Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why Being a Pastor Is Better Than Being a Scholar

When I was in school, I learned all sorts of tools to study the Bible properly.  I learned proper lexicography using a more robust linguistic analysis of the text that employed, yet distinguished diachronic and synchronic methodologies, discourse analysis, advanced grammatical and syntactical studies of Hebrew and Greek, ancient Near Eastern and Second Temple archaeology and texts as the sociological and conceptual context, etc.

But all of these tools brought me only so far in understanding a text. Of course, at the time, since I understood it a little better than I had before, I never realized that I didn't quite get it. I thought these methodologies gave me the key to understand the Scripture, so I employed them as I sought to advance within the academic community.

But something happened that disrupted my plans to get a PhD in Hebrew Bible from Harvard, a PhD in New Testament from Cambridge, and a Habilitation in Theology at the University of Tübingen, along with lesser M.A.'s in Philosophy, Egyptology, Assyriology, and Church History. Life.

Of course, the best laid plans are often interrupted by real life, and I had gotten married, had my first son, and didn't get into Harvard. So I simply fell back on what I viewed as a temporary occupation while I waited a year to reapply to more schools. I entered into ministry as a pastor, and it is there that I began to use all of the tools I had learned in school for a different purpose than I had done before.

I didn't use them for my own personal understanding of the Scripture or for my own academic advancement within a highly competitive field, but instead in the service of God's people. As I did this, the Scripture opened up to me. I was able to see what these books were actually saying. What I thought I understood before by mere tools applied with technical precision became a joke to what I understood in the light of really seeing these texts for the first time in ministry.

To back up a little, when I first learned Hebrew, I would use a lot of lexicographical, grammatical, and syntactical sources. I would rely upon them as though they were like the bibles of Hebrew language study. But I remember reading in Waltke and O'Conner one day and suddenly beginning to critique it. That's when I knew that my knowledge of Hebrew had gone from novice to more advanced. It's when I began to understand Hebrew rather than just work in it as something foreign to me.

The same happened when I began to work through the Bible in ministry. I began to understand the texts and critique commentaries I read. In fact, to this day, I'm not quite so sure that the majority of commentaries/scholars I've read understand the books upon which they spend countless hours studying to write. That doesn't mean that I don't think they are all valuable in their own way, but they miss the point of these books often, and frankly, that leads to other misunderstandings in their general outlook of the Bible.

I truly believe that being a pastor is better than being a scholar, not simply because it gives you more pastoral concerns, but because the interpretation of the Bible is really missing a key element of the Spirit's aid when it is not in service of a local congregation, where the Spirit has clearly expressed that He exclusively works in the discipleship of His people. Even the books of the New Testament itself, even if circulated later, are written to local congregations in service of God's people (and that is also true for those books that are disputed to be general epistles---they are meant to be read by local churches).

It is not that I don't see value in employing all of the tools I learned in school. To the contrary, they are my constant companions in biblical exegesis. But it is the Spirit who made them worthwhile and potent in my attempt to understand the biblical text.

This is why I shake my head when you have young Bible students who merely employ these tools in some mechanic fashion without having much artistic skill in employing them. It evidences a lack of the Spirit to me, which in turn displays a problem in the interpreters intent.

This is also why sin issues must be considered when someone attempts to interpret Scripture.

The Bible was interpreted throughout the centuries by men who lacked many of the tools I learned in school, and yet, as I read them, even in what appears to me as strange hermeneutics, I find their theological and ethical conclusions to be the same as mine. Our unity is in the Spirit, not in our interpretive methods. And without Him, we have a spiritually dead guild of scholars ruling over the Church that was given by the Holy Spirit pastors seeking the growth of God's people (Eph 4:11-13), not scholars seeking an academic prestige and tenure.

Scholars often look down on pastors as second tier, but in reality, that should be reversed. A scholar is second tier to a pastor. Woe to us because we've forgotten it.

It is through the pastor that unity will be attained in the Church. It is through the guild of scholars, always attempting to look at texts in new ways and find new problems and new answers to write new dissertations and books, who contribute more to disunity in the name of academic innovation. It is scholars who have broken up the Church, but pastors led by the Holy Spirit who will bring it back together (and they can do this without ignoring scholarship, but instead by employing it for a better purpose than the advancement of self). Why would anyone ever think that an enterprise employed in the advancement of self would actually yield the truth of the Spirit of Christ who pulls people under His Lordship anyway?

I still read everyone. I don't look at scholars as those who are not worthy to be read. They occasionally have some good insights. But I don't take their abilities as seriously as I used to, simply because I tend to be capable of seeing past them now. I appreciate their hard work, but their hard work needs to be critiqued and salvaged by the Spirit-led pastor/teacher/evangelist for the work of God, to build up rather than to tear down the unity of the Church in the truth.


  1. Bryan, I really appreciate you and your blog writing. And I really am thankful you got married and had your first son instead of getting your doctorate.

  2. Thanks Truth. I'm glad I did as well. I fear I would have been a lost soul if I had gone down that path too soon.