Pastor As Theologian Part I of III

I’d like to post a few snippets from a larger article by Dr. Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia concerning the role of the Pastor in undertaking theological study. I find the central problem with the mainline church is the ignorance of both Pastor and Elder as to not only basic Christian Doctrine and how it works together to understand the development of our identity in Christ but how “Knowing God”, as J.I. Packer put it, delivers for us a much richer and fuller worship and prayer life. I have separated the article into three posts.

The Importance of Being Earnest: Approaching Theological Study

Carl Trueman

Themelios 26.1 (Autumn 2000): 34-47.
[Reproduced by permission of the author]

There can be no more pressing question to be addressed by the theological student than that of how academic theological study proper is to be related to the everyday life of that same student as a Christian believer. Now this is a vast subject, and scarcely one that can be covered adequately in this paper. It is, after all, an issue with which some of the church’s greatest minds have wrestled with for a lifetime and yet never come up with a fully satisfactory answer. It is important at the start, therefore, that I clarify precisely what specific issues I intend to address in this paper in order, as the advertisers would say, to prevent disappointment later on. My aims will be modest. I shall not deal with specifics, merely with the general framework within which your studies should be approached…

…My first basic point, then, is this: don’t imagine that you can successfully integrate your theological studies with your daily Christian walk unless you have first established the latter on a sound footing. Are you praying daily for spiritual help, not just for your work, but for your life in general? Are you reading God’s word every day not simply to pass your examinations but to familiarise yourself with salvation history, with God’s revelation of himself, so that you yourself can understand more fully the God who has redeemed you and your own identity as one of the redeemed? Are you attending a local church regularly (and I must stress at this point that CU is no substitute for church) where the word is faithfully preached and the Lord’s Supper is duly administered? If not, then you might as well stop now, for I have nothing more of use to say to you here; if you have not laid such basic foundations for integrating your studies with your faith, then you are simply not ready to address the more specific issues which academic theology raises for the Christian…

…At this point I confess my debt to John Calvin who, at the start of his Institutes, while not using the word ‘theology’, highlighted the fact that knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves are intimately linked to the extent that it is not easy to see which precedes the other. Calvin’s definition is useful here because it highlights the fact that theology has two poles which stand in relation to each other: on one side, there is God who reveals himself; on the other side there are human beings who receive that revelation. As Calvin will go on to say, that revelation of God is accommodated to human capacity – not that it is an imperfect, misleading and inadequate synthesis of the human and the divine, but that it is divine truth expressed in a manner which human beings can grasp. In short, the nature of theology is determined both by the God upon whom it depends and upon the humanity that receives it. This means that whatever model we develop to understand how theological study and Christian devotion are to be integrated must proceed on the basis of who we understand God to be; who we understand ourselves to be; and therefore the relationship that exists between the two…

…We must always remember that human beings are not simply intellectual automata. Our beliefs are not simply the result of value-neutral logical processes working from self-evident truths. This is something which the collapse of Enlightenment rationalism in the wake of postmodern critiques has made very clear indeed; and yet this is something which Luther and Calvin could have told us five hundred years ago, which Paul had spotted way back in the first century, and which the serpent so brilliantly exploits in Genesis 3. Christian belief is therefore a moral as well as an intellectual stance. The reason that individuals do not believe in Christ is because they are in a state of moral and intellectual rebellion against God. This is not to say that non-Christians are as bad as they could be; but it is to point to the fact that objections to Christian belief all contain a fundamental moral element which refuses God’s claims. After all, Christ points us to our sinfulness, our moral turpitude; he stands in judgement on our self-righteousness; he calls us to repent, die to self, and live for him, though every instinct in our minds and bodies militates against this; and surprise, surprise, we do not like this at all. Furthermore, while we remain on this mortal plain, we will continue to struggle against our basic human desire to be free of God. Loss of faith, like lack of faith, is thus never simply a problem of epistemology; it is also a problem of morality. In the same way the failure to integrate any particular aspect of our lives into the larger reality of our union with Christ, from our studies in the university library to our behaviour within the marriage bond, is not simply a problem of technique but also a problem also of morality…

…All this is to leap ahead of ourselves, but it does underline the fact that knowledge of an abstract, impersonal kind should never be mistaken for that personal, doctrinal knowledge which lies at the heart of the Christian life, faith, and church. The simple point, therefore is: when you leave the lecture theatre and walk through the door of the church, remember first, who you are – a sinner saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, nothing more, nothing less. Second, remember that while you may have gifts, great gifts, to offer the church – that is for the church to recognise and for you to offer in all humility. Your attitude should be that of the servant who sees his or her skills as an opportunity for the more effective serving of others than as a basis for exalting yourself above the level of those who have not had the privilege of a theological education.As a result the next step towards getting theological study right, after the foundation of personal and corporate worship, is involvement as a servant at whatever level in the day-to-day running of the church, whether as a Sunday School teacher, a Youth Club leader, or even as a church cleaner. Even Christ stooped to wash feet – and we should be prepared to make ourselves no less humble…

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3 thoughts on “Pastor As Theologian Part I of III

  1. “This is not to say that non-Christians are as bad as they could be…”
    -Why is it that people are so hasty to interject this statement? Do people suddenly think that once the covenant of works was broken that man took on some sort of omnipresence and was doing all peculiar acts of sin all at once? “Not everyone’s Adolf Hitler” …so what? Many people are and were more cunning than him. The fact that they remain cognizent of the law is only more testimony against them.

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