Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Pastor as Philosopher

[This is one in a string of posts made up of me processing the role of the contemporary pastor. For the other posts follow the tag, "The Pastor."]

This one may seem like a stretch to you.  We are much more accustomed to thinking of the modern pastor as someone who is counselor, businessman, or cheerleader.  We might even stretch ourselves to think of the pastor as a kind of theologian (which we, hopefully, accomplished), but considering him or her a philosopher seems out of bounds to us.  But that might stem from two problems - evangelical anti-intellectualism and a short-sighted conception of what a philosopher is.

I want to save a discussion about evangelical anti-intellectualism for the future, so for now we will think about expanding our sense of what it means to be a philosopher.  Our current culture, and modern philosophy, has filled the term "philosopher" with the image of someone who speculates about or analyzes reality and the human condition.  And in an unfair turn to that conception, we have by in large decided that is a purely "academic" and non-useful expenditure of time.  Without spending a great deal of effort defending the role of philosopher as thus conceived, I am intrigued by how this term was understood at the roots of the Christian faith.

Citing Socrates the church historian, the Russian Orthodox priest, Gabriel Bunge, says, "One understands 'philosophy' in this sense preeminently as the perfect unity of Christian accomplishment in life and Christian knowledge of God" (Despondency, pg 17).  Thus understood, several early Christians were labeled as philosophers who would not be today.  Desert monks who sought the presence and wisdom of God in long stretches of silence and solitude were called philosophers.  Abbots who spoke in proverbs were as well.  Those who studied the leading thinkers of the Greek and Roman worlds were called philosophers, as were those who produced reasoned defenses for the Christian faith in the Roman world.  So, more properly understood, the philosopher is a lover of wisdom (which is the etymology of the word, anyway), and easily applies to anyone in the Christian faith who applies themselves to the things of God to understand them in a deeper and clearer sense and then strives to live by what they learn.

How could that not describe the proper role of a pastor?  The pastor as philosopher is a lover of God's wisdom and a liver of God's life.  And in the role of pastor, they lead others in this kind of life as their vocation intersects with their lives.

A few brief thought on what this means, intended to plant seeds for further thought, will suffice for now.

This kind of pastor is not satisfied with culturally conditioned evangelical pop culture.  They are not the kind of preacher who buys their sermons on the weekend and replaces all the specific references in order to make sure it sounds like they are not warming up someone else's leftovers.  This pastor is driven by the search for God's wisdom in his Word and in the world around him.  They know that wisdom rarely if ever fits into neat boxes of "5 Steps" or quick answers to life's tendency to bludgeon people.

Their reading habits are different than other people's.  While they may be aware of what "most people" read, they are hunting down more insightful and longer lasting things.  Their library - virtual or tree - reveals a fairly broad set of interests.  The philosopher pastor is a synthesizer and analyzer.   They learn how to take in what they encounter and filter it through the lenses of prayer and sound theology.  What comes out of them, then, is simply different from what most people can put out as a result of their pop culture consumptions.

They are driven by the fascination of seeing the things they learn about God's will and work applied to the lives of the people in their congregation and to the community around them.  And they are fascinated by conversations that reveal what Christ is at work doing in people's lives.

This pastor does not allow their role to be relegated to other boxes created by other professions that are, currently, better understood.  The pastor is a counselor, but not a professional therapist.  The pastor is a leader of sorts, but not a corporate CEO.  And on the story goes.  The pastor as philosopher is wise enough and courageous enough to play those roles when needed, but to not be cornered into one of those cubicles.  They take their cues from the biblical understanding of spiritual shepherding rather than from the career resumes currently at the top of the cultural importance list.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Our Greek tour guide emphasized that the Roman culture of Paul's time was very intimately tied into the philosopy and mythology of the time. As a result, Paul used these themes to make his points. I appreciate how you try to recognize (but not buy into) the forces of our current culture and try to teach how to live an uncompromising faith even though it is not politically correct.