Monday, March 19, 2007

An Intellectual Pastorate

I'm writing this week about the benefits of an intellectually oriented pastoral corps. As I write, I want to do so with sensitivity and nuance. This could be a tricky issue, and I want to avoid a tone of condescension at all costs.

So with that in mind, let me say that one does not in any way need letters after one's name to be a gifted and godly pastor or leader. The mere possession of a degree by no means necessarily signifies that a man is an excellent thinker, a godly person, or an automatically able pastor. This is just not true. We all can think of pastors who had no worldly credentials to speak of but who were giants of the faith, men well worthy of emulation and quite able to confront the thinking of their times. An MDiv, a PhD, or any other degree thus cannot be said to be a mark of maturity of either thought or character.

With that idea firmly established, let me say that it will nonetheless be of great benefit to the church of God to have as its leaders men who have undergone rigorous theological training and extensive doctrinal inculcation. An MDiv will prove helpful toward this end, and, for those who can undertake it, a doctorate will especially hone one's intellectual powers. The process of crafting an original argument, researching that argument substantially to strengthen it, and then writing persuasively and forcefully while countering objections is eminently valuable. Again, this is not to say that one needs to do a PhD to be able to do these things. That is simply not true. What I am saying is that a PhD may well help a man in learning these valuable skills. The doctorate cannot help but rigorously challenge and shape the man who undertakes it. The benefits to this man will extend over more than just a period of a few years, but over the extent of his whole ministry.

How beneficial it would be to the church of God to have men who can, like the apostle Paul, counter the spirit and thought of their times, and offer sound and intellectually rigorous defenses of the faith. Not every man can do this, and not every man should try. But it is my belief that the church of God will indeed benefit from a pastoral corps who can meet the world's thought experts on their own terms and engage them in stimulating discussion. This same corps will also ready themselves to produce literature, for the process of a PhD necessarily involves rigorous attention to one's writing. And one cannot help but approach the text with a broadened and deepened outlook when one has focused one's intellectual energies on a certain topic and learned to ask questions of it and seek answers for it. This, not credentials, not worldly fame or acclaim, poses the best reason for a generation of young men to seek the intellectual rigor of the PhD. In the days to come, we'll continue to hone this argument, and look at its potential strengths and weaknesses in light of history and wisdom.


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