Friday, June 15, 2007

The Weekly Round-Up: Responses to Comments and Questions

I try to incorporate responses to my posts into my blogs and to use thoughtful comments or questions to direct my own writing, when appropriate. But it's good to take a more relaxed day to quickly respond to interesting points that I did not get to in the week.

KC asked about discerning whether one is called to be a professor or pastor--

KC, thanks for your question. I appreciated your humility. I have to respond in a humble spirit of my own because I am young and not an authority on this matter. With that said, though, I can give you a few thoughts.

1. A professor should possess exceptional intellectual gifts. A professor, in my estimation, is not merely a bright man. A good measure of seminarians are bright people. They are, after all, pursuing a master's degree, and so they are likely to have some intellectual ability. But a professor is one who possesses exceptional thinking ability. He is gifted at logical thought, he can think abstractly (coming to conclusions where others are not able to able to synthesize or generalize), he thinks with clarity (so that his thoughts are not intelligent but jumbled), he communicates said thoughts with ease and clarity so that others quickly understand his points, and he writes with depth, insight, and perspicuity. Many seminarians possess some measure of some of these gifts. But precious few possess all of these gifts, and thus precious few seminarians should teach.

2. A professor should possess strong faith and character. We are after all speaking of Christian professors. A Christian instructor should be a man of upstanding character and sound, firm faith. He should not be quick to follow the latest trends and ideas. He should evaluate ideas with wisdom and caution and exercise judiciousness as he considers new developments in his discipline. Seminary professors may well perceive new insights from the biblical text and in their disciplines, but we must remember that theology does not prize ingenuity in the way that secular science does. Professors and pastors are not innovators, fundamentally, but guardians. We guard the truth and pass it on to the next generation, who in turn passes it on to the next generation. A Christian professor should thus be a rock, a man of trustworthy judgment and strong commitment to the local church. Though personalities will vary, the Christian professor should be a leader in the church.

3. A professor should possess a calling to the academic life. Don't be a professor just to be one. One should perceive a strong desire to contribute to a field before becoming a professor. Those who teach as Christians teach to advance the truth. How, then, will you personally advance the truth? What ability do you bring to your desired profession such that you can contribute to the advancement of the truth in your field? Do you simply want the professorial life? Do you simply have a desire to be a professor? I would say that such desires are not enough. You should have something to contribute to a discipline such that the academy will suffer without you. To speak pointedly, most of us need not worry about the fall of a certain discipline without us. Few of us have something really significant to contribute to a field.

4. A professor should have a burden to teach. Of course, professors will not simply contribute to a field. They will teach students. So then, are you especially gifted to teach? Are you going to be able to sift through the competing opinions and ideologies out there and train your students? Most of us cannot do this very well. So we shouldn't teach. But there will be a handful of men who do fit this role, and who will be able to instruct students.

So there are some principles by which to think about this question. With all these stated, and I'm sure there are others one could consider, I would say in general that we need far more pastors than professors. When I was talking about the need for more pastors than Carsons, I wasn't saying that we don't need churchmen-scholars. I was saying that we don't need that many men of exceptional gifting to teach us. We don't need 35 David Wells types. The fundamental need of the flagging American church is not academic--it's ecclesiastical. As much as we need good books to be written, and good teachers to teach, we first and foremost need strong and faithful local churches. We need hundreds and hundreds of men to serve these churches so that the sheep of God, the people, will be fed the bread of God, the Word. That's what we need. We need some Christian academics, to be sure, and I would love for there to be more in the world. But we can tackle that problem once we've established tons of healthy churches. After all, most Christians won't sit under a professor for more than a few years of their life, if that. All Christians, however, will sit under a pastor, and for all of their lives. It will be of great help to the local church to have men who are good teachers--not exceptional, necessarily, but good--to instruct the people of God.

I have said this before, but I think a young, ambitious, intellectually minded guy who loves his electives and wants to teach should assume that he is called to serve a local church with excellence before he assumes that he is called to be a professor. The exceptional among us will rise to the top. Those who are truly gifted intellectually, character-wise, and so on will show themselves by virtue of their work. They will then be tapped to teach. But most of us will not. I would encourage a young man to pursue the pastorate, to pursue a love of theology and the exercise of the mind, and then to apply these traits to the care of a congregation. Do not assume that just because you like your electives and you do pretty well in your classes that you're called to the professorate. If these things are true, assume that you're called to be a pastor, and that you're going to lead a congregation with wisdom and insight, and then if someone taps you and says, "You should think very hard about teaching," well then, think and pray about it. Until then, assume the Lord is calling you to one of the needy local churches that populate our land.

Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful questions and your often very kind comments. I do really appreciate them and derive encouragement from them. Next week, we'll be looking at how to understand gray areas. Should be interesting. Until then, I hope that you feed richly from the Word this weekend.


Anonymous AE said...


If you can't write and publish, then you're not going to be the academic asset that evangelical scholarship needs. I suggest someone who thinks they're called to teach submit articles to JETS, Westminster, etc. to see if they can get published at that level. Why not get a ThM for 1 year before the PhD for 4 years to see if they're cut out for the academic rigor? Have you thought about submitting an article on Ockenga? I could share my comments about you on the Dykes' next week for dinner.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Sean said...

Good thoughts Owen...The strong academic environment we learn in perhaps has lured many away from the pastorate and towards the 'professorate'.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Joseph Gould said...

I realize I am late to this discussion, but I have a few questions:

One question I have is whether or not all seminary professors should also be called to be pastors in local churches. My point is that if the primary purpose of seminaries are to train local church pastors, should not scholarly pastors be the ones training them?

Of course, this becomes more complicated in non-denominational seminaries as opposed to one such as the SBC, but one could argue it still should apply there in an ideal world.

Related to this, is it really best to compare the calling of pastor and professor (assuming the professor is not called to pastor)? Is the calling to be a professor in a seminary essentially the same as the calling given to a professor at a secular university?

9:25 PM  
Blogger Jed said...

"Professors and pastors are not innovators, fundamentally, but guardians. We guard the truth and pass it on to the next generation, who in turn passes it on to the next generation."

I don't think I agree with this portrayal of professors as guardians as it assumes a very static development of doctrine in church history. One will find, I think, that some of the issues that exercised the church fathers seem foreign and even bizarre to us today. Moreover, we also find that many doctrines that we take for granted today were not systematically formulated by the early church. For example, I think one can make a good case for the fact that the medieval theologian (11-12th c) Anselm in his great work on the incarnation, Cur Deus Homo (Why did God become a Man?), was the first to develop an adequate explanation of the doctrine of the atonement in line with all of the biblical evidence. This is not to say that Anselm 'invented' what has become the orthodox view of the atonement; rather, I would say that it is an example of discovering new insights from a biblical text that Owen mentioned above. My point with this example is merely to suggest that this class of "new insights" to Scripture which the theologian may discover is larger than may first meet the eye.

1:19 AM  
Blogger Dad said...

Got thinking about the comments this morning, while working. I would disagree fairly strongly with Jed respecting the concept of guardian. We are guardians and are not to be innovative in RESPECTS to the TRUTH. This certainly does not mean that we teach blindly what the church has taught for the past couple of hundred years or more. We are not defenders of current or not to old, or really really old teaching. The Pharisees and company did that. We are defender of the truth. This calls for constant digging, discovering, defending, and sometimes rejecting, so that we are putting forth the Truth, and not man's ideas.

I would also argue that development of doctrine is vital, yet, today how much 'teaching' in our Churches, and seminaries conforms to what has rightly been already condemned by Church councils?

Where are the guardians?

ESV Jude 1:3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Al (Not Owen's dad, or that other "Al".)

9:31 AM  

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