gregory, Chrysostom, etc.) were also the church’s theologians. Hence, pastors dare not be reduced to personalities, and pastoring dare not be decreased to skills and techniques, to mere management . “Pastoral work is not formulaic”. It is rather a discipline of theology that must be both lived out and proclaimed.
Underscoring this, Piper and Carson are two contemporary models of men who are committed to the rigors of theology, while maintaining the hearts of pastors. Piper shares his journey to becoming a pastor, starting with academia. Carson, on the other hand, started as a pastor and ended up in the classroom. Yet, at heart, they still live in both worlds. Here are just a few of their insights—
- Fight with every fiber of your being the common disjunction between “objective study” of Scripture and “devotional reading” of Word. When you read Scripture devotionally, keep you mind engaged; when you read critically, never forget whose Word this is (Carson)
- Right thinking about God exists to serve right feelings for God. Reflection on God exists for the sake of affection for God (Piper)
- “Reading makes a full man; speaking makes a quick man; writing makes an exact man” (Roger Bacon, quoted by Carson)
- If you say there is no truth, than you have spoken something that does not count. This “law of noncontradiction” spares us from becoming enamored by postmodernism (Piper)
- Nothing is inferior for being old, and nothing is valuable for being modern. Beware the tyranny of novelty (Piper)
- If you shy away from topics that are unpopular in your guild (or your congregation), then you are in the gravest spiritual danger (Carson)
Recently, I was faced with a difficult decision. For these past twelve years, I have sought to live in both worlds—pastoral and academic. After seventeen years as a pastor (ten in Portland and seven in The Netherlands), I accepted a call to full time work in the seminary. But after less than a year, I added pastoral work to my teaching responsibilities. Over time, my interim role moved to a permanent call. For some eight years I was ¾ time pastoring and ¾ time teaching. More recently, I shifted to FT pastoring and half time teaching. Most recently, I have been asked to consider giving all of my time to pastoring. And I have asked myself and God—would I better serve Him in one role? Can I leave one for the other?
But something deep inside of me tells me I am bi-vocational at heart (something Eugene Peterson wrestled with as both a pastor and a writer). I cannot leave the teaching world any more than I can leave the pastoral world. Both are fundamental to my identity. I cannot imagine engaging students in a classroom without knowing that I face the rigors of what I teach (lengthy board meetings and staff challenges and parishioner heartbreaks). In a similar manner, I cannot imagine being a pastor in today’s world without going through the weekly rigors of academic preciseness. I am wonderfully blessed with the privilege of working with pastors at a DMin level, preparing future pastors at the MDiv level, and pastoring a church, where real life occurs.
It’s not for everyone. Gordon MacDonald, here to teach a course some years ago, was suspect, warning me to keep all of life in careful balance. I have not forgotten this. Reading his Rebuilding Your Broken World from time to time serves as powerful advice to anyone whose life begins to spin out of control. Regardless of how God leads us in our particular callings, what Piper and Carson reinforce is that the church will always need thoughtful pastors who settle for nothing less than rigorous reflection. And the seminary will always need professors who have a deep commitment to the church, devoted to bringing whatever their discipline they teach into the plain language of their fellow parishioners.