The Vital Importance of the Best Possible Training Part 2
By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles
The reality is that no one comes to look at a biblical text ‘neutrally’. We are finite creatures with finite minds that are not able to know all truth exhaustively, and we are sinners whose minds have been affected by sin. Furthermore, we have all been shaped and influenced by our culture, including our particular ‘theological culture’ and tradition, all of which affects us as we come to look at a text. We all have a theological framework, a theological ‘system’, even if we are not aware of it, in fact the less aware of it we are the more likely we may be to distort the text.
An awareness of my own presuppositions and theological system ought to help me be more faithful in interpreting the text. If the plain reading of the text, when read in the light of Scripture as a whole, simply cannot be reconciled with my theological presuppositions, then it may well be that I have not understood the text properly; but it may be that my system needs to change in the light of Scripture, which always remains the ultimate authority.
Proper theological training allows you the time and the resources to construct your systematic theology; it exposes you to other interpretations and other traditions within evangelicalism, as well as in the wider world. For good reasons, this may not be possible for all, but full-time training provides the best opportunity to equip future ministers for a life-time of faithful, enduring and resilient gospel-ministry:
• We live and minister in an increasingly secular and diverse culture that is either hostile or indifferent to the Christian faith.
• The Church of England’s role and influence in society and nation may be declining, but it still presents unique opportunities – albeit with challenges – to navigate that relationship well for the gospel.
• Within the denomination, there is the on-going battle over competing ‘theologies’ and false teaching.
• Not only is our culture becoming increasingly diverse and complex, but the speed at which it is changing is also accelerating.
• The task of proclaiming the biblical gospel in this present day context requires more of a faithful gospel minister today than previously because of the complexity of the culture that we want to reach with the gospel.
• To be effective and faithful ‘gospel-practitioners’ we need to know, understand, experience and appropriate the gospel of grace in our own daily lives, and we need to understand the propensity of the sinful human heart towards a default legalism, and its knee-jerk reaction towards antinomianism, and navigate through it.
• Faithful biblical ministry over many years is a battle that sadly spews out its casualties from time to time.
For these reasons alone, we need to be as well-equipped as we possibly can be.
In Oak Hill College’s booklet “The Best Possible Gift”, Tim Keller writes:
“Today preachers have to present truth to people from several diverse cultures all at once, and to those who are considerably more ignorant of the Bible and more hostile to its authority than a generation ago. Leadership of any institution, including churches requires more communication and organisational skill than in the past. People’s personal problems are more complex. Over my forty years of pastoral ministry, I’ve come to the conclusion that ministers need more comprehensive and exacting theological education today than when I came into the work”73
The greater the task, the greater the reason for the best possible training.
“Applying the words of Jesus’ parable, the culture we live in now is the soil where we are sowing the seeds of the gospel. What is the best way to plant those seeds so they produce the best possible harvest? Next year, the soil may be different. The challenges we face change all the time and it could be that other religions, aggressive secularism and the problems of social media will give way to a different set of problems. That’s why a good theological education not only trains you to think incisively about particular issues, it trains you to think, full stop. It enables you to apply your thinking flexibly and become, under God, a positive and dynamic resource for the church into the future”74
Brain surgeons and heart surgeons will train for many years to be properly equipped to perform operations where people’s lives are at stake. In gospel ministry, people’s eternal lives are at stake. Our whole approach to training ought to be not ‘what is the minimum required so I can be adequately equipped for the task?’ but rather ‘what is the best possible training available to me so I can be as well-equipped as possible?’
Excerpted by permission from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism, the Revd Dr Mark Pickles, 2017; pages 104-106.