Pastoral Shades image

Pastoral Shades

A question that has been on my mind for a few of months is now being borne out in evangelical conversation. Having submitted my dissertation, I can finally write about it myself without fear of procrastination or hypocrisy!

Essentially it is this: Should one pursue theological study within the church or university context? Of course, this is a false dichotomy for at least two reasons 1) Both fields do it: ‘Theologising’ of one sort or another necessarily happens in both contexts. 2) You don’t have to choose: An individual could obviously be involved in either or both at any point in time. Anyway, it is a live issue for me at present as an embodied split between postgraduate student and church-based teacher and trainer. As often happens, when a thought enters my mind, God starts highlighting relevant resources. The first of these was the book ‘Think’ by John Piper (PDF available here) and then, even more pertinently, a July blog post by Michael J Kruger. Kruger’s journey took him from being a pastor to being a professor whilst Piper went from professor to pastor. “I left academia for the pastorate at age thirty-four.” writes Piper “It seemed to me then that these things—thinking and feeling and doing—would perhaps find a better balance in the church than in school… I don’t mean it would be right for everybody.” In his post, Kruger paints a really useful six-shade scale between ‘pure’ Pastor and ‘pure’ Scholar. He illustrates his own transition by quoting Thomas Chalmers, who was moved to action by the “incalculable… good which might be done to the guides and the clergy of our next generation” by the transfer of his gifts from church to academy.

In terms of Kruger’s scale I barely qualify, but I would see myself straining towards either point 3 or 4. Again, echoing Piper and Kruger, I wouldn’t want to suggest that my particular fit is the ‘grail’ - merely the right use of me. The issue at stake is the correct development and deployment of the theological gifts which God has given you for the sake of His kingdom. This is particularly pertinent in movements like Newfrontiers where leadership, pastoring and theological work are often conflated and there isn’t a denominationally defined ‘ordination pathway’ or an affiliated seminary (the sort of thing my Anglican friends - only half-jokingly - refer to as a ‘vicar factory’.) Of course, this gives us greater freedom but an attendant great responsibility for self-development which must not be ignored.

The most recent contribution to the conversation (which gathers together many other helpful resources) is Andrew Wilson’s article in Christianity Today on ‘Why Being a Pastor-Scholar is Nearly Impossible’. In it he traces out the conflicting demands of church and university on the pastor-scholar, highlighting three particular tensions - ‘Specialist-Generalist’, ‘Practical-Theoretical’ and ‘University-Church’. Obviously, rhetorical flourishes make for interesting article titles, but were we to take it on face-value; I would have to say I feel significantly less angst over the tensions which the article mentions. I suspect Andrew and I don’t actually disagree on this, as the man himself states that tensions “are not necessarily bad” and “that some tensions are not supposed to be resolved.” I would go further and say (perhaps in my naivety), that I’m positively sanguine about the dual plight of the pastor-scholar in the face of those undoubted tensions: Being a convinced Kuyperian (the subject of my aforementioned dissertation being none other than Abraham ‘de Geweldige’), I inevitably see these issues ‘spherically’. The church and academy are actually different organic spheres under Christ’s sovereignty and should be engaged in their own way. Therefore, the ‘pastor-scholar’ - viewed as a proper hypostasis - adapts and channels his gifts with the degree of precision and heart apt to the situation and required by each sphere (perhaps an imperfect example can be made of Paul’s addresses in Acts 17 and 22). This is certainly a skill which I recognise Mr. (soon-to-be Dr.) Wilson as exercising with aplomb on both counts. Perhaps it is less an issue of what we are ‘to be’ and more of what kind of engagement the field requires.

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