Monday, October 6, 2014

Pastor as Scholar: Reflections on the Differing Roles of the Academic and Pastor (Part 2)

Last week, we discussed Carson's take on the Scholar-Pastor. Today we discuss Piper's take on the Pastor-Scholar from the same book. 

Since Piper’s work is primarily an account of his life, it seems fitting to start our discussion with just that. Specifically, we want to examine the path that led him to ministry in the first place. It was in junior high school that John Piper would make an important decision about his future. He would never become a pastor. Piper was nervous at the concept of public speaking and thus ruled out the role that would require him to preach in front of a congregation at least once a week. 

All of his passions and desires that would lead him to ministry were already in place, but he didn’t see himself as qualified for that specific role. So he instead pursued a different passion – writing. Due to his love for poetry and logical reasoning, Piper began considering himself a romantic rationalist. But ultimately, he didn’t pursue his literature even further. 

He changed direction based off of hearing key sermons by Harold John Ockenga and John Stott in 1966-67. He became impassioned with the thoughts of missions and the Bible. Additionally, he was asked to pray for a summer chapel. For some inexplicable reason, he said yes, and somehow he survived the public speaking experience. At this point, he committed to never deny a speaking role because of fear again. Yet when he entered the field of Biblical Studies, his goal was still to be a scholar. 

Thus, Piper’s account past this point is the exact opposite of his fellow writer of The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor Don Carson, who studied to be a pastor, then became a scholar. Piper started his life in Biblical Studies intending to become a scholar in the academic world, but ultimately became a pastor. 

As of now, we have already seen a distinction between the pastor and the scholar. While Carson would later in the book stress that the scholar affects more people more superficially, while the pastor would affect more people deeply. Piper points out that this is inverted when it comes to knowledge about the text. For the scholar, he will have a few topics that he covers extensively, while the Pastor will cover many topics more superficially. 

In relation to the impact among people, Piper would completely agree with Carson. He would understand that the pastor’s reach by terms of scope is limited, but that he has a greater opportunity to develop real relationships with real people. Indeed, he thinks that one of the reasons that the Lord moved him away from scholarly work is because he would never have been satisfied with the detached emotional road of scholarly work (and neither would I). 

In contrast to Carson, Piper stresses the emotional aspects of the pastoral life versus the scholarly one. Simply, to Piper, it is an extension of developing real relationships with real people that he will be required to invest far more emotionally in his congregation than most scholars would even consider doing for their students.

That is as good a place as any to start communicating about what Piper views as the dangers of scholarship. Piper would agree with Carson that a scholar should invest in people and serve in a ministerial capacity. One of Piper’s heroes is a man by the name of Dan Fuller who would take hours to answer student’s questions, researching the answer when he did not know it. Simply, Mr. Fuller cared about his students and took time to pastor them to growth. Piper believes this to be a mold that scholars should follow; however, he fears that many scholars will lose touch of this valuable emotional connection. 

Another danger that Piper specifically highlights has to do with a great desire for peer approval. Piper was beginning to notice how many scholarly articles were written in technical jargon, which greatly impressed other scholars but left it out of touch with the layman reader. Considering the role of the scholar is to reach as many people as possible with a important message, it is counter-intuitive for him to write in language that could only be understood by a select few. Simply, these scholars have fallen into what Carson labeled “The seduction of applause,” rather than actually serving the Lord with the gifts that God has entrusted to them. 

The final danger we shall highlight here is that Piper believes that it is all too possible for the scholar to disconnect the study of the gospel from its power and majesty. Since your job demands that you sit and study the Bible extensively, you can begin to see your goal to merely understand the Bible perfectly - a merely academic exercise. But the Bible is supposed to be seen and read for the purpose of bringing you closer to the Lord. Knowledge about the Bible only exists to give us a greater appreciation and love for the Lord our Savior.

The fact that knowledge is needed for greater appreciation of the Lord is one of the two ways that Piper views scholarship as specifically relating to his role as a pastor. A pastor is supposed to engender love for Christ in the lives of others and naturally have such love himself. However, it is not enough to love the Lord if you have no grounds for loving Him in the first place. 

Piper here uses the analogy of a guy who stops you on the street announcing that he is trusting you with all of his bank account information. If he tells you that he simply saw you on the street, you would not find his appreciation to be honoring. Instead, you would find it to be simply blind and irresponsible. However, if the same event happens, and he tells you that he has been watching your practices at your job and in your life and has found you to be a responsible, honorable man, you will feel honored by his trust in you. (Piper neglects to mention that you will also find this complete stranger to be a creepy stalker.) 

Trust and honor without cause or rather, without knowledge to verify is blind and irresponsible. However, trust and honor, backed by knowledge is very much more pleasing to the Lord. 

The other reason why scholarship is so intrinsically linked to the pastoral life is that a deeper study is needed for communicating to members of the congregation. A simple fact of education is that it requires more understanding to articulate a point than to just have a vague understanding of the doctrine. 

To have learned in the book of Job that there are more reasons for suffering than punishment for sin is easy enough, but to communicate why Job illustrates this fact requires deeper understanding and a deeper knowledge. 

As pastors are called upon to communicate to the people truths they have learned in God’s word, it is necessary for them to actually spend time searching the Scripture for a deeper understanding. Piper describes that as being a scholarly impact upon the pastorate.
Piper thus describes a relationship between the pastorate and the scholar that he believes at times can become too pronounced. At the end of the day, these discussions about the scholar and the pastor are just extremes used to demonstrate the different focus that each has. We must remember that they are not as distinct as our binary mind wants to think.

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