Pastors and Scholars

Piper and Carson

A review of John Piper and Don Carson’s The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry.

John Piper, the pastor-scholar is joined in this little paperback by Don Carson the scholar-pastor to talk us through the tensions and advantages of this dual role. This would be an excellent little paperback to give to aspiring theological educators and the more scholarly types of ordinand who wonder how they can continue to integrate their new found love of theological scholarship with the busyness of a parish ministry. Piper writes well about how writing itself helps him think, about logic in biblical interpretation, and about how at seminary he found all his Arminian presuppositions being undone as he engaged in exegesis. He tells us he has always preached from a full manuscript and it is clear that his scholarly nature has enabled him to be a clear thinker, writer, and preacher. But he also speaks about how such a scholarly bent can over-intellectualize the faith into something “academic rather than heart-wrenchingly real.”

Don Carson speaks about how the excellent Dallimore biography of George Whitefield is one of the few books that makes him weep. He writes about how, “Nothing is quite as deceitful as an evangelical scholarly mind that thinks it is especially close to God because of its scholarship rather than because of Jesus”, and how important it is for PhD students to be engaged in ministry of some kind at the same time as their studies. In typical Carson fashion he informs us that during his three years at Cambridge, alongside his doctoral studies, he taught the Bible 2.6 times per week (so precise!). At one point he got excited that as a Cambridge student he “was walking on stones where John Owen walked” – which shows he is a better biblical scholar than historian (Owen was at Oxford). Nevertheless, he speaks well of the subtle forces at work in academic environments to lure evangelicals away from the truth and towards academic respectability. The personal stories of both Piper and Carson help to anchor the good advice they give to prospective scholar-pastors and pastor-scholars in this useful book of reflections on life and ministry.

This review was first published in Churchman 127/1 (2013).

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