Well-renowned scholar D.A. Carson has spent his life studying the Bible and teaching others how to navigate it in the forms of books, lectures, and conferences. Yet throughout that time, he has not completely walked away from the frontlines, as he expresses it, and continually preaches, witnesses, and invests in those around him. As such, he embodies what has been coined the Scholar-Pastor. Together with John Piper, Carson wrote the book, The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry. In his portion, Carson expresses how a scholar should engage in a similar way as a pastor does.
Before he really begins to unpack the Scholar-Pastor, he talks a little bit of how his life brought him to a focus upon scholarly work as opposed to pastoral ministry. You see, when Carson surrendered his life for vocational ministry, he intended that to be in the means of preaching, pastoring and planting churches. While he was doing just that in Vancouver, he was asked to teach a few classes here and there at a local Baptist college. It was nothing major; Carson was simply a fill-in when the regular professors were unable to teach.
When a full-time spot became available, Carson was offered the position. Although he declined, it made him consider advancing his education further. Since his church was to expand soon, he knew he either had to leave at that moment, or stay at his church for at least five years. Thus, he decided to travel to Cambridge to get his Ph.D.
While pursuing his Ph.D., Carson would preach an average of 2.6 times per week, indicating that Carson was still committed to the ministry side of Biblical studies. Eventually, Carson found himself in a teaching post at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Even now, Carson intended to leave his post and enter pastoral ministry. But two of his friends told him that he would be defying God’s plan for his life if he were to do such a thing. These two men believed that Carson’s published works were meeting some necessary needs of the church society, and entering into pastoral ministry would unnecessarily cripple these works. Thus, Carson ultimately stayed at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he still teaches today.
This decision highlights two important items about the pastor and scholar. First, the pastor is not necessarily a higher calling for every person in life. For Carson, his highest calling was that of scholar because that was where God wanted him. For people like John Piper, the opposite is true – the highest calling is that of pastor and not that of scholar. Ultimately, each individual who has been called into a disciplined study of the Bible will be further called to focus upon one of these two areas based on their gifts and ability, and neither is more important than the other.
Second, the rationale behind this decision indicates that the time of the pastor and the scholar is spent very differently. The scholar will spend most of his time writing books that reach a broad audience on a superficial level, while a pastor’s time is spent impacting a more focused group of people on a deeper level. Ultimately, both the pastor and the scholar can have an impact upon the life of the individual Christian (and the church as a whole), but the structure of the two positions means that these impacts will greatly vary in scope and magnitude.
After describing how he became focused on scholarly work, Carson explains how the focus is not exclusive in its terms. Just because Carson was focusing upon analytically dissecting the Bible while he was at Cambridge, he still preached 2.6 times per week. Carson argues that this is something that all scholars should continue to do.
The words he uses is that one should not be a “mere quartermaster.” A quartermaster supplies materials for the frontlines of defense, but a quartermaster usually does not actually fight on the frontlines. Much like quartermasters, scholars supply Christians on the frontlines with resources about what the Bible says, how to defend it, and how to reach the world through it and for it. However, Carson believes, that unlike quartermasters, scholars ought to fight on the frontlines, utilizing the mechanisms that they teach on a regular basis. In other words, they should practice what they preach.
Carson provides a couple of strong reasons why a scholar ought not to have a monkish separation from the outside world. First, one will never lose admiration and respect for the word of God if he consistently sees it in action. To illustrate this, Carson recounted a time while studying at Cambridge when he was going through a detailed study of John 3 with his mentor. Through the rigorous prospect, Carson just could not help but smile because the previous Tuesday, he watched as the Lord used his preaching on that passage to bring a man to repentance. Carson was unable to think about the verses without an appreciation for what the Lord had done through them.
Second, Carson’s experience indicates that by communicating with different people who may not agree with all of what you say, or especially those who agree with none of what you say, can help you refine your beliefs, find new ways to explain things, or grant a fresh perspective on a common topic. Essentially, your scholarship will be as relevant to the frontlines as you yourself are.
This particular aspect of the scholarly life indicates that one should be wary about drawing too strong a line between the scholar and pastor. While we just indicated above that the pastor tends to be more in contact with people than the scholar, this part of Carson's work argues that the scholar should still be connected with people as a whole.
In essence, the scholar is primarily concerned with mass exposure of problems within Christian society, but he is not exclusively concerned with such mass exposure; he must also be concerned with being and engaging on the frontlines. Similarly, the pastor is primarily concerned with the spiritual lives of his congregation, but he is not exclusively concerned with the spiritual lives of his congregation.