What is the link between the academy and the pulpit? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I have been reading the works of J. Gresham Machen for a class and last night, I was reading some of his sermons and was noticing how in-depth they were. He comes from a Calvinistic perspective so I didn’t agree with everything, but I knew he was working to substantiate his points. The sermon was rigorous and yet Machen spoke with a pastor’s heart.
I went to bed that night wondering why that was and I decided ultimately that there is a need for pastors to be scholars. If not a scholar, at least training in higher education to give the best of your mind to the church. Many people think that all that is needed to be an effective pastor is to just have a lot of passion for the things of God.
However, Scripture tells us in the epistles especially about the qualifications of a pastor. A pastor must be equipped in sound doctrine and be able to refute those who contradict. While some of these are said for deacons and elders, surely if they apply to the lesser offices of the church, they apply to the greater.
If you don’t have a strong background of information, you will more often than not draw from your own experiences and your own life to preach a sermon. How many times can a sermon end and you know a lot about the life of the person behind the pulpit, but you don’t know as much about Jesus? That doesn’t mean that you can never talk about your life experience, but it shouldn’t be your main source.
After all, if you have to speak sometime, you will draw out of whatever you have. If all you have is yourself, then you are going to have a shallow sermon. If you have a deep reservoir of theology, Christology, apologetics, church history, philosophy, Scripture, etc. then you will have plenty to draw from.
Years ago I attended a church where we had the educational hour before the sermon, which was like our version of Sunday School. There was more than one Sunday when two minutes or so before class began, no exaggeration, they didn’t have a teacher, and they would ask me to get up and suddenly speak on something, for an hour. No problem. I remember one Sunday I said, “Not a problem. We’ll talk about the five ways of Aquinas.”
If you have this kind of background, you can do this kind of thing. Whatever you think of Tim Keller, and I don’t say this as endorsement or condemnation, he did say something once that someone knew when he hadn’t prepared a lot for his sermon because he would talk a lot more about C.S. Lewis. That is an example of what is being talked about here. Many a pastor could have talked about himself and his own life, but Keller saw himself as well enough acquainted with Lewis, and he might be, that he could speak about him instead.
Every pastor in church needs to have either gone to seminary and got an education or is going to seminary. We are training up our people to fight a war and we don’t need just people who feel good. We need people who know what they’re fighting for and why. We need pastors who are scholars to equip laymen to be warriors.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)