The Pastor as Scholar and The Scholar as Pastor, Reflections on Life and Ministry by John Piper and D. A. Carson

More attention is being given of late to the value of theology and scholarship in the life of the pastor. Much of this apparently stemmed from a 2009 gathering by the same name as this book, and by the same men, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, coming on the heels of the Gospel Coalition National Conference (p. 15). This meeting, along with the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology, has fueled renewed interest in the pastor-theologian concept that was far more common in the past. This little book contributes to the conversation.

The two authors have had long and successful ministries. Both were born in 1946 and both received their doctorates from liberal European schools: Piper (university of Munich), Carson (Cambridge). Carson began his ministry as a pastor and shifted to the academy, while Piper originally was a Bible college professor who became a pastor. Both have spent their lives engaged in intellectual and theological pursuits but from different contexts and vocations. Yet both exemplify what it means to be a serious student of Scripture and doctrine engagement in different types of ministries.

Piper’s portion of the book provides an interesting mini-autobiography in which we learn that he is neither a fast reader nor was he an exceptional student. However, he possesses the ability to think logically, analytically and precisely (p. 28). I appreciate his short rebuke of the critics of logic who trace such thinking to Aristotle. Piper finds it in Scripture and in Jesus, as do I (p. 55). He makes the obvious, but important, point that sheep need teachers: “So the pastor’s job is to look at the Bible and work hard to understand what’s in it, and then work hard to make it understandable and attractive and compelling to our people” (p. 61). As might be expected, his overarching ministerial theme, that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him, makes it into the book repeatedly (pp. 21, 39, 46, 48, 52-66). I struggled with this view as expressed in his statement, “Right thinking about God exists to serve right feelings for God…. The head is meant to serve the heart” (p. 50). First, nothing is mentioned here about behavior, so at best this is an incomplete assertion. Secondly, his use of head as distinct from heart (as emotions) will not hold up biblically and is contradicted by his coauthor later in the book (p. 75). Overall, however Piper’s chapter was encouraging.

Carson’s contribution is more practical and specific. Again a mini-autobiography is offered followed by twelve lessons for pastors who desire to be scholars (which Carson helpfully defines as an academic (p. 71). Some highlights include his encouragement to fight the commonly held distinction between objective and devotional reading of the Scriptures (p. 90), the shortcoming of Internet reading versus careful reflective study of books (p. 96), that students learn what you are excited about and what you emphasize (pp. 98-99), that systematic theology must spring from the clear teaching of Scripture itself (p. 100), that scholars should look for areas that are crying out to be tackled (p. 102), and that we should walk humbly—taking our work, but not ourselves, seriously (p. 105). I would not agree with his unqualified praise of Tim Keller (pp. 73-74), and I was surprised by David Mathis’ inclusion of Sam Strom (of all people) in his list of examples of pastor-scholars found in the conclusion of the book.

This is a fine little book that should encourage pastors in their pursuit of theology in their ministry.


The Pastor as Scholar and The Scholar as Pastor, Reflections on Life and Ministry, by John Piper and D. A. Carson (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 111 pp., paper $9.99 


Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel.

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