The Pastor-Scholar: A Response to Andrew Wilson

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
26 September 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

This morning when I woke up, I grabbed my phone (not the best thing to go for first in the morning, but I’m working on it) and as I scrolled through my twitter feed I came across this article by Mere Orthodoxy (and Mere Fidelity) contributor Andrew Wilson: “Why Being a Pastor-Scholar Is Nearly Impossible: Three tensions of combining pastoral and academic work.” I decided to give it a read. As some of you may know, I’ve made some suggestions of my own on how the theologian might be engaged in the work of his or her church.

Wilson suggest that being a pastor-scholar is nigh impossible (hence the title). I agree, as Wilson also notes, that doing anything and being a pastor is difficult. Even if one is only paid part-time for being a pastor, it is always full-time work. Yet, in my gut, I feel as though the pastor-scholar ought not to be quite the same. After all, the kind of scholarship Wilson has in mind is biblical/theological. If any other vocation ought to meld well with the pastorate, or priesthood, it ought to be that of the biblical scholar and/or theologian. Nevertheless, Wilson is right that often the aims of these two vocations can be different, or at least the arenas are different which often leads to different emphases making this combination slightly more difficult. That said, I think Wilson makes a few mistakes.

The first mistake is that nearly all of Wilson’s examples, as well as his entire article, presupposes one specific kind of scholarship, namely biblical studies, and one specific kind of pastorate, namely Protestant and, frankly, Reformed (with a few exceptions). Wilson then goes on to list three tensions that come from trying to combine this particular kind of scholarship with this particular kind of pastorate. I’ll get to the tensions in a moment, but I want to address first the narrowness of his purview.

I shouldn’t blame Wilson too much, really. After all, he is himself getting a PhD in biblical studies and is a member of a Reformed church. It stands to reason that many of his examples would come from one or both of these areas. Nevertheless, by not looking outside of them, he both generalizes in a way that will be unhelpful to readers such as myself (who are scholars attempting to be active in the church, if not ordained, but aren’t in biblical studies and/or aren’t Reformed or Protestant), and he misses opportunities to perhaps find better ways of combining pastor and scholar. For instance, Wilson neglects the fact that most of the great theologians from the first 1600 years (even in the reformed traditions) were almost always ordained clergy, many of them were bishops. Augustine likely preached almost daily and yet also wrote numerous books and letters; Aquinas was also a regular preacher (since he belonged to the ordo praedicatorum or Order of the Preachers, the Dominicans) and yet also wrote the Summa Theologiae, the Summa Gentiles, as well as commentaries on various biblical books and works of Aristotle and others. They and others like them found time to be both pastors and scholars. Perhaps, however, you will say that these are ancient and medieval examples when scholarship at least, if not also the pastorate/priesthood, were different. Then I could also draw your attention to figures such as Pope St John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, even people like Simon Oliver and Alison Milbank (professors of mine at the University of Nottingham, and not alone among our ordained staff). Now perhaps this points to a potential inherent difference between more Protestant ways of understanding the pastorate/priesthood and more Catholic ways of understanding it. Even so, if such a distinction exists, it might be worthwhile to investigate it to see how the other side treats similar problems.

Now, to the tensions, wherein I’ll also show some of the issues by focusing primarily on biblical scholars (versus other theologians). The first tension is “The Specialist-Generalist Tension.” The issue, argues Wilson, is that the scholar is called to be a specialist of a particular subject and not to stray from it, whereas the pastor must be a generalist since “that’s not my field” is not an adequate response to a parishioner who has questions. There is some truth to this, but it seems more prevalent in biblical studies. As Wilson notes, “Pauline scholars often give an apologetic cough before opining on Jesus, let alone on the Qumran Hodayot (psalms of thanksgiving), on the redaction (editing process) of the Pentateuch, or on philosophical views like Nominalism.” This level of specialization is, I think, less common in other theological circles. For instance, I wrote my dissertation on deification and human creativity, but I am not limited to talk, even authoritatively, on only those two subjects since I have read and done other work on other subjects. My point is that what might keep a Pauline scholar from entering into historical Jesus studies wouldn’t keep someone who works on the doctrine of Creation from talking about the Atonement. This largely, I think, has to do with the fact that Biblical Studies is more a subset of History/Sociology in the academic world than it is of Theology, properly speaking. But I digress.

The second tension is “The Practical-Theoretical Tension.” It is best, perhaps, to quote the example Wilson gives here:

Place Bible scholars like Michael Gorman, John Barclay, and N. T. Wright at a conference table and ask them to talk about the topic of peace in Paul’s epistles—as I remember happening at the British New Testament Conference two years ago—and you’ll have hours of stimulating discussion. But ask any of them about how to promote peace in the Middle East today, and the conversation turns eerily quiet. For scholars, praxis is the tail, research is the dog, and the former is not meant to wag the latter.

Here again, I feel as though I see a problem with focusing only on biblical scholars. Other theologians (certainly not all), often see their work as being meant to have some kind of practical benefit for the church (I believe this is true for many biblical scholars as well). For instance, in my dissertation I argue that humans creating things, like works of poetry or fantasy, can be aids in our deification, as can the consumption of those things. In other words, I argue that it’s good for people to read and write works of poetry and fantasy (as well as to create other beautiful things). This isn’t simply theoretical for me, I write works of fiction! Now again, I think some of the problems come from the fact that much of biblical studies is primarily history, trying to understand exactly what was happening when it happened and other related issues. These need not have any effect on one’s parishioners. What does it matter, for instance, to the average Christian, if Paul went to Spain or if he is the author of Hebrews? Now other theologians certainly have these issues as well. For instance, not everyone is called to write fiction (possibly not even me, despite my trying). Nor is it important for everyone to come to the same kinds of understanding that I have about certain theological issues. But my work is always meant to be in service of God’s glory and the Church, even if it not every aspect of it would be beneficial to the members of my church. The point I’m trying to make is this: if your scholarship is purely theoretical, then it might not be worth doing. If it cannot aid the Church in anyway then there might be a problem.

The final tension is “The University-Church Tension.” Here I mostly agree with Wilson. The Church and the University are two different, albeit related, entities. Even the Christian University is not the same as the local church (or even the universal Church). So of course how the pastor-scholar acts in one will likely be different from how she acts in the other.

Wilson does a good job to draw to our attention that there are difficulties or paradoxical tensions in being a scholar and a pastor. It will never be easy to try to be both at the same time, especially not as he has defined the terms. That said, I think Wilson’s focus on biblical scholars and Protestant/Reformed pastors is far too narrow. There are other kinds of scholars and pastors, as Wilson well knows. If there are tensions, it might be good to see how others in different fields or denominations handle them. And it is dangerous to forget to examine how the pastor-scholars before us, centuries before us, sought to combine these two vocations. There might be something worth adopting out there to ease some of these tensions, while likely creating others.

Sincerely,
David

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Shakespeare Reading Schedule

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve been a bit busy lately. My wife just gave birth to our twin boys on 1 May. We’re excited, but exhausted. So, until I have a chance to return to blogging, you should check out this summer reading group put together by Christ and University. We’re reading Shakespeare this Summer, so join in on the fun.

Sincerely,
David

Christ & University

william-shakespeare-alien Happy summer, friends.

If you are interested in reading Shakespeare with me this summer (and if you aren’t, for shame!), here’s the schedule that I’ve come up with. Feel free to jump in for a play or two (or all five!). I think this will be a fun way to wander through these long summer days.

MacBeth: June 1-15
Much Ado About Nothing: June 15-30
The Tempest: July 5-18
A Mid-summer’s Night Dream: July 21-August 4
Hamlet: August 6-25

To be perfectly honest, these are very short plays and could probably be read in one or two sittings. But I thought it would be nice to go through them leisurely together. That’s one of the reasons why I want to read Shakespeare this summer: to take time to relish the language, the structure, the characters, and the plot.

So how will this work? Well, I’ll probably tweet…

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Fairy Tale Pedagogy, Part 1

An absolutely fantastic post from Christ and University.

Christ & University

Princess Irene follows her great-great grandmother's magic thread Princess Irene follows her great-great grandmother’s magic thread

Early this semester, three young women in my English 101 course asked me to come to their table during one of our weekly writing workshops.  “This doesn’t have anything to do with dependent clauses,” said one, a little bashfully, “but we were all talking, and we just think that you must be Belle from Beauty and the Beast!” I accepted their compliment with what I hope was professional grace, but secretly I was thrilled. For many women of my generation, Belle was one of the first pop culture figures to show that a love of reading, combined with love for one’s foolish family and monstrous neighbor, could make a little girl into a hero.
I spent the rest of the day wondering if fairy tales could help me learn to be a better teacher and scholar. After all, fairy tales inspired my…

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Bored by Joy: Fairy Tales as Appetisers for Beatitude: A Response to Matthew Moser

David Russell Mosley

Lent 5 April 2014 On the Edge of Elfland Beeston, Nottinghamshire Dear Friends and Family, Over at Christ and University, Matt Moser has written another post about teaching Dante to which I feel inclined to respond. Moser notes and laments that as he and his students (along with Dante) entered Paradise in the Commedia, the students found it boring. As Moser himself notes, this is somewhat to be expected. Even in the best translation, this is still a translation of sixteenth century Italian epic poem. Even the Paradiso is filled with political and contemporary (to Dante) commentary. This, however, was not the centre of their boredom, rather the happiness was. Moser goes on to relate his own acquisition of an appetite for joy which was kindled by a reading of The Lord of the Rings.

He remembers how he had to foster an appetite for joy just as he had to foster an appetite for classical music. Moser again asks the question of how do we do this for those we teach, how do we help them foster an appetite for joy? In my previous response to Moser’s challenges on teaching Dante, I suggested that living in such a way that shows our belief in a cosmos (unity, order, harmony, created). Today, I wonder if another possible answer, or first step is the reading of fairy-tales. Spending too much time talking about fairy-tales can make a person seem rather childish. But what was it Lewis said, when I became a man I ceased to think like a child, including the fear of being thought childish, or something to that effect. I want to suggest that perhaps beginning with fairy-tales and working towards heavier works like Dante might better train a student’s appetite for joy.

G. K. Chesterton writes in his book, Orthodoxy:

‘The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them religion and rationalism are both abnormal though religion is abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong. Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense’ (299).

For Chesterton, Fairy Tales taught him about this world, the fostered in him that desire for joy. For Lewis and Tolkien it was fairy tales coupled with the myths of the North, of the Scandinavian countries, the tales of Sigurd and Fafnir.These stories awakened a desire in these authors. This is the purpose of fairy-tales according to Tolkien: ‘Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded’ (‘Tree and Leaf’, 63). This desire, Lewis would call Joy in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. This would all suggest that to help our students or our children (or anyone for that matter) to gain a desire for joy, an appetite for beatitude, we should start them on the milk of fairy-tales before moving them onto the meat of works like the Commedia or even The Lord of the Rings Unlike Moser and many I know, I’ve spent my whole life reading stories like this. Tolkien was a part of my life from around the time I was born until now. Lewis I discovered in elementary school. I had resurgence of Tolkien when the films came out so long ago now and have never stopped reading The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings 2 or 3 times a year. Even now, I have begun reading The Hobbit, having already read ‘St George of Merrie England’ and Smith of Wooton Major to my unborn sons, hoping to infuse their lives with the sound of my voice and the majesty of Tolkien’s work. I don’t know how this will affect my children, but I know the effect it has had on me. Therefore I propose a return to fairy-tales. If in Tolkien’s day they had been relegated to the nursery, it seems as though in ours they have been relegated to the attic or the bin. Let’s fish them out, dust them off, and read them once again to prepare our desires for the greater works like that of Dante, and even more so for the Beatific Vision to come.   Sincerely yours, David Russell Mosley

Review of “Poetry” by David Constantine

Dear Friends and Family,
First, if you haven’t checked out the articles on Christ and University, make sure you do so. Second, here is a review I recently did for them. Let me know what you think.

Yours,
David

Christ & University

9780199698479Constantine, David. Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Reviewed by David Russell Mosley

Christ & University desires to emphasise the theological nature of education. Education seeks to help make women and men more like Christ through the various disciplines. The Literary Agenda series, begun by Oxford University Press, has a related goal in exhorting that closer attention be paid to the humanities in general and literature in particular. Poetry by David Constantine fits within the themes and desires of Christ & University, its call to return to reading and writing poetry as essential to society and as belonging to every person, not simply the elite few. Poetry is ultimately about human expression and formation. While not explicitly theological or Christ centred, this book serves as a reminder of the place of poetry within society and therefore within education, which is to make it implicitly about the conformation of the reader of…

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The Enchanted Cosmos-A Response to Matt Moser at Christ and University

David Russell Mosley


3 March 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

 Over on Christ and University, Matt Moser has been doing a series on the difficulties of teaching Dante. In his most recent post Moser notes that a significant issue in reading Dante is his cosmology which we no longer share on a broad societal level. This is an issue one often sees when reading Ancient and Medieval literature. In a sense, this is precisely what C. S. Lewis seeks to address in his The Discarded Image. The medievals, Dante, thought differently than we do about the way world works. One of the most common cases of this is an issue over spontaneous generation. The ancients and medievals thought flies came from decaying meat, spontaneously, or, usually, through some juxtapositional of the Zodiac.

This, however, is not the kind of problem we’re dealing with in Dante, nor is it the main problem we deal with in most of the Ancient and Medieval writers. Instead, as Moser notes, it is an issue of enchantment, or even more, an issue of seeing the Universe as a Cosmos (which means order). Moser writes, 

‘This is the challenge of reading Dante. His cosmic imagination is difficult to apprehend because we inhabit an a-cosmological, disenchanted world. But more importantly, this is the challenge of Dante: “See the world you inhabit in this way,” he bids us. “To see order is to see goodness; to see harmony is to see beauty. To see goodness and beauty is to see truth. To see truth is to behold God.”’

Moser then connects this to education as such. In a cosmological understanding of education all the branches of the University are connected, they interpenetrate one another. But this is not the way we view education or the Cosmos. So it causes Moser to ask, ‘Is there a way to forge a cosmic imagination in our students given the a-cosmological world we inhabit today?’

I certainly do not wish to pretend that I have the one answer to this, the one solution that will fix all of education and our disenchanted vision of the universe. However, I think an aspect of the answer is in the problem. You see, the post is about the difficulties of teaching Dante, yet teaching Dante is one of the solutions to this problem. To put it more frankly, in order to get students to understand a cosmic and enchanted vision of the Universe we need to teach them about thinkers who have a cosmic and enchanted vision of the Universe. Even more so, if we agree with those thinkers, as Moser and I do, then we need to model that vision. 

There are perhaps two things for which I am most frequently criticised here at Letters from the Edge of Elfland. The first is a jumble of my relatively theological conservatism (meaning I think Jesus is really the Son of God and the Bible is the word of God, etc.) and my qualified support of thinkers like John Milbank and the school of theology known as Radical Orthodoxy. The other critique, however, is based on my writing about things like Faerie, and King Arthur, and Enchantment. Nevertheless, I won’t stop precisely because this is the vision of the world our Christian forebears had, not always couched in the terms I have inherited from the Medieval and Romantic British, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, and German traditions, but it was nevertheless a world where miracles were possible by the grace of God. It is a world where angels existed, as did demons. It is a world where God became man and now bread becomes flesh and wine blood. It is a world where humans can become gods or devils, but only by grace or its rejection. I think there are many ways to lead students to this kind of understanding (or at least to understand that this is how Dante et al., saw the world): not least of which are the reading and writing of fiction (especially fantasy), and reading the Ancients and Medievals themselves. However, to lead students to an even deeper understanding of the Cosmic vision of the Universe is to live it and to live it, unashamedly, in front of them.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley