Editors commentary: Theological nerds?


It was a familiar story.
The pastor had left the church after a few years of, sadly, fairly inconsequential ministry. Did I know of anyone I could recommend to take his place?
Probing further led to the comment that the problem with the previous pastor was that he tended to shut himself away in his study. At one level his sermons were excellent. People thought he was a good preacher. But somehow he was a ‘loner’ and there was something that didn’t connect with people. How does a preacher’s character affect his usefulness?

The priority of love
It is perfectly possible for a man to love preaching but not love the people. Sometimes he may not even love Christ (John 21.15-17). Hence things come adrift in churches.
I worry that some young men go to Bible college and think of proceeding into the pastorate almost as a substitute for an academic career. The delight of the theological nerd is to do with having the time to spend hours with fascinating books, and in coffee-sustained solitude to pore over the Puritans or the latest commentaries. He will then write a little essay on his findings and showcase it on Sunday morning to a captive audience. Unsupervised privacy for weekdays plus the celebrity of public ministry on Sundays is for him an ideal combination for job satisfaction.
But congregations need to hear the truth in love (Ephesians 4.15). A Mr. Great-heart is in the pulpit not because preaching is a vehicle for his ego or research interests, but because he loves his flock and longs to do them good. A sermon series is not chosen simply because there is some new monograph out on some book of Scripture which happens to have tickled the preacher’s scholarly fancy, but because, through his continual contact with the people, he is conversant with their spiritual needs, and so leads them into a part of God’s word that addresses their condition.
Even great men can be too detached. Mike Reeves of UCCF mentioned recently that perhaps some of the troubles which the great Jonathan Edwards encountered at Northampton might have been avoided if he had spent less time in the study and more time with people.

Truth through personality
This leads us to another consideration. It is true that the preacher must convey Bible truth and major on Christ rather than drawing attention to himself. Nevertheless, Phillips Brooks had a point when he spoke of preaching as ‘truth through personality’.
True preaching involves the man as well as the message. Bible colleges and training courses must avoid turning out preaching clones who are in such a straightjacket of exegetical method plus formulated application that nothing of who they are in Christ comes through. Biblically, truth is more than just a set of propositions. God’s truth is a living entity which is meant to shape our lives. Therefore something of how the truth has affected the preacher himself ought to be evident. After all, if the truth has not changed him, how can his hearers get excited about what he is saying? The man clothes the message. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was rightly able to say: ‘Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire’.
It is worth counting how often Paul mentions his own Christian experience in his letters. This is not attention seeking. Rather it is personal testimony that the truth works. At the funeral of a friend recently, her brother said that Hilary loved the truth but she wanted more than mere propositions from a preacher; she wanted to see a tear in his eye as a mark that the truth had affected him.

John Benton

This article was first published in the August 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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2 thoughts on “Editors commentary: Theological nerds?

    1. Thanks for linking through to our post from the editor of EN. My intention is not to embarrass you but I thought you may like to know the editors name is John Benton – not Peter as you have listed on your post! Blessings

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