This book began life as an evening event during the Gospel Coalition annual conference in 2010. John Piper and Don Carson were the speakers to a packed live audience, then watched on the internet by thousands. Their material has been worked into this short and very readable book.
The book has four sections. An introduction by Own Strachan and conclusion by David Mathis, with the ‘meat’ being two chapters first from John Piper followed by one from Don Carson. They need little introduction: the former is a church pastor, the latter a New Testament professor. Both are prolific authors and significant leaders within worldwide evangelicalism. In his short introduction, Strachan reminds us that many of the great theologians of church history were also pastors. John Piper subtitles his chapter, ‘A personal journey and the joyful place of scholarship’. The chapter falls into two sections. The first is largely autobiographical. He traces his journey from his youth, via his Wheaton College studies, his seminary days at Fuller, doctoral studies in Germany, teaching at Bethel College, to his call to be pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. But the section is much more than personal history. In this section, Piper shows what led him to be committed to truth and to people.
Joy in our hearts
In the second half of his chapter, Piper shares his conviction that ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him’. To this end we are to have Christ-exalting joy in our hearts. Piper then proceeds to show from Scripture nine pointers that demonstrate that to awaken and sustain joyful satisfaction in God requires right thinking (scholarship). His conclusion is that the pastor, in handling the Bible, ‘is called to read carefully and accurately and thoroughly. That is, he is called to be a “scholar”’. Don Carson subtitles his chapter, ‘Lessons from the Church and the Academy’. His chapter also comes in two parts. In his introductory first section, Carson helps us understand what he means by ‘scholar’ and helpfully reminds us that God gifts people differently. He writes: ‘Some scholars will never display great pastoral gifts, some pastors will never function as gifted scholars’. He also pens his journey to being Research Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.
Retaining a pastoral heart
This said, the second half of Carson’s chapter gives 12 very practical pointers for those who work in ‘academic’ environments, to enable them to retain a pastoral heart. Most are principles from Scripture itself that Carson then applies to the scholar. For example, Carson calls his readers not to polarise into either an ‘objective’ study or ‘devotional’ study of the Bible. He reminds us that whether the Bible is read alone at 5.30 am or in preparation for an exegetical class at 10.00 am, the Bible is still the Bible before which we are to tremble. The pointers are, therefore, as applicable to those not working in an academic institution.
The book’s conclusion is a call to both the pastor-scholar and the scholar-pastor to remember that the gospel is ultimately what builds people up and makes us holy. The book is penned by two extraordinary men. Both are gifted by God such that either could pastor a local church or be professor in a theological college. However, both are united in the conviction that we need both thoughtful shepherds and pastoral scholarship. It is a great book and deserves to be read widely, both within the local church and the theological seminary.
Director, North West Ministry Training Course; member, St. Andrew’s Leyland