Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor (John Piper and D.A. Carson)

Review of The Pastor as Scholar & the Scholar as Pastor:Reflections on Life and Ministry
John Piper and D.A. Carson, edited by Owen Strachan; David Mathis
n.b. I downloaded a pdf version of the book free at some point in time, and the numbering comes from that version.

In general, I appreciated this booklet. There were a number of good points, and it would be a godo read for those from more conservative, evangelical backgrounds to read in order to appreciate both the scholarly and pastoral nature of working with the Bible. However, I did at times find its strong evangelical focus to detract from the overall relevance of the book.

The following are several quotes from the book and my reflections on them:
page 52 (John Piper):“So the mind is supposed to be engaged in seeing reality for what it is, and awakening the heart to love God for all that he is. If I were to claim the role of pastor-scholar, this is what I would mean by it. Think rightly and deeply about the Word and the world with a view to seeing the greatness of God and his works (especially the work of Christ) so that the affections of our hearts might rest on a true foundation and God might be honored by how we feel toward him and by the behaviors that flow from this heart.”
 I agree with what he is saying here actually, although I would look at it somewhat differently. I would identify it as being more caught up in the mystery and wonder, i.e., astonished by what cannot be known.

After Piper quotes Matthew 21:23-27 and the Pharisess refusal for giving Jesus an answer to a question, simply saying “I don’t know,” Piper has the following to say: “Frankly, that behavior makes me angry. We are surrounded in America by people like that. Instead of using their minds to come to strong convictions and let the chips fall where they will and suffer for what’s true, they are repeatedly angling to get out of traps. Don’t be like this, if for no other reason than because it is bad scholarship! If your mind, in studying the truth, leads you to a conviction that will get you into trouble, believe it! Speak it! There are so many pastors who conceal their convictions from their people because they are afraid of conflict.” (page 58)
 I don’t disagree with him here so much as I disagree with how he says this. There’s a way of speaking one’s mind and saying the truth without being beligerent about it. That could be related better in this paragraph, not only in the message he presents but also the way in which he presents his message.

page 75 (Carson): “Since all truth is God’s truth, we are not far from the inference that all Christian intellectual endeavor offered cheerfully and wholeheartedly to God—that is, all Christian scholarship—lies close to the heart of our calling. Whether you are tackling the exegesis of Psalm 110 or examining the tail feathers of a pileated woodpecker, you are to offer the work to God and see such intellectual endeavor, such scholarship, as part and parcel of worship.”
My response is simply: Amen.

page 76 (Carson): “So just because I study the half-life of a quark, a pileated woodpecker. . . or a Hebrew infinitive construct does not guarantee that I love God better. In fact, it may seduce me into thinking I am more holy and more pleasing to God, when all I am doing is pleasing myself: I like to study. After all, plenty of secularists are fine technical scholars who enjoy their work and make excellent discoveries and write great tomes, without deluding themselves into thinking that they thereby prove they love God and deserve high praise in the spiritual sphere. Nothing is quite as deceitful as an evangelical scholarly mind that thinks it is especially close to God because of its scholarship rather than because of Jesus.” (These thoughts are also continued on the following page.) 
I find these to be helpful words when talking about the academic endeavour from a Christian perspective. They are worth thinking about more.

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