Posts Tagged ‘Carl Trueman’

We often hear the phrase “pastor as scholar” used to describe the serious intellectual responsibilities tied to the ministry. A pastor should be well-versed in the original languages, master the trajectories of church history, and possess a solid grasp of the philosophical issues facing the church today (just to name a few).

And as important as these are, we must never forget that they are all, in the end, pastoral. In other words, theology is for ministry; it is for proclamation. It’s not so much that the pastor is a scholar but that the scholar is a pastor.

Carl Trueman gets at this in summarizing John Owen’s own study and practice.

In his work on the communion with the divine, Owen connects his theology, it its catholic, Protestant, and Reformed dimensions, to that most critical of Puritan concerns: the worship of God. And in so doing, Owen demonstrates that most delightful aspect of precritical theology: its essentially ecclesiastical and practical purpose. None of his theology was intended for its own sake, as some kind of glass-bead game to be played by an elite few in isolation from the world around. On the contrary: it was theology done within the church for the benefit of the church. As speculative and as metaphysical as many of the issues [were], for Owen none of it was purely abstract. Whether polemic, commentary, or doctrinal exposition, his work always connects to the life of the church and the health of Christians, individual and corporate. The divorce of theology as an academic discipline from the ecclesiastical context, so basic to the modern discipline, would have been inconceivable to Owen and is another point of basic continuity between his work and that of his predecessors. As the great patristic writers were capable of flights of intellectual brilliance in developing a theology which was basically concerned for the health of Christ’s flock; as the great medievals put their massive intellects to the service of the church and wrote both massive theological systems and profound and moving hymns and prayers; as Luther and Calvin always saw their theology as having a primarily ecclesiastical function and as terminating in the preaching of the word and the administrating of the sacraments; so Owen draws on that most Christian of doctrines, that of the Trinity, refracts it through a Reformed soteriology, and applies it to that most basic and universal aspect of the Christian faith, the devotional life. – Carl Trueman, “John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man,” (2007) p. 128.

Ministry, therefore, is not so much about “going up” into the rarified airs and untrammeled musings of theological exactitude, untouched and untroubled by the world below. Here we may feel impregnable, fully equipped to battle the problems of society. But “here” is not ministry. No, ministry is very much about “going down” into the very depths of peoples’ pain and confusion; to empathize with them; to appreciate their humanity (which is our humanity); to weep when they weep; to laugh when they laugh; indeed, to “become all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22).

Is this not what Christ did? Is this not what Paul did?

As such, the tools of the trade (i.e. a seminary education) are only valuable when we see them in this light: as eminently practical. It’s not so much about learning theological principles and philosophical abstractions which we can then later “apply” to reality down bellow. No, it is in our studies that reality itself is opened up to us! And we are sent plummeting to earth, our feet firmly striking the ground. It is here that our problems become apparent; that our nature and weaknesses strike us in the face. And then we realize that our problems are not just “down below,” but all around us. We all suffer from the same fallen humanity; and we are all weary pilgrims.

Thus a pastor doesn’t become a scholar to escape the vicissitudes of the mundane and the ordinary, to perch unassailable by the unpleasantries below. For here we will not find safety: only coldness, and finally death.

God demonstrates his character to us by stooping down to our nature, and “getting his hands dirty,” as it were, with our flesh and blood. Out of the dust of the earth he created them male and female (Gen. 1:27). And then, God, in the person of Christ, took this humanity upon himself, forever, identifying with us in the most empathetic and intimate way ever. And as under-shepherds, ministers are called to no less. Indeed, we must first loose our lives if we want to find them (Matt. 10:39). For there is no greater love than this (Jn. 15:13).

Read Full Post »

Today one might often hear folks holding to the “authority of scripture” or Sola Scriptura (scripture alone) as proof of their Reformed (or more broadly, Christian) orthodoxy. The concept of biblical authority is considered that “safe all” category sufficient to always guide one home to truth. As long as we maintain Sola Scriptura, (it is assumed) we’ll be good. And we’ll always be reforming the church (semper reformanda).

But this is a dangerous misunderstanding, both of the Reformed distinctive (Sola Scriptura), as well as the nature of theology itself. And we see this mistake played out in history.

Carl Trueman observes how in John Owen’s day, “the Socinians appear to hold to a basic scripture principle in a formally similar manner to the orthodox.” That is, they held to a form of Sola Scritpura: Scripture alone was the sole and final authority in determining truth. For some odd reason, however, the Socinians couldn’t seem to find the doctrine of the Holy Trinity anywhere in Scripture!

What Owen labored to demonstrate, therefore, was that sola scriptura was not enough. It was not merely scripture’s authority that was all-important, but also its interpretation.

Trueman explains the difference between the two approaches:

The differences, in fact, are significant, and go straight to the heart of why Owen can see scripture as teaching the doctrine of the Trinity and the Socinians reject such a conclusion: the point at issue is not simply whether scripture is the authoritative noetic foundation for theology, but how that scripture is to be interpreted, a point which draws in matters of logic, of metaphysics, and of how individual passages of scripture are mutually related to the act of interpretation…

The radical biblicism of the Socinians was, in effect, cutting the very ground away from under the traditional doctrine and forcing its exponents to greater degrees of precisely the kind of conceptual and linguistic subtlety which the Socinians decried as betraying the straightforward teaching of scripture. – John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man, 48-49.

Notice the irony. And yet this is very helpful for us today since we often hear people arguing for a form of “biblicism” which lays claim to the Sola Scriptura principle, all-the-while ignoring the larger philosophical challenges inherent to scripture’s interpretation.

Theology free from metaphysics is impossible.

Read Full Post »