There was a time when I wanted to go to Oxford to pursue a doctoral degree. This was a long time ago. I realised subsequently that I subconsciously wanted to be like some of my professors who I admired. They had received their doctorates from Oxford. I am glad that I did not act on my feelings without first consulting a mentor. He told me that though not impossible, doing a PhD would be way out of my primary competencies. He said a practical doctorate like a Doctor of Ministry would be more realistic. He was right. Even then I struggled to finish my DMin. I came to accept that my primary calling was not to scholarship. Instead I realised that my calling was to be a bridge between scholarship and the pew. In this I was inspired by the late Rev John Stott.
In a recent obituary for Rev Stott, Tim Stafford writes:
His commentaries cover much of the New Testament, bridging the gap between scholarly works and thoughtful works for lay people. (“Obituary — John Stott Has Died,” Christianity Today, July (Web-only), 2011.)
No, I haven’t written any New Testament commentaries, but in my writing and preaching I have sought to bridge the gap between scholarly works and lay people.
It is tough to be a Christian scholar in Malaysia and Singapore where many churches are dominated by pragmatism and a certain degree of anti-intellectualism. I remember, when I was about to embark on my theological studies, I had folks warning me that if I “filled my head with too much stuff, I would have less space for the Holy Spirit.” I have a number of friends called to the ministry of scholarship who struggle with the fact that their work is not appreciated by the churches. They often feel alone and misunderstood. My scholar friends are not ivory tower academicians. They love the church and are committed to the mission of Christ. Yet the church does not take these scholars and their work seriously.
We live in fast-changing times and we need clear biblical reflection on the issues of the day. The church seems to oscillate between complacency and unthinking activism. More than ever we need followers of Christ who are able to help us see what the Word of God says about the issues that confront us and to guide us as to how we are to respond to these issues biblically. If they are not allowed and encouraged to do their work, folks like us would not have material from which to cull the insights we need for our teaching and preaching.
I have long understood that I do not have the giftings and the calling to be a scholar. But that is all right. I have also long understood that none of us can go it alone and that we are meant to work in teams with different folks contributing different strengths. Stafford also reminds us that John Stott:
. . . was not known as an original thinker, nor did he seek to be. He always turned to the Bible for understanding, and his unforgettable gift was to penetrate and explain the Scriptures. As editor Kenneth Kantzer wrote in CT’s pages in 1981, “When I hear him expound a text, invariably I exclaim to myself, ‘That’s exactly what it means! Why didn’t I see it before?'” (“Obituary — John Stott Has Died,” Christianity Today, July (Web-only), 2011.)
It would give me great joy if I can be but a little like John Stott in this way.
So thank you Lord for giving us this faithful servant who has blessed so many in so many ways. Whatever we have been called to do, may we, like him, be faithful till the end of our race. I suspect that he would have been too modest to say so, but he would have every right to echo the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7-8:
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day – and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing. (NET Bible)