“When I was at seminary back in the early 1970s, my tutor told me firmly one day that I would have to choose between being an academic and being a pastor. I decided, sitting there in his office, that I was not going to make that choice… That has resulted in a lifetime of shifting from one foot to the other, as it were, in a world for which for whatever reason — and this is odd in the history of the church…theologians of the past have mostly been pastors — think of Augustine or Luther or whoever — they were pastors, they were preachers, they were teachers, they worked with people, they prayed with people, they didn’t sit in a study and do a cerebral thing away from that, and I fail to see why we should collude with this split world of post-Enlightenment ‘either the brain or the heart’…”
N.T. Wright, here.
It doesn’t happen very often, but every so often I read something that I find unexpectedly unsettling. A couple of years ago it was the first 30 pages of John Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. Last night it was a post on a blog. It had to do with a hot topic in the church these days. Perhaps it’s just because it’s Saturday and I tend to be gloomy on Saturdays, but for some reason I want to connect my reading of the post and the comments (actually more the comments than the post) to a heightened moodiness today. The gist of many of the comments was “God loves all people and accepts all people, therefore it doesn’t matter what people do” (of course, it was more specific than that).
- God loves and accepts all people
- therefore I can live my life however I want to
I accept the first statement as true, but I don’t see a logical progression from there to the second statement. Why does God loving and accepting people preclude moral standards, a vision of what it means to live in a way that is fully human? I don’t know. Yet this is precisely the kind of “logic” that runs both in and out of the church.
The issue in particular isn’t really the point here. It’s this: through the post I was faced with just what it is I am stepping into–that if I really take the vocation seriously, being a pastor isn’t going to be an easy gig. Not that I ever thought it would be–it’s just that it might be a lot more difficult. There are so many questions to be answered that I can’t begin to answer. I’m even less capable if I’m backed into a corner and confronted about something. The Church will have to deal with so many issues in the near future–is dealing with them now, in fact–and I don’t even know where to start. Will I be able to face them? Will I have reasonable answers or at least good reason to say, “I don’t know”? Will I have the strength to face opposition, event to the point of losing my “job” or facing persecution? I get tired just thinking about it.
I don’t know. Maybe the Saturday blues are just making me a little dramatic.
I realize that there are many ways to look at the pastoral vocation (including whether there is such a thing) and at the moment I don’t have the will to engage in a lengthy discussion/debate about it. It’s just this: is it the church’s business to speak prophetically into its world, wherever that might be? And if so, what does that look like in our Western, individualistic culture? Is the Western church equal to that task? Am I?
Or am I being to idealistic? Is the opposite of idealism acquiescence? Is there a “third way”?