This short book is a result of the single-evening lectures and discussions by Piper and Carson that took place at Park Community Church in Chicago on April 23, 2009. Both authors expanded and refined their original manuscripts into book chapters. Owen Strachan and David Mathis, too, have contributed by writing the Introduction and the Conclusion, respectively.
Strachan rightly points out in the Introduction that, historically, the two roles of pastor and scholar were rarely thought of as separate from each other (p. 14), which explains the rationale behind the decision to invite Piper and Carson to deal with this topic (p. 15).
Piper’s Chapter One has two parts. Part One tells his life story from early youth to his current place. Although he did not feel fit for pastoral ministry when he was younger, he realized that God was doing something great when he was introduced to a comprehensive worldview and the life of the mind by Arthur Holmes at Wheaton (p. 30). His encounter with Dan Fuller at Fuller Seminary introduced him to the blessings of rigorous study of the biblical text and the life and work of Jonathan Edwards. It was also at Fuller that he formed his life-long conviction, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” (p. 39). Piper, however, does not conceal his disappointment with the emptiness of arid German biblical scholarship that he experienced during his doctoral work in Munich. Piper says that he did not feel fulfilled while teaching at Bethel College, and it was because God’s fire was being poured into his heart for fulltime pastoral ministry. God’s final call came to Piper through Romans 9 in December 1979, and he has been faithfully serving Bethlehem Baptist Church since June 1980. In Part Two, however, Piper stresses the scholar aspect of his pastoral ministry, i.e., “how the thinking serves the feeling in the ministry of the Word” (p. 67). Piper makes it clear in his ministry that joy and thinking are inseparable; the mind is to awaken our hearts to love God (p. 52). Piper also studies several texts to show how closely thinking is related to joy, e.g., Romans 10; 2 Timothy 2; Acts 17; 1 Peter 1; Luke 12. Piper then concludes by encouraging pastors to be courageous in their teaching ministry (p. 59). For pastors to be able to teach, they must do the hard work of studying the Bible and presenting it in a clear and accessible way (p. 61).
In Chapter Two, Carson first defines a pastor-scholar, not necessarily as a faculty member but rather in terms of “pastoral work in the framework of rather more advanced technical competence than is customarily the case” (pp. 72–73). Carson emphasizes that, in a pastor-scholar, God-given gifts are more important than standardized training (p. 74). Piper and Carson share the view that true evangelical scholarship leads us to love God. Carson rightly warns the reader against both intellectualism and anti-intellectualism before he shares his own journey as a scholar. One notable thing in his scholarly pilgrimage is that he was always involved in pastoral ministry. The remainder of this chapter is Carson’s twelve lessons for those who consider themselves rather as a scholar than as a pastor: do not be a mere quartermaster; exercise caution lest you be seduced by applause; avoid the dualism of devotional reading and critical studies of the Bible; care for your students pastorally; do not forget that there are different gifts; unless you are excited about the gospel, your students will not learn it from you; do not lose sight of the main thing; have your own scholarly vision; love the church; work with other scholars; be interested in what others do; learn to laugh at and about yourself.
To both Mathis and Strachan, Piper represents the pastor and Carson the scholar, and rightly so (pp. 14–15, 108). In the Conclusion, Mathis states that both Piper and Carson have faithfully served in their areas for more than thirty years (p. 108), i.e., they have never completely abandoned the other locale; Mathis writes, “Piper’s mind never fully left the academy … and Carson’s heart never left the church” (p. 108). Mathis leads the reader to many more exemplary figures of the scholar-pastor, from modern to ancient ones. Finally, he brings our attention to the ultimate and perfect pastor-scholar, Jesus Christ.
One of the biggest benefits that this book offers is that the reader can enjoy great balance in the authors’ discussions. Piper, while representing the pastor side, does not forget to emphasize the value and significance of right thinking in his pastoral ministry. Carson, too, rightly upholds the centrality of the church in his rigorous academic pursuits. The reader is thus encouraged to learn that faithful scholarship essentially promotes love and worship of God. The pastor and the scholar, therefore, form a powerful whole in Piper and Carson. This book does an excellent job convincing the reader that this is not a matter of either-or but a matter of both. Piper and Carson do not assert that it is possible to be fully and perfectly engaged in both capacities. What they claim, however, is that it is a grave mistake to sever the two worlds; to borrow Strachan’s word, church history shows us that “the pastor was a scholar; the scholar was a pastor” (p. 14). I also find it encouraging that Mathis concludes the book by stressing that the ultimate focus of both scholar-pastors and pastor-scholars should be Jesus and his gospel (pp. 109–11).
“What do you want to be—a pastor or a scholar?” (p. 13). All those who struggle to find an answer to this question in today’s compartmentalized world will surely find this book helpful.
John Piper and D. A. Carson. The Pastor as Scholar & the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry, edited by Owen Strachan and David Mathis. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011.