Well, to be brutally honest, if I had my way, we’d pronounce the benediction and go home. It was a wonderful address, wonderfully moving, and you have the heart of just about everything that’s really important right there. So, I’m a scholarly footnote.
Nevertheless, I remain profoundly grateful to the Henry Center and the other sponsors of this evening’s gathering for inviting John Piper and me. It is always an enormous pleasure to work with John. And I am frankly humbled to see so many people turn out for a topic many might consider esoteric.
Part 1: Navigating the Pastor-Scholar Duality
To prove how wonderfully I can mangle fundamental homiletical principles, I shall proceed with an introduction divided into five parts, followed by a main body with an apostolic number of points. For my purposes, I will not count Paul, so there are only twelve points, not thirteen. Now, if I were really winsome, I’d go and tell my story now, but it’s not nearly so interesting, and I’m not very winsome, so I’ll just go to the introduction with my five points.
1. Defining ‘Scholar’
We’ve heard about “The Pastor as Scholar” and now we come to “The Scholar as Pastor.” To begin by criticizing the title is usually a cheap shot, but in this case, there’s an ambiguity that needs to be exposed. John felt it as well, coming from his point of view. In England, where I lived for nine years, this title might be thought presumptuous.
Over there, scholar is not a word by which one would usually define oneself. Rather, it’s a word that someone else might use of you if you are exceptionally gifted in your field. In other words, over there, scholar tends to be a measure of one’s superior competence. The word for the corresponding role, as opposed to competence, is academic.
So what is meant by the title? Does it mean the pastor is academic and the academic is pastor? That’s a different question. Now you can see that there is an issue at stake beyond just whether you live on one side of the big pond or the other one.
An academic is normally thought of as a person who has a post in an academic institution. In that sense, an academic is not a pastor unless, perhaps, it is bi-vocational, part-time. Conversely, a full-time vocational pastor is not an academic no matter how many PhDs he has, except perhaps in the sense of offering some part-time courses in an academic setting.
Immediately, the discussion becomes still more complicated when one recalls how some larger churches (not least Bethlehem Baptist Church, where John Piper serves) begin their own parallel training schools (in this case, the Bethlehem Institute). Is this department, this institute, rightly called an academic institution? If so, when we speak of academic pastors or pastor academics, must there be some kind of institutional affiliation for the categories to take on meaning?
I’m getting confused! This is what scholars do. Then we write up a big footnote and explain how the question needs to be reformulated. Lest we wallow in semantic quagmire, I’ll abandon academic and retreat, quickly, to the word scholar and acknowledge that even here in North America, it can refer to either an academic role or a relatively advanced degree of competence in one’s field.
The title may sound self-promoting to British ears, but the lovely ambiguity means that when we talk about, say, a pastor-scholar, we’re not reduced to talking about institutional affiliations and the like. Rather, it is about pastoral work in the framework of rather more advanced technical competence than is customarily the case, or something like that (a competence that may or may not have an institutional connection). That’s my first introductory point.
2. Differing Gifts
This is the time to recognize that God assigns hugely different gifts. One of the things that this evening must not do is give the impression that there’s only one legitimate path to working out pastoral and scholarly vocations, or that we all have to be scholars, in some sense, as well as pastors.
Arnold Dallimore was a Baptist pastor who took theological training with my dad. It was a long time ago. His only degree, his terminal degree, was a BTh, a Bachelor of Theology. For forty years, he served one small Baptist church in a small Ontario town, the town of Cottam. It was the only church he ever served.
Nevertheless, he also set himself the task of mastering all the material that has ever been produced on George Whitefield. He devoted summers to going to Britain and looking up archival material. He learned how to handle libraries. It became a hobby, a challenge, and a life goal. More than thirty years later, he produced the magnificent two-volume biography of George Whitefield.
I don’t cry very easily. But although that book is massively footnoted, he found archival material that nobody had ever seen before and was lost away; he kept hunting it down and picked away, picked away, picked away. Nevertheless, again and again, as I read that biography, I cried and cried and said, “Do it again. Do it again.”
He was a pastor-scholar. Or was he a scholar-pastor? He was a Baptist pastor in a small town, but it would not be wise to suggest that every Baptist pastor has either the intellectual gift or the long-term stamina or the calling to do the research and writing that that magnificent project entailed. That’s the truth.
John Piper has advanced training from Marburg. He might not have enjoyed his time there, but it must have done him some exegetical good. He’s even been known to write poetry in German. His latest book is Velvet Steel. It’s a book of love poems to his wife, and one of them is in German. It’s wonderful! I’m sure that few of us in this room can claim similar research and writing skills.
Tim Keller taught in a seminary but for years he’s been a pastor of a local church, relatively unknown until the last ten years. But which of us does not admire The Reason for God, probably the most important, fundamental apologetic for Christianity since C.S. Lewis. Now that’s a heritage to leave too. He did it because it was gestated in the context of pastoral ministry; nevertheless, he has this first-class mind that thinks through how the Bible and theology have to intersect and challenge the idolatries of every age.
My point is that more important than formal education are the gifts of intellectual curiosity and rigor, of focus and stamina, of lonely research and writing. Some have those gifts, and some do not. There are some people who are far, far, far more gregarious. It makes no sense to pretend you are something you are not.
It makes no sense at all to think that a certain set of gifts is superior to another set of gifts. God distributes them wisely. There are some pastors who use their gifts of gregariousness and friendship and openhandedness in the context of motorcycle gangs. I ride a motorcycle, but I just don’t have that degree of gregariousness. I just don’t. I just ride my motorcycle.
3. The Greatest Commandment
There is an evangelical tradition that treats what Jesus says about the greatest, or first, commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” as authorization for all Christian intellectual endeavor (Mark 12:30). The argument goes something like this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul [and with all your mind] and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5).
Well, yes and no. Certainly Jesus’s words lay a heavy emphasis on thought, on engaging the whole person, focusing on how we think as we love God, more so, in fact, than our English translations sometimes disclose. In English, if I say to my wife, “I love you with all my heart,” it’s because, in current English usage, heart is a symbol for the center of one’s emotional life. But that’s not what is meant by heart in the Bible.
In the Bible, the center of your emotions is down about your gut. Old English versions sometimes use kidneys or bowels of compassion. I have never said to my wife, “I love you with all my kidneys.” I never have. Nevertheless, if, in our world, we think up here (in our head) and we feel about here (in our heart), in the biblical world, it drops. We think about here (in our heart) and we feel about here (in our abdomen).
So, when the Bible says we’re to love the Lord with all our heart, we’re not supposed to think, “Ah, intensity of emotion.” It’s not that heart is exactly the equivalent to mind. It means something like your whole being: your thought, your emotions, your volition, your whole you. But dominant in all of that is what you think.
So, to love God “with all your heart” is how you think, holistically. “With all your soul” means the whole you. In “with all your mind” you’re back to thinking again. Then it concludes “with all your strength.” There’s nothing about bowels of compassion or kidneys. So, there is something to be said about how important the mind is.
So, to love God with our hearts and minds is clearly important. Transparently, this means that using our minds and wills in a lazy, slapdash, or arrogant way is not only pathetic, but it also verges on the blasphemous.
The Case Against Anti-Intellectualism
Since all truth is God’s truth, we are not far from the inference that all Christian intellectual endeavor offered cheerfully and wholeheartedly up to God (that is, 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 up to God and see such intellectual endeavor and scholarship as part and parcel of worship. It’s God’s world. That’s right.
And yet, we cannot forget that Mark 12 (and parallels) and Deuteronomy 6, from which Jesus draws the first commandment, do not tell us to exercise heart and soul and mind and strength in order simply to understand God better. The commandment is to love him. Indeed, in the context of Deuteronomy 6, this love is expressed in knowing and following his words, not least in passing them on to the next generation, to our children. That’s the framework in which it is expressed.
Love for God must never degenerate into protestations of passion without thought or 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, which is precisely why there is so much emphasis on mind and volition.
So just because I study the half-life of a quark, a pileated woodpecker, the consistory records of Geneva in the years after Calvin’s death, the destructive influence of Richard Simon, or a Hebrew infinitive construct, it 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.
After all, there are lots of atheists who like to study. 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.
Nevertheless, as soon as one has said that sort of thing — I say it all the time — one must immediately repudiate the pendulum swing that favors anti-intellectualism. We are to love God with our hearts (in the biblical sense) and with our minds. Again, the very business of training others involves the closest use of the mind.
“The things you have heard me say” — which surely entails text, which is understood by mind — “in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” That involves the mind. It involves other things, but it involves not less than the mind.
In short: biblical warnings about how knowledge puffs up but love builds up, as in 1 Corinthians 8, do not condone anti-intellectualism. Conversely, biblical mandates to love God with our minds do not grant scholarship an elevated status that exempts it from adoration, faith, obedience, love, and a lust for evangelism. At some level, scholarship without humility and obedience is arrogant, but talk of knowing and loving God without scholarship, in this sense, is just bone ignorant.
4. Biblical and Theological Scholarship
So far I have been painting with a broad brush. I have referred to a wide sweep of scholarly disciplines, from ornithology to European history to biblical exegesis. But in the rest of this address, I want to focus on biblical and theological scholarship, including those disciplines such as church history and historical theology, that may most directly strengthen the pastor’s grasp.
Institutionally, therefore, I am not thinking about universities, Christian or otherwise, but primarily about seminaries and similar institutions, partly because this is where I’ve spent a lot of years. Topically, I am now focusing not on every discipline but on those most tightly related to faithful pastoral ministry. I doubt, in any case, if the Henry Center, when it issued its invitation, was thinking about how theoretical physicists might be faithful bi-vocational pastors.
5. My Own Pilgrimage
I should probably say a word about my own pilgrimage. I’m not going to take my hour to do that because, as I said, my story is far more boring. As an undergraduate, I went to Canada’s McGill University and studied chemistry and a fair bit of mathematics. My intention was to pursue a PhD in organic synthesis at Cornell. My life was lined up, thank you. I come from a Christian family. My father was a pastor in French Canada. I was brought up in a bicultural and bilingual situation. My parents were very wise in not trying to squeeze me toward doing that sort of thing. They always encouraged me to pursue whatever interests I had, so long as they were reasonably decent. When I went to McGill, they applauded it. There was no effort to squeeze me into following my father’s course, and I had no intention of doing so.
When I was at McGill — enjoying myself immensely, I have to say — the pastor of our church came to me one spring and said, “Don, I want you to be an intern with me this summer.” I said, “In all respect, there are quite a lot of university students in this church, and you have me confused with somebody else. There are some that are heading into the ministry; I’m heading for Cornell.”
He said, “No, I haven’t made a mistake. I know you’re studying chemistry, but I would like you to help me this summer.” So we had an argument for two hours, and I won! I didn’t do it. I went off and did research chemistry in a government lab in Ottawa in air pollution. That summer, I was also helping another chap who was trying to begin a small church up the valley.
I began to observe things in the laboratory. I had fun. They gave me my own project with a big budget. It was fun; I was enjoying myself. But in the lab, there were two kinds of people. There were, first of all, those who were approaching retirement and hated what they were doing. They were just counting the days to get out of there. It was a job to make money, and then they wanted to go. They wanted a cottage up in the Laurentian Mountains somewhere. That was their god. Chemistry was just a disgusting job to make enough money to pay for it.
Then there were others, for whom chemistry was god. They were writing papers and doing research. They were first-class scholars. I didn’t really quite belong to either of them. Maybe I wasn’t old enough for the first group, and I probably wasn’t smart enough for the second. Whatever it was, that’s not the way I looked at things.
I enjoyed my job. I was having a blast. It was lots of fun. I enjoyed chemistry. But it was nowhere near grabbing my heart. I was a Christian, and this part-time stuff on the weekends — helping somebody who was a pastor plant a church up the valley — was capturing more of my imagination. I began to play, in my mind, choruses I had learned on the English side of my youth:
By and by when I look on His face,
Beautiful face, thorn shadowed face;
By and by when I look on His face,
I’ll wish I had given Him more.
I could picture myself coming to God on the judgment day and saying, “Well, God, here’s my chemistry. Pretty good, huh?” Believe me, I am not knocking chemists. I have long since developed a theological of vocātiō, a sense of vocation in which all work is cheerfully and joyfully offered up to God. I’m not denying that God calls people to be garbage men and chemists and nurses and who knows what. I don’t want to deny any of that. But it wasn’t capturing me anymore. I don’t know what to say.
In September of that year, I heard a man by the name of Wilkinson, a missionary to Haiti. His daughter married one of my best friends, an Egyptian called Ramez Atallah, and they’ve served now many, many years in Heliopolis, near Cairo. Her father preached a sermon on Ezekiel 22: “I sought for a man among them who should . . . stand in the breach before me . . . but I found none” (Ezekiel 22:30).
It was over. I cried all through the last half of the service. All I could say was, “Here am I. Send me!” So, I shunted courses and went off to seminary. I got involved in church planting in French and English. In due course, I began to serve a church in the metropolitan Vancouver area. I had no intention of pursuing a PhD. I was going to plant churches. That’s what I was going to do.
I was asked to fill in from time to time at a small Baptist Bible college in the area. When a vacancy turned up on their faculty, they asked me to apply. I declined. I was a pastor and, besides, I didn’t have an advanced degree. I was enjoying the ministry. This was the front line. That’s backup. Nevertheless, the invitation served to make me wonder if I should get more training while I was still young and single. Yes, I was young and single. I was planting churches, and I was young and single.
Our church was growing. We bought property next door, a precursor to tearing down the building, expansion, and all that. I realized that if I stayed another year, I would have to stay for five, because usually you shouldn’t help a church through a building program and then leave the next year. There are some people exceptional gifts that do it that way, but you probably shouldn’t, I just didn’t think I should do that. So, I left.
Pursuing a PhD
I applied to study with F.F. Bruce, under whom I had taken some courses at Manchester University, because I didn’t think anybody else would put up with me. There was a pastor in the area who knew England and said, “Why don’t you go to Cambridge?” I said, “I probably couldn’t get in there, and why should I go to Cambridge?” He said, “Have you ever heard of Tyndale House?” I hadn’t. My ignorance of things British and European and of universities was glorious. It was multifaceted and multilayered. I didn’t know anything.
I wrote to the university, and they said, “You’re supposed to have all of your applications in to come to Cambridge University by the end of March at the latest.” It’s earlier now, but it was the end of March then. This was already the end of May. So I wrote to Professor C.F.D. Moule and said, “I know I’m late, but somebody suggested I might apply. Are you interested?” Along with that I sent him some records and stuff. Lo and behold, to make a long story short, I got in.
The first weekend I was in Cambridge, do you know whom I bumped into on the street? F.F. Bruce from Manchester, to whom I had just written and said, “Sorry, I’m not coming there.” So I bumped into him on the street in Cambridge, and he said, “Oh, Don. What are you doing here?” I said, “Well, I don’t mean to be rude, but I decided to come to Cambridge instead of Manchester.”
How can you say, “I decided to study under somebody else”? The perfectly gracious gentleman that he was, he said, “Well, I studied at Cambridge. How can I possibly criticize you for that?” We remained friends after that because he was courteous and I didn’t know any better about the prolegomena of these sorts of things.
So I stayed there for a number of years, but because I had been in ministry quite a while already, I had a backlog of sermons and Bible studies and so on. Pretty soon I became involved in university evangelism. Cambridge is a collegiate university, so they have 27 colleges. That meant that each one of them had their own little Bible study groups, so there were lots of Bible studies going on each week. I was doing that as well speaking at churches in East Anglia and then around the country just a wee bit.
By the time I returned home at the end of my PhD several years later, I totted up all the times that I had spoken in churches or Bible studies or evangelistic meetings (apart from the PhD). It was 2.6 times a week. I had a blast. They were probably some of the most enjoyable years of my life. They were just wonderful. I was doing research; I was enjoying the work and all that. At the same time, because of this backlog in Bible study and evangelism and so on, I was having a lot of fun. I just have to tell you; it was a great time.
Teaching at TEDS
At the end of the degree, I got married, and my wife and I went back to Vancouver. I was there in Vancouver for several years. We planted another church on the side while I was teaching at a small college. In 1978, I came down to TEDS. So far, the most serious temptations I have had to leave my present post and go elsewhere have not been to join another faculty, whether at a seminary or a university (though I’ve had invitations to both). My most serious temptation is to return to full-time pastoral ministry.
I was very close to heading in that direction some years ago (about fifteen or eighteen years ago) when Carl F.H. Henry (after whom the Henry Center was named) and Kenneth S. Kantzer descended on me with prophetic fervor and told me rather intensely that if I left TEDS at that point, I would be defying God Almighty.
You must understand that by saying this, they were not, emphatically not, relegating pastoral ministry to some second tier. They weren’t. If you think that, you don’t know these guys. I have known both of those men steer PhD graduates into pastoral ministry. Both men were churchmen through and through. They had the highest regard for the priority of the local church.
Perhaps they simply thought I wasn’t very qualified for it. Maybe. Maybe they thought I would be better at a quartermaster’s job than on the front line. Could be. But the reason they gave me was that they thought, at the time, that at least some of the material I was writing met certain kinds of needs that not everybody was addressing in the same way, and they didn’t want me to take a post that was likely to reduce the output.
To be perfectly frank, I still wrestle occasionally with whether or not they were right. John Piper says he’s 63. I’m 62. At the moment, my energy levels haven’t dribbled away. That’s not bragging; that’s God’s gift of certain genes and not other genes. I still have a lot of energy. If I left Trinity — I have no intention to, but if I did (and I could) — I’d be far more likely to go back to pastoral ministry and have another shot for ten years than to go to another institution. So that’s my background.
Part 2: Lessons for the Scholar as Pastor
Those are the five points of my introduction. I think I’d have preferred to devote the rest of this address to the theme of the pastor as scholar, but John Piper has done that more effectively than I could, and, not surprisingly, I have been asked instead to address the theme of the scholar as pastor.
I’d like to revise it to “The Scholar as Frustrated Pastor.” Instead of telling any more of my personal story, I’m going to preach. Of the lessons I have learned, I offer a dozen.
1. Avoid Becoming a Mere Quartermaster
Take steps to avoid becoming a mere quartermaster. Now, any army needs quartermasters. For those of you who don’t have military background (I have a son in the Marines, so I’m learning all the jargon), the quartermasters are the ones who provide the supplies to the front lines. By all means, give appropriate honor to those who devote themselves to equipping and supplying with books, training, courses, modeling, answering questions, but it’s still, in most senses, not on the front lines.
It might be on the front lines of certain intellectual inquiries and certain challenges and so on, yet it is possible to write learned tomes on apologetics without actually defending the gospel in the current world. It’s possible to write commentaries without constantly remembering that God makes himself present, he discloses himself afresh to his people through the word.
If you are an academic, you need to put yourself into places where, as it were, you take your place with the frontline troops from time to time. This can be done in half a dozen different ways. You might take five years out from a seminary appointment and serve at a church for a while. But it might also mean engaging the outside world at a personal level, at an intellectual and cultural level.
It might mean doing some evangelism. It might mean working and serving in the local church. Avoid becoming a mere quartermaster. Because I had done some pastoring before I went to Cambridge, I had a leg up on stuff already there (background materials, some experience, and so on), so I was involved in preaching and teaching here and there.
My Doktorvater, my doctoral supervisor at Cambridge, was a man called Barnabas Lindars. Barnabas Lindars came from the Anglo-Catholic side of the Church of England, so much so that he was a monk. He wore a monkish robe with a rope around his tummy and so on. He was also a lecturer in the university. I’ll tell you a bit more about him in a moment. By this point, although he came from an Anglo-Catholic background, which on critical issues is usually pretty conservative, he had swung to far-left liberal. He was my doctoral supervisor.
I was working on the book of John and Jewish background and this sort of thing. I went into for supervision one Tuesday afternoon. Barnabas Lindars was articulate, patient, and a very good writer. He taught me many, many things. But on this particular afternoon, we were dealing with what he judged to be the intellectual background to the notion of new birth in John 3. He worked through Zoroastrian possibilities. He worked through Gnostic possibilities and whether gnosis was old enough.
He worked through all kinds of things. We were arguing and debating. He wanted to know if I had learned enough of the sources and so on. You know what? I have to confess to you. I was quite wicked. I sat there the whole time and interacted with him with the front part of my brain, but the back part was smirking. It’s not a very nice attitude. But do you know why I was smirking? The reason for the smirk was pretty good, although the smirking itself wasn’t very nice.
That weekend I had preached in the little town of March. It’s a little town out in the Fens (swamp country). The village bobby (the village policeman) in that town was known to be a brutal drunk. That weekend, when I preached, he got converted. He was born again. What can I say? So now I’m back on Tuesday, and my doctoral supervisor is arguing about the origins of born again.
I didn’t give a rip. I just wanted to see more people born again. It sort of shaped where I was going. I was interested in those intellectual questions, but they were just not abstracted from life and ministry for me. It wasn’t any great intellectual endeavor that had brought me to that point; it was reading the Bible, preaching, and seeing the gospel work.
I wrote a book once called The Gagging of God. After it came out, Mark Dever, a dear friend in Washington, DC, had me give some lectures on postmodernism in Washington. They run something called a Henry Forum (Henry keeps cropping up) for people in DC. The way that he introduced me was, “Don Carson is the author of this book.” He held up this whopping big tome. “The Gagging of God. I just have one question. Who will gag Don?” I’ve been introduced a lot of ways, but never by that particular device before.
The origin of that book was university missions and university evangelism. I’m not a philosopher by training. I’m not an epistemologist. That’s not my field. But I just kept doing university missions, and I was beginning to observe that the questions being asked of me were different. There was a shift going on.
Students would ask me questions, and I didn’t know how to answer them. So I went and did some more work, and eventually, somebody asked me to speak on it to a small group. I did some more work, and eventually, I thought, “I have to put some of this stuff together.” So I did. I was still so unsure of myself, thinking, “This isn’t my field.”
What I did was send out the book to six people whom I respected. Some were non-Christians. I sent one to a postmodern philosopher up in one of the midwestern universities, and I gave it to a sociologist. I asked them all, “What’s wrong with this book? Tell me what’s wrong with this book.” I got all these criticisms back, and then I rewrote it again. It went off and became The Gagging of God.
The point is that none of that came out of a sort of indifferent intellectual endeavor. It came out of evangelism. It came out of mission. It came out of the priority of the gospel that was already presupposed.
2. Beware the Seduction
Beware the seduction of applause. This can come from at least two directions.
Seductive Academic Applause
The seduction of applause can come from an academic direction. 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.
Obviously, there is no grace in simply irritating academic colleagues, in confusing contending for the faith with being contentious about the faith. Yet if it becomes more important to you to be established by OUP or CUP than to be absolutely straight with the gospel, if you shy away from some topics for no other reason than the fact that these topics are unpopular in your guild, then you are in the gravest spiritual danger.
When I studied at Cambridge, I had a dear friend who was also studying, at the same time, at Oxford. He was straight, a godly man, and an effective preacher. On all kinds of critical issues, he was up and down. He had a high view of Scripture.
In the early 80s, by which time I was at Trinity, John Woodbridge and I had decided we would put together two books on Scripture. We saw all kinds of erosion, and we planned out Scripture and Truth and Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon. We invited people in various parts of the world to contribute, and I wrote to him. By this time, he was lecturing in another institution.
He wrote back and said, “Don, I applaud your project. This needs to be done. I’m really grateful, but I don’t think I should take it on because I have a dream of one day being appointed to Oxbridge,” that means either Oxford or Cambridge, “and if I write on this area they’ll blackball me.” So he said no.
My response? “By the time you get there you won’t believe this stuff anymore either,” which is exactly what happened. Now he makes sneering, condescending comments about “that stupid, ignorant doctrine of inerrancy — that stupid American bias.” Anybody that says that doesn’t know church history, for a start. It’s not American.
Americans have originated a lot of things, but not that one. You can read correspondence between Jerome and Augustine, for example, which have every bit as much theological acumen about what we call inerrancy as our statements of faith that try to wrestle with these things today. It’s just an ignorant comment, but it shows where he has drifted.
I had a number of experiences at that time that were humbling and shaping. I was single, as I told you. Barnabas Lindars, my Doktorvater, was also single, and he was an Anglican monk. He was the head of their chapter house: the Society of Saint Francis. Because I was single, I’d invite him around for a meal, and because he was single, he’d invite me around to the chapter house. I’d go and eat with the monks, have graces in Latin, and this kind of thing.
On this particular occasion, I had him back to our place. Tyndale House, at that time, had full meal service. He came around, and then afterward, we went back to my room and got out the coffee. We were talking, and by this time, I had been there long enough that I was beginning to be able to ask some questions.
When I first went there, I was the Canadian hick! I’m from Canada, where old is four hundred years. It’s not European old. Then I go to St. Benet’s Church in Cambridge, and part of the building is a thousand years old. Cambridge got its name from the Romans. They put a bridge over the river Cam there.
My college was Emmanuel College. This is where the Puritans were. When Cromwell took over power, he appointed the heads of all of the other colleges in Cambridge out of the graduates of Emmanuel College because they were the only ones he could trust. The Puritan library in Emmanuel College, let alone the university library, is the second-best Puritan library in the world.
I was this Canadian pastor walking almost on holy ground: Cambridge. It took me a while to lose that just a wee bit and start asking rude questions. I wasn’t nearly as bold or insightful as John Piper. I was really slow, but I was becoming interested in how things worked and how people got there.
So Barnabas Lindars came up to my room, bless his heart, and I said, “You know, I’m a Canadian. I’m a foreigner. I don’t know what I’m allowed to ask and what I’m not allowed to ask. I’m still learning the culture here, but do you mind if I ask you something of your spiritual heritage?” He said, “I don’t mind at all.”
I said, “Well, my understanding of Anglo-Catholic is that on all kinds of critical issues, it’s pretty conservative, but as I listen to you and learn from you, I see that on most critical issues you’re so far left that I almost need field glasses to see you. I don’t know how you do that and yet still have this almost Catholic view of the sacrament.” I’d visited his church, St. Benet’s, and it was more like a Mass than it was like an Anglican service, let alone like a Baptist church where I’d come from. I didn’t know how he put this together. I said, “Could you tell me how you got there?”
He said, “I don’t mind telling you at all. My father was an Anglo-Catholic bishop. I learned Latin and Greek from my father, starting from the age of 5. He added Hebrew when I was 11. I had a fine home: upright and disciplined. I was trained in Anglo-Catholic thought and went to a good English public school (which means private school, they use words differently over there).
Then when I graduated, instead of going to university, I went to an Anglican training college because I felt God was calling me to work with the poorest of the poor. So I joined the order, went to a two or three-year Anglican college, and started working with the poor in London with the Society of Saint Francis.
After about twenty years of that, the Society of Saint Francis asked me if, instead of working with the poor in London, they could send me instead to work with university students at Cambridge. So I thought, ‘Well, the only way I can do that is by becoming a student myself.’” So at the age of 36 or 37, he enrolled as an undergraduate at Cambridge and studied divinity.
During the course of his three years of an honors degree there, he went through an intellectual revolution. He just came out the other side. He just became as far left on critical issues who wrote what and when, the sources, and all of that. He just moved very, very, very far left. Then in due course, he was appointed to the faculty.
So I said to him, “Look, I understand that. That makes sense to me. It’s not where I am, but I understand. What I don’t understand is how you’ve moved there and yet you still have this very, very high view of, for example, the Mass. How do you put that together?” He began to answer, and I pushed a little harder. I said, “Look, if you don’t really believe that the historical Jesus really is God, how do you start ascribing worship, in any sense, to the host in the sacrament. How do you do that?”
I was getting into it. I’d never get quite as excited as John; I’m an academic, what can I say? Nevertheless, I was getting somewhat excited. I have this sort of French-Canadian background too. We were getting a little further and pushing a little harder, and suddenly, it dawned on me that the man was sweating profusely and was beginning to stutter. I backed off. It suddenly dawned on me, for the first time in my life, that scholars might not really have the gospel at all. I was a little slow to wait that long to see it, but that’s where I was.
He was a churchman. He remained a friend. I eventually edited a Festschrift for him. Honor to whom honor is due. I’m grateful to him on many fronts. He’s gone now, or else I wouldn’t be telling you this story. Something dropped in my mind that day. What it said was, “I’d rather have what I have that what he has.” It was as simple as that. It was such a small point, but it was important. Beware the seduction of applause.
Seductive Applause from the Conservative Constituency
Second, seductive applause may come from the conservative constituency of your friends. This is a narrower peer group but one that, for some people, is equally seductive. Scholarship is then for sale: you constantly work on things to bolster the self-identity of your group, to show they are right, to answer all who disagree with them.
Some scholars who are very indignant with colleagues who, in their estimation, are far too attracted by the applause of unbelieving academic peers, remain blissfully unaware of how much they have become addicted to the applause of the conservative bastions that egg them on. That’s also a kind of applause. “I’m more conservative than you are!” That can also happen.
It may be mere traditionalism. It may be right, or it may be wrong, but it’s not submitting joyfully, thoughtfully, and principially to the authority of God’s most Holy Word. On the last day, we stand or fall on the approval of one person, one master: the Lord Jesus. Refresh your soul with that resolution again and again and again or stay out of scholarship. It’s one of the most seductive places in the world.
3. Combat the False Dichotomy
Fight with every fiber of your being the common dichotomy between objective study of Scripture and devotional reading of Scripture. All of us become aware of how students come into seminary classes, for example. They might have had some little taste of ministry. They love the Lord and want to learn more about the Bible. They’re really, really keen.
Then they take Greek. “Lō, leis, lei, lomen, lete, lousin. Whew, that’s hard!” Lō, leis, lei.” Then comes case 1, and then you have case 2. After that, you actually have to have reasons for wondering whether or not Mark was written before Matthew. “Is that so desperately . . .” Well, you have to learn it. You have to learn it because the teacher says you have to learn it, and besides, you have to have some understanding of how the New Testament came together; it’s not just theoretical, abstract stuff.
But it might kill your joy in reading it. Suddenly, students who had such a warm-hearted devotional relationship are now plowing through texts in year two doing basic exegesis, pulling out commentaries, and reading books. This is all sort of academic. Then if they do manage to keep their devotional life straight, then they go back and think, “Just talk to me, Lord. Just talk to me. Now we’ll do devotional stuff; now we’ll do critical thought, now we’ll do devotional stuff, now we’ll do critical thought, now we’ll do . . .” God help us.
Listen. Be worshipful and devout in the most critical, painstaking, careful, detailed exegesis. And when you have your devotions, don’t stop thinking. Don’t ever stop thinking. Not ever. If eventually, your languages get up to it, sometimes you might learn to have your morning devotions in Greek and your evening devotions in Hebrew. Keep working at it.
This is God’s word. It never stops being God’s word, just because you’re working a little more critically, because you’re interacting with a few more difficult things to think about. Eventually, you get more of them under your belt. There is pleasure and delight in reading an English text, hiding it in your heart, seeing the Greek behind it, and knowing what stands there. You’ve thought things through, read some previous commentaries of other generations, and you know some of these debates.
Never, ever, ever develop an upstairs-downstairs approach to the biblical text: spiritual over here when you’re not thinking and then thinking over there when you’re not spiritual. That’s hopeless. Don’t do that. Fight it with every fiber of your being. It is always true: “To this man will I look, he who is of a contrite spirit and who trembles at my word.” I don’t care whether you’re working on an objective genitive or not. It’s still true.
4. Remember Those for Whom Christ Died
Never forget that there are people out there, people for whom Christ died. I have to keep reminding myself, at Trinity or at any other institution that I work at, that we have not mere colleagues, but brothers and sisters in Christ.
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, but blood-bought children of the living God. Many of them will become vocational ministers of the gospel, cross-cultural missionaries, and evangelists. They’re not just sponges; they are creatures made in the image of God. Of course, a seminary is an academic institution: our job is to teach and to teach well. They have to learn.
Yet not only should a Christian scholar in a seminary environment remember what any Christian scholar in any academic environment should remember (namely that these students have been created in the image of God), but such a scholar in a seminary environment should also recognize the ministry potential of the students and detect all the more the enormous potential found in each classroom.
I’m old enough, now, to look at some of my students and what they’re doing in different corners of the world. It is the most moving thing that I can think about. There are Armando and Jennifer Robles, both of them 4.0 out of Princeton and 4.0 out of Trinity. Do you know what they’re doing?
I’m not going to tell you where; it might be dangerous, but they’re working with Islamic refugees in a Muslim country. They’ve learned the language. They’re setting up structures. They care for these people as refugees and start Bible studies that are seeing people genuinely converted. That’s what they’re doing, and I taught them. Oh, there are others that taught them, too, but do you have any idea how wonderful that is?
I needed to remember, while I was teaching them — while I was teaching them advanced Greek grammar and helping them to understand aspect theory — that not only were they blood-bought children of God, but that they had potential for working in ministry situations that are absolutely shattering. That’s part of my vision. I must have that as I’m teaching students, or else I just become a teacher for hire.
A good pastor will not treat the sermon as an art form that is an end in itself but as a means of extending grace in the re-revelation of the word of God for the good of people. Likewise, the seminary professor will not treat lectures, papers, quizzes, and assignments as nothing more than formal hoops through which to jump in the necessarily painful passage toward a degree.
Rather, the seminary professor will see these as means of grace, wisely and rightly administered, as part of a larger mentoring and shaping designed to encourage a student to be a servant of the gospel, a herald of the word, rightly interpreting the word of truth, and a worker who does not need to be ashamed.
Moreover, at least some of our students do not come from solid Christian homes. They bring in enormous emotional moral guilt baggage. Can you, as a teacher, so handle the word of God in their lives that they sometimes observe spectacular works of transforming grace taking place? If not, what makes you think you are qualified to teach others when they are going to be charged with exercising that same kind of ministry to others? Never forget there are people out there.
I’d like to tell you a lot more stories, but there’s not time. Now I’m going to go quickly, or we’re going to run out of time here.
5. Recognize Different Gifts
Happily recognize that God distributes different gifts among scholar-pastors, as he distributes different gifts among other groups.
Some will be able to teach and write but not preach; others will be able to teach and preach, but writing might be more of a challenge. Some will be excellent writers, but perfectionists: their output will be small, but superb. Others are more slapdash, gifted popularizers, and so forth: their writing might be plentiful but not so good. (You can guess what side of the spectrum I stand on in that regard.)
Obviously, we are wise to hone and develop the gifts God gives us, but we should not slip into the trap of thinking that all scholar-pastors must be similarly endowed or there is moral fault. As the green-eyed monster can rear its head among pastors, so also among scholars; as pride and triumphalism can cripple pastoral ministry, so also scholarly ministry.
What have you but what you received? Rejoice in the service to which God has called you. Eschew both arrogance and jealousy, and rejoice even more at scholars who are more productive than you are. I’d love to say more about that.
I will add this little footnote: Learn from those who have gone ahead of you to think through how to be at least reasonably strategic. Don’t puff yourself up into thinking you can be all that strategic. We just don’t know enough. We take on projects, and it turns out that they’re not going to be all that important in any case.
Let me tell you, when you write a PhD thesis, there are times when you think, “This is the most exciting thing, the most earth-shattering thing, the most brilliant revolutionary thought. When I publish this, the whole world will be convinced of my profound brilliance.”
Then two hours later, you’re still writing on the same flipping thing, and you’re thinking, “If I get a PhD for this, the entire degree is debased and diminished. How anybody could ever get a degree?” That’s part of the emotional anguish when you write books and do research and so on. If you’ve never felt that, it’s because you’ve never written a book.
What I am saying is that you have to be careful when you start talking about strategic thinking in publication. It’s a subjective thing. You need to talk with others about it. When I look at some of the people that I admired most and who helped to shape me — when I look at scholars on whose shoulders I stand — I see, in almost every one of them, the ability, on certain occasions, to pick up a certain topic that was needed at the time and bang it right on the head, get it exactly right.
For example, Leon Morris’ The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. If you don’t own that book, go and sell your shirt and buy it. It’s still that good. There are a lot of books out on the atonement, but that one was revolutionary when it came out in the mid-60s, absolutely revolutionary. He did this two or three times.
This one didn’t have as wide an impact, but he wrote a book called The New Testament and the Jewish Lectionaries. You think, “Boy, that’s really an exciting bedtime read, isn’t it?” but let me tell you that, at the time, it was an answer to a whole drift in biblical scholarship. He handled it so well that it killed it. To be able to understand the times and to respond wisely and well: think in those terms on occasion.
6. Remember That Not All Taught Is Caught
Recognize that students don’t learn everything you teach them. My students certainly do not learn everything I teach them. So I have to ask myself, “What do they learn?” They learn quite a lot of what I teach them to pass the exam, but in terms of lifelong commitment, what do they really learn?
Let me tell you what they learn. They learn what I am excited about. They learn what I act as if it is central. That’s what they learn. So if the gospel becomes that which is assumed — never denied, but that which is assumed but not what you’re excited about — then you will teach your students that the gospel isn’t very important. You don’t mean to say that.
If I went to you, challenged you, and said, “You know, I haven’t heard how you tie that to Christ’s vicarious, substitutionary death on the cross. I don’t see how you’re doing that, and Paul says that’s a matter of first importance. How do you put that together?” you’d likely say, “I believe that too! What are you doing, challenging me? I believe that with all my heart! I’ve always believed that. I haven’t denied that. Don’t you see? On my third book, on page 362 in a footnote, I actually mention it.” But your students will learn what you’re excited about.
Unless you train yourself (I don’t care what your discipline is) to major on the majors, to work toward the center, and be excited about that which is of most fundamental importance according to the revelation of God, you are, in fact, teaching people to marginalize that which God declares to be a matter of first importance. Then you’re only another generation away from denying the gospel. The first generation begins to assume the gospel. The next generation marginalizes it. The third generation denies it. You can’t do that.
7. Prioritize the Main Thing
Therefore, make the main thing the main thing. Do this not only by not merely assuming the gospel but, in every domain of life, you don’t want to teach people to be masters of the New Testament; you want to teach people to be mastered by the New Testament.
You don’t want people to learn merely what certain passages say; you want them to learn how to find out what passages say. You don’t only want to teach them the truth about some particular passage; you want to take them by the hand and say, “Do you see where that comes from? Do you see how you can find it for yourself?” You have to keep making the main thing the main thing.
So it’s possible to teach a course, let’s say, in systematic theology, such that everything you say is orthodox. You start a long disquisition on the deity of Christ, and you work through Nicaea; the Chalcedonian confession; some of the disputes, for example, that had to be faced at the time of the Reformers all over again; the Socinians and what they were doing, all the way up to the liberals; and you might even throw in a small excursus on Jehovah’s Witnesses and what the connections are between Jehovah’s Witnesses and Arians.
You work through all of this, and then you come out with a formulation. Now you’ve taught something about the systematic theology of Christology. It’s all good. It’s all true. It’s all interesting. At some point, however, you’ve never stuck the student’s finger on a biblical text. At the end of the day, I don’t want people just to be right, but I want them to know where it comes from in God’s most Holy Word. I want them to make that connection.
So I want systematicians, for example (New Testament scholars can do it too), to open up their Bibles, to work with stuff here and then show how it’s been used in church history, show how philosophy has sometimes handled it, and eventually, make a synthesis. At the end of the day, I want them to say, “This is what the Bible teaches. Do you see that?”
I worry about systematicians who spend 60, 70, 80 percent of their time on what used to be called prolegomena. It now all has to do with hermeneutics, interpretation, epistemology, and so on, but they never actually get around to telling you what you ought to believe. I worry about systematicians who keep showing all the things that are wrong in evangelicalism.
God knows there are a lot of things wrong in evangelicalism. Those things have to be said, but they can say so many things about what’s wrong in evangelicalism that, at the end of the day, their students, who aren’t as bright and as orthodox as they are, go away and become smart-mouths. All they can do is talk about how they’re better than other evangelicals. They might not even be happy to call themselves evangelicals anymore because they’re busy finding everything that’s wrong.
You make the main thing the main thing. You keep coming back to the gospel. You keep coming back to the truth, to the Bible’s whole storyline, to who Jesus really is, to what the glory of God is about, and to what are “the matters of first importance,” according to the apostle.
8. Seek a Scholarly Vision Beyond Publisher Limits
Pray and work for a scholarly vision beyond that which is offered by publishers. After you’ve written your first book, somebody is going to write you and say, “I wonder if you wouldn’t mind writing a chapter on a related theme.” Then if that goes well, somebody is going to write you and say, “In addition to that, we have a book series over here. Would you like to write a commentary on this subject?”
Gradually, you start filling in all your time with projects that have been offered by publishers. Some of those projects are good. You should say yes to some of them, but at the end of the day, you now actually find your life controlled by publishers’ agendas. Now there are godly publishers and ungodly publishers, but at the end of the day, where’s your agenda? Where’s your vision? What are you trying to do? What will you build your life toward?
I remember reading an autobiographical essay by a world-renowned New Testament scholar. He’s still alive, so I won’t mention his name. He’s a brilliant, brilliant man. He’s written many, many wonderful books. He bragged that he had never, ever, ever offered a book manuscript to a publisher.
He had always only written things that a publisher had asked him to write (and he has written scores of books). In some ways, the fact that people kept coming to him was a reflection of how bright he was and how well he could write, but didn’t the man have a vision? Were there not things in the world that he wanted to respond to? Don’t get owned.
9. Love the Church
Love the church. I think that Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is a pretty interesting place. I’ve given it more than thirty years of my life. But, you know, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School isn’t going to exist in eternity. The church is. Love the church. I’d love to say much more about that.
10. Avoid Lone-Ranger Scholarship
Avoid lone-ranger scholarship. It was Francis Bacon who said, “Reading maketh a full man; conference maketh a quick man; and writing maketh an exact man.” So you want to collaborate with others who are also reading. You want to speak with them and challenge some of your views and some of their views. You want to write, rewrite, and have your material tested by others.
If you do write something — as a scholar-pastor or as a pastor-scholar, I don’t really care — give it to somebody else to read first. It’s much better to get criticisms from your friends (or even from your enemies) before you go to press and get it in the reviews. It will make a better book. Collaborate with people. When I wrote The Gagging of God, as I said, I sent it to six people to read. I don’t know enough.
One colleague (who has long since gone to be with the Lord) wrote, toward the end of his scholarly career, a big, fat tome. Some of you will know it. I’m not going to mention the title. He was a very brilliant man. He wrote this very, very large tome. When I got it, I started reading the articles in it, and there were some things in it that were absolutely brilliant, just breathtakingly right. He’d got it right.
Then there were other articles where there were areas that I knew something about, and I thought, “This guy hasn’t done his homework.” He could have saved himself the embarrassment and made a far better book with much more enduring power if he’d only farmed it out to a few more people.
11. Be Interested in Others’ Work
Be at least as interested in the work of others as in your own. Be quick to offer lots and lots of encouragement. That’s pastoral smarts in every front, isn’t it?
12. Take Work Seriously, Not Yourself
Take the work seriously but not yourself. Have a good laugh at yourself. Get your spouse to laugh at you, your children to laugh at you. I edited two fat volumes (1,200 pages) called Justification and Variegated Nomism. You have no idea how many times my wife has joked about that title when we’ve had dinner guests. You have no idea! It’s a good thing. Take the work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously.
There’s so much more to say, but I’ve long since gone over time. I watch Doug Sweeney and Owen Strachan looking at each other, looking at each other’s watches, and saying, “You know, we’d better call this thing to a close.” May the Lord bless you all real good.