The Academy and the Church

Owen Strachan, friend and “Consumed” blogger has recently contemplated the tension raised between the priority of local church ministry and the allure of academic pursuits. A few weeks ago he referenced an article by Covenant Seminary professor and administrator,Sean Michael Lucas, which cogently articulated many of these notions with which seminarians–young and old–wrestle.

This struggle is not new, as illustrated by John Angell James comments in his book on the need for earnestness in ministry. The pastor emeritus does not dismiss the place of scholarship, but neither does he exalt it. In his day, he speaks of the commality of such degrees and reflects on how such ubiquity will temper pride and how attainment will eventually undo the all-consuming initial desire for learning. Consider his balanced sentiments and his emphatic call for earnestness–regardless of ones level of schooling:

In an age like the present, when so much is said about knowledge, and such high value is attached to it, there is a danger of our being seduced from every other qualification, and taken up with this. The establishment of the London University, and the incorporation of our Colleges with it, have give our students access to academic degrees and honours: and there is some danger in the new condition of our literary Institutions, lest our young men should have their minds in some measure drawn away from much more important matters, by the hope of having their names graced by the marks of Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree [or Doctor]. It is a foolish clamour that has been raised against all attention to such matters, and it is a vain and barbarous precaution that would fortify the ministerial devotedness of our students, by restraining them altogether from such distinctions. The studies necessary to enable them to attain this object of their ambition, are a part of the their professional education; while the vanity likely to be engendered by success will soon be annihilated by the commonness of the acquisition. When these degrees are so common that almost all ministers possess them, they will no longer be a snare to their possessors. Besides, like every other object of human desire, when once they are possessed, much of the charm that dazzled the eye of hope has vanished. Henry Martyn, when he came from the senate-house at Cambridge, where he had been declared Senior Wrangler of his year, and had thus won the richest honour the University had to confer, was struct with the vanity of human wishes, and expressed his surprise at the comparative worthlessness of the bauble he had gained, and the shadow he had grasped. It is not by closing the door against such distinctions that we can hope to raise the tone of devotedness in our ministry, but by fostering in the minds of our young men at College, and in the minds of our congregations, and our ministers in general, the conviction that earnestness is just that one thing, to which all other things must be, and can be, made subservient, and without which all otehr things which educaiton can impart are as nothing (John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times [Edinburg: Banner of Truth, 1993: Original 1847], 247-48).

2 thoughts on “The Academy and the Church

  1. True enough. I think the value of the pastor’s comments are not that they solve anything resolutely, but that they show us that this academy-church tension is not just a modern problem. As the Preacher said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” They remind us that the tension is something that we must live with, and in holding the balance between church service and academic pursuits, we must be earnest to fulfill the ministry God has given to us, wherever that may be. dss

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