Thursday, February 28, 2013

Scholar Pastors and the decline of Conservative Presbyterianism

I want to interact for a moment with William Evans's article about the Decline of Conservative Presbyterianism.  I want to interact with it because I think it has missed the boat entirely by misplacing where the influence flows.

You should read the article, but in summary he has 5 reasons for the supposed decline: declining prominence of conservative scholarship, intramural squabbles, unfinished theological business, tenuous situation of Presbyterian seminaries, splintering of the Presbyterian and Reformed presence into denominational locations.  

Do you notice anything about these complaints?  Let me help.  They all revolve around the academic world.  If one can draw conclusions from his list of problems the solution to greater Presbyterian and Reformed influence is fewer seminaries with greater cooperation among denominations in order to produce great scholars who focus on finishing the Reformation rather than petty debates.  Is this really the way churches grow?  I hate to break it to Dr. Evans, but the days of the Princeton Review are gone, and the days of people reading that review are not coming back.  The culture is not drifting away from Christianity because we do not have a strong intellectual arguments.  Churches are not going away from the Reformed Faith because we lack a new Calvin.  

Let me quote a sentence from his article.  "Concurrent with this we see the rise of the "scholar-pastor" model in Presbyterian circles".  While I was at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary they often talked of the importance of the "scholar-pastor", so I agree with him that this model is on the rise and in the ascendency in Reformed and Presbyterian circles.  However, unlike Dr. Evans, I see it as the problem.  

The scholar-pastor breeds the intramural squabbles (though I disagree that some of the things he has listed are intramural, some are quite fundamental).  It also leads to the breeding of Presbyterian Seminaries.  If I am a scholar, then I am able to teach at the seminary level.  And if no seminary currently supports my view, I can start my own.  It is really quite logical.  And thanks to rose colored glasses we use to look at Princeton Seminary, we all think a good seminary can do great things.  

Don't get me wrong, I am not against a strong academic rigor to our theology.  But, I think it is time we split the "scholar-pastor" back into "scholar" and "pastor".  Or at least get the order right and be "pastor" first because ultimately that is where the influence is best applied.  It is the pastor not the academic who is on the ground fighting the fight.  it is the church planter who is out in the field gathering the harvest.  It is the church to which Christ has entrusted the Word of God, not the seminary.  

Too often we forget this important fact.  We forget it everywhere.  Take for example our great love for Calvin.  And love him we should.  But do we realize that Calvin never took a city from Romanism to Reformed.  Geneva had already declared for the Reformation long before Calvin came to town.  Does anyone even know who the pastor was who helped led Schaffhausen into the Reformation?  The Reformation happened not led by a seminary or a scholar from afar, but rather pastors on the ground, often working together, to transform the world for Christ by the gospel.  And that is the hope for the future too.

If it were up to me, I would encourage less small seminaries, and instead use Log College models or better yet Swamp College models, and return to the mentorship model of educating men for the ministry.  Sure there would always be a few of those grand professional educational institutions, and they play a role, but not THE role.  No, that is done on Sunday mornings from the pulpit and by the members of the body Christ "equipped for the work of the ministry" not by reading scholarly works but by the "pastors and teachers" (Eph 4:11-16).  


Matt Powell said...

Excellent- thanks!

James Frank Solís said...

I think Dr Evans's arguments are a bit off-base. In my own interactions with "reformed" Baptists incline me to think that it's the paedobaptism. Better informed is R. Scott Clark. Anthony Bradley posted an emailed response to Bradley's original blog post (to which Evans linked). Since you can read it yourself, I'll let you, and spare you an extensive comment.