Phil Ryken on the Pastor-Theologian

Phil Ryken on the Pastor-Theologian July 13, 2009

CS009556Phil Ryken just published a piece from Ligonier’s Tabletalk at Ref21 that covers how John Calvin was a pastor-scholar.  It’s a solid article worth reading.

Ryken distills Calvin’s goal in preaching:

“Calvin’s goal in all his preaching and writing was to teach the Word of God faithfully so that the Holy Spirit could use his words to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ and to help them grow in godliness. He knew that only God could do the real work of the ministry. Preaching accomplishes nothing, he said, “unless the Spirit of God does inwardly touch the hearts of men.” Yet Calvin also believed that the Spirit’s work included his own best efforts to teach the Bible: “Through [the Spirit’s] inward operation [preaching] produces the most powerful effects.”

He details Calvin’s preaching method:

“Although Calvin usually preached for more than an hour, he spoke extemporaneously, without text or notes. He was not speaking “off the cuff,” however, because whatever he said was the product of his own careful, first-hand exegesis and wide reading in the early church fathers and other Bible commentators. As Calvin once remarked to his congregation: “If I should enter a pulpit without deigning to glance at a book, and frivolously imagine to myself, ‘Oh well, when I preach, God will give me enough to say’ — and come here without troubling to read, or thinking what I ought to declare, and do not carefully consider how I must apply Holy Scripture to the edification of the people — then I should be an arrogant upstart.”

He concludes with this insightful word:

“Calvin’s example as a pastor-scholar is instructive today. For pastors, his life serves as a call to work hard in ministry, giving our best efforts to understanding the Scriptures. For parishioners, Calvin’s ministry can help us understand the God-given calling of our pastors. In devoting their time to prepare for preaching, they are not serving themselves but Christ and His church.”


Excellent analysis.  Readers of this humble little blog know that I love this model of the pastorate.  Awareness of it is clearly spreading and catching on among the younger generation.  I’m excited to see what the future holds on this point.  I think we’ll see a generation of pastor-theologians rise up to lead the church once more.

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  • Owen,

    I, too, value the pastor-theologian model. However, I would like to hear more of an emphasis from the scholarly-pastors in training (like yourself and me minus the scholarly part) on the shepherding element of pastoring, ala Richard Baxter’s “Reformed Pastor.”

    In the zeal for robust theology, we must not trample upon the priority of counseling for the lead pastor. Not that the lead pastor has to do a lot of counseling…though in a small church he probably will.

    I mean more that the lead pastor creates and leads in an atmosphere where biblical counseling is in the air, in the water, in the blood. Where the Bible oozes from the elders and congregation and they have utmost confidence in it.

    Where people are helped: the divorced are ministered to, the abused are comforted and helped in working through their own idols. Where a pastoral staff walks through life w/ its people, caring for them and truly shepherding them.

    I’m sure you agree…but I’d like to see this SPOKEN, EMPHASIZED more, as part of the pastor as theologian.