Pastor-scholars and scholar-pastors must not forget our center.
Why has there arisen this impulse in our day toward pastor-scholars and scholar-pastors? Why are so many in the younger generation reluctant to let the pastoral and scholarly roads diverge? Among many factors, it is worth pointing to the amazing half-century explosion of the evangelical movement in the United States that is paving a two-lane road where once stood a fork. Not only have we seen a stunning advance in evangelical publications but also a proliferation of preaching and teaching via the Internet (written, audio and now video). Combine this with the number of models the previous generation has produced—one thinks not only of John Piper and D.A. Carson, but of others like Tim Keller, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Gordon Hugenberger, Sam Storms and others—and, under God, you have a recipe for the revival of a new generation of Jonathan Edwards-like pastor-scholars.
Beyond these contemporary examples come the more distantly historical examples of Athanasius and Augustine, Luther and Zwingli and Calvin, along with John Bunyan, Andrew Fuller and the Puritans.
And beyond these stalwarts is the apostle Paul, a man with both a manifestly first-rate intellect and a heart big enough to feel “the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28).
Beyond Paul is the example of the truest pastor-scholar of all, who even at age 12 gave evidence of both his scholarly mind and his pastoral heart. Like a scholar, “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47) while he responded to his parents, like a pastor, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). When fully grown, as a scholar, he knew the Scriptures better than any and could silence the learned Pharisees with a word; and as pastor, he called children to himself and lovingly trained his disciples through their sluggishness and chronic incompetence.
Jesus, the God-man, is the ultimate model of engaging both heart and head, not compromising either for the other. He is both “the chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:4) and the one whose wisdom is greater than Solomon’s (Matt. 12:42). He is not only “the great shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20) and “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:25), but also in Luke 24, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27) and was the master professor who with his teaching, by the work of his Holy Spirit, “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
This new generation of Christian leaders does well to look to Piper and Carson and Keller and the others. We may do even better, in some senses, in looking to Luther and Calvin. We do better still looking to Paul. And we do best looking to Jesus.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CENTER
The temptations are great, in the life of both the pastor-scholar and the scholar-pastor, to give greater and greater attention to the peripheral things, to the multitude of marginally important subjects. The peripheral and marginal no doubt at times do need our attention, at times even great attention. But as a Christian leader, whether pastor-scholar or scholar-pastor, the servant of the Lord comes back again and again to the old, old story that is the very heart of the faith. It is the gospel that the apostle Paul says is of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). It is the gospel that is “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16). It is the gospel that not only saves the lost but is “at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2:13), the gospel that is “bearing fruit and growing” (Col. 1:6), not only worldwide but in us and in our church communities. So it is the gospel that Paul leaves with the spiritual leaders of Ephesus in his farewell address to them in Acts 20: “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (v. 32). It is the gospel that builds up and makes us holy.
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, we conclude with this prayer, 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; that knowing Jesus would be the great end of all our pastoring and our scholarship; that we ourselves, in all our preaching, writing, studying and counseling, would continue to see ourselves as the great beneficiaries of his great grace; that into eternity we would be followers of Jesus more and more shaped, saturated and transformed by his person and work. To Jesus, the great pastor-scholar, be the glory. Amen.
This article is by David Mathis and is adapted from The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry by John Piper and D.A. Carson. First published on Crossway.org.