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The Pastor as Scholar & The Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry

books John Piper and D.A. Carson are two men who have changed evangelism over the last few decades.  Their ministry runs in counter distinction to most churches of today.  There are very few examples in the Christian Church that embrace the intellectual side of worship that these two men have exhibited in their differing (yet strangely similar) roles.  These two men exemplify and teach in this book what it means to embrace a statement made by one of Pipers Professors quoted in the book: “Why can’t we be like Jonathan Edwards, who in one moment could be writing a devotion that would warm your grandmother’s heart and in the next give a philosophical argument that would stump the thinkers of his day?” (39) Carson and Piper in this book attempt to bridge the gap between scholarship and Sunday service, between university academia and church attendees.  Throughout the book, the inner question for the reader is: “How does one raise the level of study amongst the congregation.

The book is made up of 2 lectures, one by Piper and the other by Carson, given at an event located at Park Community Church in Chicago on April 23, 2009, that was sponsored by the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  The two editors of the book (Owen Strachan and David Mathis) bookend the talks by Piper and Carson.  Piper began the night with a telling of his testimony that was the six chapters of his life.   During this part of his lecture we meet the men that made him who he is and learn the stories that affected his ministry.  From his high school days learning proofs in geometry (which taught him logic and a passion for defense of ideas), his time in Munich where he saw great scholarship but no heart to, and his time in a teaching role at Bethel were his passion for preaching in the local church was rekindled.  As Piper told his story, the number of people he read, looked up too, and was influenced by enthralled me.  His mantra, which he repeated several times throughout his address, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”, colored every ounce of his ministry and his scholarship.  Piper finished his lecture with 9 points of scholarly pasturing, all of which should be implemented if we are to guide our churches into a deeper knowledge and passion for God.  He sums it up on page 67 by saying: “What ‘scholarly’ would mean for me is that the greatest object of knowledge is God and that he has revealed himself authoritatively in a book; and that I should work with all my might and all my heart an all my soul and all my mind to know and enjoy him and to make him known for the joy of others…Surely this is the goal of every pastor.”  I want to be the kind of pastor that can say this!

Carson then comes to the pulpit and begins his lecture by articulating the meaning behind the verse: “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12.30)  He explains with the Hebrew understanding of the heart, Jesus is emphasizing the heart and mind as being the same ting and your soul and strength are equated.  The first and third words indicate how we think, and the second and fourth indicate with what passion we should think these things. (75)  He moves onto tell his story, which he does in far less pages than Piper but is none the less fascinating.  He finishes his lecture with 12 points for being a Scholar-Pastor, a few of which really stood out to me.  He reminds pastors to avoid “devotional” reading and “study” reading.  He encourages critical thinking in devotions and worshipful reading in study…something that I have longed struggled with.  He encourages pastors to remember that what we get excited about; students get excited about…simple concept, hard to remember.  Finally he instructs us to love the church.  With my experience with church, sometimes my study leads me away from loving the church.  I get disappointed that no one got my awesomely prepared lesson, or my word study went over their heads, or they didn’t get how great my archaeology handout was.

The only issue I had with this book was the lack of practical application in turning the tide of intellectual study within a Church.  As I stated earlier, the church is in dire straits intellectually.  Members for 60 years don’t know the basic flow of the Bible, or the method of Salvation, or can name the books of the Bible.  Putting things on the lowest shelf does no one any good and never challenges anyone to reach.  The problem with Piper and Carson’s lectures was that they really don’t know how bad it is out there in some Sunday school classes and churches.   Another book that touches on this subject Loving God with All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland gives some helpful advice, but this book left out the practical advice for putting together a Sunday school plan, or an apologetic ministry, or any other pursuits (one church that is doing it very well is Sunnybrook Christian Church in Stillwater, Ok…check out their website and see how they push their people intellectually). I am fortunate to have some men who exhibit this quality in ministry.  Guys like: Pastor Chad Laughry in Kearney, NE who is published in the newspaper writing about theological debates, Academic Dean Doug Aldridge at Ozark Christian College, Randall Birtell and Matt Bevens in my small group.  These are men who are Scholar-Pastors, engaging the world in ideas and in ministry. Overall this was a challenging book to read, however, one I greatly enjoyed!

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