Laboring in the Word of God
Today, for my Leadership Journal interview, I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Philip Ryken, President of Wheaton College. Prior to coming to Wheaton, Dr. Ryken was pastor at the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. I’ve enjoyed Dr. Ryken’s preaching and his books. They seem to combine excellent scholarship with an easy-to-read pastoral tone. Among my favorites are Solomon and Loving the Way Jesus Loves. I also enjoy his commentaries in the Preaching the Word commentary series coauthored with Dr. R. Kent Hughes.
The interview was wide-ranging on a few topics. One of the questions I asked him was about the intersection between scholars and pastors:
What are some ways you would counsel pastors to be more scholarly and scholars to be more pastoral?
Like a lot of Presbyterians, I have always admired the ideal of the scholar-pastor. When I was a student at Wheaton in the 1980s, John Piper gave an outstanding chapel message on the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. I still have the notes from that talk, which strengthened my desire to be a pastor. Later, my doctoral work on the Scottish minister and theologian Thomas Boston enabled me to get an inside look at the life and ministry of a scholar-pastor. And I have tried to live out this ideal in my own life, getting the best education I could get and staying somewhat involved in the scholarly world while spending most of my time in pastoral ministry and writing mainly for ordinary people in the church.
As far as encouraging pastors to become scholars, the main thing I would recommend is being absolutely committed to doing the incredibly hard work that preaching the gospel requires—really laboring in the Word of God. It is difficult to preach well. Biblical exposition is a strenuous, life-long calling that demands a commitment to serious study of the Bible. It is good for pastors to read widely, including in theology, and some pastors have the gifts and calling to pursue other forms of scholarship. But the most important thing is to be a student of the Word.
When I think of scholars becoming more pastoral, I think first of my colleagues who teach Bible and Theology at Wheaton College. All of them use their gifts actively in the life of the church. They preach, teach Sunday school, and serve in other ways. Nearly all of them do some of their writing at the popular level. They understand that biblical and theological scholarship is not an end in itself, but is intended to serve the spiritual life of Christian laypeople. This is one of the core values of our department.
Not every scholar has the gifts to be a pastor, but every scholar can make a commitment to live in community with the people of God, to build relationships with neighbors who are outside the church, and to keep the spiritual needs of their friends in mind when they read, write, and lecture