Sustaining the Scholarly Vocation

The title of this blog is taken from Dr. Gordon Smith’s second lecture that was part of the B. H. Carroll Theological Institute’s Frank and Pauline Patterson Endowed Lecture Series. Dr. Smith, president of Ambrose University and Seminary, Calgary, AB, Canada, connected with a long-held value of B. H. Carroll Theo. Inst.: to raise the value of pastor as scholar in the local church.

 I wrote about this value four years ago, but I want to stitch some of Dr. Smith’s insights into my call for the importance—no, necessity—that we be diligent about restoring the value of intellectually trained church leaders in the mission of the local church and the seminary’s role in its restoration. 

In my previous blog, I stated my primary reasons for the need to restore this value. They were:

  • A changing culture that has marginalized the church and no longer values biblical lifestyles and beliefs,
  • a growing number biblically-illiterate church members and leaders,
  • an emphasis on pragmatic results versus biblical application, and
  • a prevailing sentiment seminary education is irrelevant to be an effective leader in the church today.

These reasons are still in play today, and I remained convinced of my previous conclusion: 

When local church ministry is separated from scholarly, theological training the church is sentenced to follow the latest trends and whims of those who lead them.

I would now include Dr. Smith’s three “threats to the intellectual vocation” by church and government that are additional reasons to restore the value of pastor as scholar. 

  • Pragmatism dominates the expectations of the sponsoring group, who value those institutions that fulfill their desired outcomes. Pastoral leadership skills and competencies outrank the need to train church leaders to think critically.
  • Sentimentalism stresses “heightened spirituality without thoughtful exposition.” He and I share similar faith traditions that value “the Spirit and me” above mindful thought, reflection and proclamation. He reminded us that the “depth of affection requires depth of thought.”
  • “Partisan Propaganda” where both government and church demand compliance, and all ‘truth’ is politicized. The age of anxiety has dismissed critical thought as a path to solutions. This threat is too close to my American home.

Smith’s “Part 3: The Vocation of the Scholar” caught my attention because, when unpacked, it is similar to the vocation of the pastor, in my opinion. He called us to consider the counsel of A. G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions and Methods and then offered his own methods to engage the intellect:

  • Take 1 hour per day; one-half day per week and one full day a month to “cultivate your mind.”
  • “Write something every day,” quoting C. S. Lewis, “I don’t know what I know until I write it down.”
  • He called for the Augustinian definition of virtue as ordo amoris, “ordering the affections.”
  • Learn the “practice of embodiment.” He specifically mentioned walking and referenced Kosuke Koyama’s idea of a “Three mile an hour God,” the speed with which we walk with God against the Western Christianity desire for speedy results.
  • Read across all genres of literature, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and authors from different cultures.
  • “Celebrate the scholars in our midst both past and present.”

All of God’s people are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” The practices Smith suggested can aid us in deepening our love for God with our minds and enhance how we love God with the other aspects of our being. 

Let me be prophetic here:

When we allow our minds to degenerate by entertaining them with media and slothfulness rather than engaging them with thought-filled reflection and dialogue in the things of God, the church will become more and more impotent to impact its native culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

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Thank you, Dr. Smith, for your insights and encouragement. May we continue to love the Lord our God with our minds and equip God’s people—especially their servant leaders—to love God in that same way. 

Check out Dr. Smith’s latest book, Wisdom from Babylon: Leadership for the Church in a Secular Age (IVP Academic: 2020), it covers more fully the topics in this blog. 

Serving Him With You,


Published: Nov 16, 2020


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