Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Question and Answer Session with Don Carson and John Piper!!

On Thursday, April 23, 2009, at Park Community Church in Chicago, IL, the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School hosted an evening of free lectures and discussion with Dr. John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church and Dr. D. A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The event began at 7:00pm and concluded around 10:00pm. Titled “The Pastor as Scholar, and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry with John Piper and D.A. Carson”, the evening featured hour-long lectures by Drs. Piper and Carson that offered reflection of a theological and personal nature on the work of the pastor and the scholar, respectively.

The Question and Answer session was of amazing quality and I just couldn't resist transcribing it for future reference and reflection;

Q: Before we start I just want to say one book I would commend for those of you who are very interested in everything we have talked about is Doug Sweeney's upcoming book from Intervarsity Press; "Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word". Dr Sweeney sparked a lot of my thought on this topic which is why I proposed this event and I would commend it to you - it's coming out soon. The Henry Centre booth has fliers on it and Doug will get your heart fired up either for theological pastoral ministry or scholarly ministry. Look for that book in days to come.

Because you both questioned the use of "scholar" in the event title, I wanted to say what I was thinking in regard to that title and have you respond. In the past it seems to me that theology was done for the church. There is certainly and always will be a place for high-level theology - theology among the experts. But it seems to me that in the past Augustine and Luther and Calvin and Edwards and Warfield - many others we could name - the Puritans thought of themselves as theologians of the highest level and it was for the church. So they weren't writing books to be smart in the way you spoke about a few minutes ago - Dr Carson. They were writing to build up the church and draw lost people to the beauty of the Christian faith in the way you write about Dr Piper.

What I was thinking about when I proposed about was that you can substitute "theologian" for "scholar" and you can again add that tag line for the church. Is that something that makes sense and helps clarify the two callings?

John Piper: Erm ... no. (*laughter*). Because they are different levels at which you can do that. I mean if you take Jonathan Edwards's "Nature of True Virtue" - it was written for the sake of the church but I doubt that any lay people have got anything from it at all! So that is what I mean by different levels. You take his "Religious Affections" and that is another level. Both are powerful books but one is talking about "consent to being" - what in the world is "consent to being"?! He is operating at a cutting edge, philosophical, response level. So I think that is okay to do that. I think there should be people who are able to do that!

Not me! I am going to do "Religious Affections" level! So the reason that didn't help me would be that if you asked me are you one of those I would have had to make distinctions again.

Don Carson: I think there is another factor that is being left out. On many occasions in the history of the church the most learned person around not only in the church but also in the entire society was the pastor! Until the explosion of knowledge in the latter half of the Enlightenment - they were thinkers who learnt so many things on so many fronts. The pastor was an exegete but was also studying some biology. They were the most knowledgable people around and one of the reasons you have so many unconverted people that wanted to be pastors was because this was the path to learning!

Eventually the place of learning was not in the pastoral ministry but in the university. It was a secular approach to knowledge and the pastor became someone working in a narrower sphere and then you had the break-up of the great evangelical institutions as such that you have more and more people getting their Bible training in minor Bible institutions and the whole life of the church for 100 years was less and less well treated in a North American context with some remarkable exceptions in 1947 and so forth. Trinity for all of it's strengths started as a seminary in 1961. John was right to say that there was a generation there that was the transitional generation that was far more lonely.

There were not many of these front-rank thinkers along. They weren't there. In the 1950's the number of front-rank evangelical commentaries around written in English was pathetic - there was almost nothing there! F F Bruce and that was about it! He had written a few. After F F Bruce, you could only say F F Bruce! There was nothing there! People look back with nostalgia to the great days of F F Bruce! "Where is a scholar standing head and shoulders above like F F Bruce?!". I will tell you why there is no one standing head and shoulders like head and shoulders like him because there was no one else to stand above! (*laughter*).

He was a great scholar in many ways but there was no competition! Today there are many who have the capacity of an F F Bruce because of an F F Bruce! Do you see? So for all of the fact that there is decline in the West and all kinds of moral areas which is true - nevertheless in the area of biblical, theological scholarship - which is mixed and compromised and all the rest - but there is great grounds for encouragement! Huge things for which to be thankful! There are massive areas coming but there will be Christians who will address it and that is wonderful!

So I don't think those issues; "Who is a pastor?" and "Who is a scholar?" - have been turning on one thing like writing for the church. I think it turns on a lot of things. Sociological and art history and so on.

Q: Edwards's "A Divine and a Supernatural Light" - or "Heaven is a World of Love" and many other sermons are some of the richest sermons you could find. Some of the most richest, most beautiful I think and I guess you might agree. He obviously has a brilliant mind and I am not saying we should all go and be like him and write like him. But he is doing theological work in those sermons in a way that I wonder if many pastors can't try to do. Not to try and be smart or get degrees to try and look good but to push their minds and challenge themselves and do that kind of theology for the church. And to have academic theologians who write high-level theology and engage in their own conversations but who also in a very Edwardsian way write for the church as well. Does that make more sense? Is that the kind of thing we can emulate?

John Piper: Amen. That sounds like agreement. I love that. Do that as much as you can do it. Grow in your capacity to learn Greek if you can and Hebrew and be as meditative as you can on 2nd Corinthians 4:4-6 as you can. Edwards was able to do that because he could look at that. "The god of this age has blinded the eyes ... to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God".

He saw that. And he saw worlds of implication! That's what I want! I want people to see that. It does take a breadth of awareness of other parts of Scripture as you read it and it also takes an unusual penetrative mind - so that every word has light of gospel of glory of Christ who is ... in every one of those words you have to see through and the more theological you are, the more vast the worlds are of those words!

We want meditative reflecting, long-staring at the words-type thinkers! So thinking is what I am after if I am trying to beget thinkers as theological pastors. Take a text and think deeply about it! It helps if you can go through the Greek and Hebrew and other Scripture. Go deep and penetrate through and put it all back together in a synthetic way and do the divine and supernatural light sermon. Yes. The answer is yes. (*laughter*).

Don Carson: Yes. But! (*laughter*). There is a sense in which I agree entirely but the "but" is that we are not all Jonathan Edwards and people who simply try to emulate him and will eventually try to build a systematic theology out of each word will then lose what the local text actually says. It's methadologically flawed. They think they are doing what Edwards says but they don't have his skills. So you want at the same time as well even though we want people to be thinkers and theologians and so forth. How can you say three minutes worth and I am restricted to one sentence? (*laughter*).

John Piper: I don't think it was that way with the last sentence. (*laughter*).

Q: My final question for you and then we will go to texting Q and A. Let's focus on the pastor for a moment - if a pastor heard your talks and synthesised them and caught the vision about tonight and what we were talking about Edwards and an Edwardsian kind of theological rich ministry - how can a young pastor act on this kind of vision and how can a pastor who is already situated, perhaps middle-aged and doesn't have the opportunity to get that kind of thing - how can those two groups catch the vision and embody it?

John Piper: The two groups again?

Q: Young guy training for ministry and older pastor.

Don Carson: At the risk of being a smart alec -

Read a great deal less on the internet and a great deal more of books. Now don't misunderstand. I am not knocking the internet. In the Gospel Coalition we just pushed a big thing there and it is a wonderful tool. But it is such a scrappy environment. You are not learning to think - unless you are downloading entire books from the internet and reading them on the screen and I have no objection to that.

I have a Kindle too and I can read St Augustine on my Kindle! But at the same time there is a way of collecting little bits and pieces here and there that don't train you to think well. In that connection you have to read and re-read the Bible but it has to be read within the context of the church and of historical theology. Believe it or not some other people have studied these texts before you! It is worth finding out what they have to say as well! You don't have to re-invent everything! You must become informed by how others before you have wrestled with these things and they become your teachers.

In the context of pastoral ministry, reserve time in the study not just for preparing for the next sermon but for reading. You have to block out time for that. If you are going to be a technical scholar then you have to reserve time for learning and reading and thinking. You have to reserve time and not just sacrifice everything to the urgent demand of the next email.

John Piper: Number one -

When you go to school, don't choose classes. Choose teachers. Find the teachers who do it and model it best and take as many classes as you can. It doesn't matter what they teach. I would say that about college and I would say that about seminary. Don't take classes. Take teachers. Ask around - find out who is the thinker and modeller.

Number two -

Not only don't use the internet as much as books but read fewer books and read them with pencil in hand and very slowly and underline and write questions in the margin and say "No it doesn't agree with chapter two" and then go to chapter two and argue! Get inside and argue with a book.

Number three -

Find a group of men - this may be for the pastors out there who love to do this with you. Get together and read critically some book like that. Read Mortimer Adler; "How to Read a Book". No matter what age you are - if you haven't read that book - it is sixty years old as a book and it will show you how to read a book. Most people don't know how to read and I would venture to say most people in this room don't know how to read.

Reading is an unbelievably non-passive, active affair when you do it!

We have been taught by teachers assigning us 12 books in a class not to read. We have been taught not to read! We think moving through passages is reading. It is not reading. Interacting so you can re-state an author's thought and reconstruct his argument to his satisfaction and give reasons so they are kinds of reasons you can give. "He was inadequate in the way he described" - "He was incomplete" - "He was illogical" - "He drew wrong inferences". There are kinds of ways you can interact.

Do the same thing then with the Bible. Learn how to think. Think and observe. Observe what's there and think rightly about it. Wherever you can find someone to train you to do that - do it! Isaac Watts was mainly known for hymns but he wrote a piece on logic. Why would that be? Because you cannot understand the theology you build the hymns on unless you think rightly. The poet and the logician.

Q: We have just a few minutes for texting questions. I am going to get them up here and read them to you both. "What are some of the biggest issues you think the church and evangelical scholars will have to face in the next 20 years?". Let's do a lightning round and do quick answers if we can.

John Piper: Islam. Christology. Is Jesus the only way? That's where I would start.

Don Carson: Continuing challenges in epistomology. How do you know the truth? The place for revelation and understanding that.

John Piper: You are doing a big two-volume thing on Scripture. Even though he was instrumental a generation ago to write serious things on the authority and inspiration of the Scripture, it needs to be done again because of how many people in new ways challenge the authority of Scripture. Every generation needs it's big book on that. That will be there for 20 years to come.

Don Carson: We are not yet through the debates on justification and the exact place of substitutionary atonement in the structure of biblical thought. That one comes again in every generation too. You have to keep re-doing that one. After that the doctrine of God. One of the most neglected doctrines I think in the evangelical world is the doctrine of God. We haven't spent enough time thinking that through holistically.

John Piper: Clusters of family issues in relation to public life and whether you will be allowed without going to jail to stand up in your pulpit and say that homosexuality is sin or to spank your children or to say that my wife should submit to me. This whole cluster of practical family things will become volatile more than they are now. You see what's happening in Canada and in Sweden and other places and we will be there. I have told people - "I will be in jail rather than say it's not right to spank your children". I will go to jail! I will not, not preach that in order to stay out of jail! I will not even use the phrase; "So-called" gay marriage without putting the phrase; "So-called" in front of it.

It frustrates me that we have brought the phrase! There is no such thing as "so-called" gay marriage! It doesn't exist in the universe! Why evangelicals would start using the term is a sell-out! Stick the word; "So-called" in front of it every time you you say it! (*applause*). That would be called hate speech. It will be worthy of imprisonment around the corner.

Don Carson: And related to that are pastoral/theological/personal definitions of what "tolerance" is. That is tied to historical issues and there are some differences on what tolerance would be. But it is also tied to what the church's relationship to culture would be. There is a nest of issues related to that when we are being painted into a corner. Being called intolerant in an intolerant way! People don't see how stupid that is! Nevertheless that is happening and it has to be addressed.

John Piper: I think the explosion of contemporary worship and contemporary worship forms - and our church would feel that way to most people are very rock-orientated. Almost everywhere in the world now we have the same songs whether or not the ethos generally associated with that on a Sunday morning can sustain the gravitas of the glory of God over the long haul. Whether it can hold it! It is possible! There are contemporary worship songs that draw out my heart into the bigness of God in the most marvellous way. But there is a kind of low-brow, hip, cool, family, chatty way of doing worship today and the question is if that becomes more and more prevelant then what becomes of the majesty of God in this?

It is very difficult to maintain a sense of the majesty of God when everything about the service is chummy. And close and warm and touchy and feely. Something has got to break there and I pray what will happen is that all the best of contemporary worship music and all the best of God will move into just forms of people your age will feel that sooner rather than later and won't over-react against contemporary and go all hymns and all organ and do it all old again. We have got to find a way so there is a weightiness and a seriousness about it and it responds then to what the Word will say and who He is and hell really signifies and how glorious the Cross is.

Those realities don't fit in talk shows! If you try to do your talk show as you welcome people and make it as street-like as possible then realities will not fit there! They get so dumbed down that the weight of hell and the horror of judgement and the glory of the Cross is lost. People lose their capacity to awe.

Don Carson: May I add a foot-note? A sentence?

John Piper: You are asking me? Yes you may! I am 63 after all!

Don Carson: You have got to respect your elders after all! I agree with that 100%. I think practically in the local church those who are responsible for worship can ask themselves is not just what is "orthodox" but what is "best" amongst that which is individually acceptable. But learn to choose what is best not what passes a mere orthodoxy test. That will change everything! Then start looking around for certain writers!

Two weeks ago I was in England and I sat down again with Stuart Townend and Keith Getty and his wife. Keith and his wife unbelievably spent part of their honeymoon in our home - how stupid can you get?! Neverthless they did! You know what these people do everytime we get together at some of these things? They sit down and ask questions like; "What doctrines are we not hitting adequately in our hymns? What should the tone be?". There are people out there doing this right now!

The Stuart Townends and the Keith Getty's are a cut above all the other contemporary hymn writers and pray for more of those! There are some people making the right move and I am encouraged by that!

Q: Alright - that was quick and deep!

John Piper: May I encourage you to exercise authority?! Over us!? (*laughter*).

Q: Can we do one last question?

John Piper: You may! (*laughter*).

Q: Okay, that wasn't a good exercise of authority! He cannot, not exercise authority okay! Last question and then we will close. All things being equal outside of scholarship - does scholarship bring a deeper intimacy and love for God in those who lack scholarship? It's a good question to close on. Does scholarship bring a deeper intimacy and love for God than those who lack scholarship?

John Piper: All things being equal - if scholarship means right thinking and right observation then the answer is clearly "Yes".

Don Carson: Exactly! But if scholarship means something like being an academic without reference to whether your subject matter is right and your disciplines are right and your focus is right, then the answer is that it can be deceptive and lead you straight to hell.

Q: Amen. Let's applaud our speakers.

9 comments:

dave bish said...

You're the master of transcription! A great service to us.

Dan Bowen said...

Ha ha thanks Dave! I was really interested in Piper's comments on reading. Wonder if that's why I've always felt the need to transcribe a good sermon/Q and A session/other when I've heard it?

Active reading in that sense is maybe only possible whereas it's not as easy to argue with something you hear on audio or video because it's gone so quickly!

I know for myself I'd much rather have a bookshelf full of transcripts than a box full of CDs/MP3s that I can't remember where I heard a good quote!

Anonymous said...

I thank my God that He has asked me to come to Him as (with the faith of) a child.

The wisdom of this world is nonsense in God's sight. That's why Scripture says, "God catches the wise in their cleverness." Again Scripture says, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are pointless."
(1Co 3:19-20)

Chris Welch - 07000INTUNE said...

Dear Anonymous
In the beginning God wanted one thing from us
that was the 2 commandments which actually express themselves in all the others.Loving God and loving each other.
We were to be so founded on these that everything else would be built upon them.
Particularly the God one.
With all our heart (first) mind soul and strength.
Not one of us has done this very well. Half-hearted at the best.

Do you know what this has caused?
It has caused us to be extremely lazy God thinkers.

Here people are in their teens,twenties,thirties , forties...trying to recover the ground they were meant to be covering when they were 3,5,7,9 or 10. This means when the natural biological development of the expansion of our brains kicks in at teenage, the foundation isn't there,and it causes confusion.In many this results in teenage depression. We feel torn between rebuilding what we should have already built, and pressing onward into the ability of sustained thought. But sustained thought in the Presence of God...in love with God. So while what you say sounds very laudable and spiritual, Jesus would just say things like..."the children of this world are wiser than the children of the kingdom"...(the context of that one was the sneaky but intelligent way the servant made friends for himself of all his master's creditors). The passage you have quoted refers to the way God picks the thick, the poor,the undistinguished in order to give them a God crash course...which means they end up wiser,richer and more distinguished on earth even, than any secular person looking on.

Dan Bowen said...

I think you have picked on something vital there Chris. I've noticed and sometimes fallen into the trap of seperating what should be unseperable. Knowledge/Love. Experience/Doctrine. Word/Spirit. There are the "intellectuals" who sneer at those who struggle to express words like "epistomology" and there are the experience-hunters who scoff at those whose bookshelves resemble a library.

And it should never be.

Jonathan Edwards was one of the greatest thinkers I know, yet his experiences of God were ones I hunger after - and those of his wife even more so! Somehow he knew how to get that balance because his knowledge of God lead him into those deeper experiences, and those deeper experiences lead him to learn more about the God he adored.

janelle said...

Dan you crack me up! It's like if you hear something awesome that you just can't help transcribing it! Kinda like me...I just CAN'T pass the library without going in. Well, maybe like yours, but yours is godlier! :-)

Dan Bowen said...

Ha ha you got it Janelle! If I listen to a good sermon or Q and A session, my fingers start typing and drumming ready to roll!! ;)

Anonymous said...

Dear Chris,

On your blog here I got the distinct impression that you have the understanding that the things of the Spirit are higher than the things of the flesh. i.e. That the Spirit informs the flesh and not vice versa.

Perhaps I should have expanded my comment. My point is that no amount of scholarship cuts it with God. In fact if you look at the vast majority of theological thought that has come about in the last 200yrs you may discover that these thoughts typically go directly against your posted view and against each other.

Loving God with ALL our mind does not equate to loving God with all or even any of our intellect.

Let our minds be renewed by the mind of Christ. Let us trust that the Creator of the Universe keeps His promise to be our Guide and Teacher into ALL Truth.

The fact that He may use people who are at best at your defined 1st or 2nd level, does not disprove the scripture I quoted or it's contextual relationship to Dan's transcipt.

A lot of people interpret that the remarks regarding the wisdom coming out of the disciples mouths is attributable to them having "scholared" under Jesus for 3 years. My take is that they were as thick after 3 years (as you put it) as the day they met Him and it was only when the Holy Spirit inhabited them that the wisdom of Christ IN them was expressed.

Pastor Don Carson said...

I think that we must focus on 2 things and that they should be the primary focus. 1) Jesus and what He did for us because of the resurrection 2) The Holy Spirit and the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The disciples who became the first apostles were not the aame men inside once they realized what Jesus did because of the Holy Spirit in them. These unlearned men turned the world upside down even though the world knew they were unlearned men. Men today with all their degrees do not have the same impact in our world that these men with their simple education because they had been with Jesus