Lately, I have been thinking about my entrance into the PhD program and the impact such heavy-duty training has on the edification of the local church. Such academic equipping is certainly not required. Most biblical prophets and apostles were “regular joe’s.” Amos was a shepherd. Peter and John were fisherman, “uneducated, common men” who had been with Jesus (cf. Acts 4:13). Jesus himself was an unschooled carpenter, while his cousin, John the Baptist, was a self-taught wilderness prophet. According to the Bible, theological education is no panacea for heresy (cf. John 5:39ff); nor is it the golden key that unlocks the mysteries of God’s word. All true understanding is Spiritually given (1 Cor. 2:1-16).
Nevertheless, assiduous study has its place and the church has benefitted greatly from the likes of its church doctors. Augustine, Luther, Machen, and Mohler have each benefitted the church in God-honoring ways because the Sovereign Lord of all wisdom (Col. 2:3) has been pleased to use their scholarly gifting and theological training for purification and expansion of his church.
In a recent edition of Themelios, Carl Trueman in hi article, “Minority Report: The way of the Christian academic,” reflects on the relationship between theological academic(ian)s and the church. He concludes with an exhortation to wannabe theologians:
The calling of a Christian academic is a high one, for anyone charged with the teaching of God’s truth will, as the Bible tells us, be held to a higher level of accountability than others. The path is marked with difficulties and challenges; but none are insurmountable, and the basic disciplines of the Christian life are in fact more, not less, important and useful. You want to be a Christian academic? Work hard, pray, read your Bible, and go to church.
Personally, I am still working out how my own theological training serves the local church. However, the question is not own of principle, but of specification. The church is central, not theological education. This is an absolute: all investments in biblical and theological studies must be for the church (cf. Eph. 4:11-16). Why? Because I, along with all those pursuing doctorates in theology, will be judged accordingly (cf. James 3:1). To those who have been given much, much will be required (cf. Luke 12:48), and those of us who have had the privilege of studying the Bible for years are accountable for sharing the riches.
When we stand before our Lord and beneficient giver of all Truth, may we be found faithful. Until then, may we labor to tell the Good News to the lost and build up the church with the nourishment of God’s Holy Word. Theological training and biblical institutions of higher learning must be committed to the local church. Until that end, may we pray and labor.
Sola Deo Gloria, dss