A response to Mark Jones on "pastor-scholars"

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I report the news. I don't engage in "discernment blogging." I am not an "internet theologian." I don't get "outraged" at cultural events and I don't "register concerns" about the latest controversies on the evangelical interweb. In the venerable tradition of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and Will McAvoy, I report the news. Without bias. Without agenda. Without acrimony.

Maintaining an objective and neutral posture at Reformation21 is not easy. Gentle reader, do you think I am not tempted to weigh in on the constant flow of jibber jabber that passes on this page? Levy doubts the usefulness of expository commentaries! Swain defends natural theology! And Baugus! What can be said of Baugus?! Nevertheless, in an effort to preserve the level of journalistic composure that my sixteen followers on Twitter have come to expect, I have refrained from engaging the fellows and their sesquipedalian ramblings. 

Until now. 

I simply cannot abide Mark Jones's recent post regarding the "so-called pastor-scholar." The offending sentence is this: "When you read the work of people like Irena Backus, Richard Muller, Anthony Milton, John Coffey, and Cornelius Elleboogius, you start to  understand how being a full-time pastor can't possibly allow for the type of quality that consistently comes from the pens of the aforementioned scholars." "Can't possibly..."

Never mind that Jones references Elleboogius without even mentioning my previously published scholarship on this important figure (see here). I guess I cannot expect a pastor like Jones to keep up with cutting-edge scholarship on the Puritans!

Jones's major blunder lies in presupposing the outdated metaphysics of "diachronic contingency." According to this theory, once the metaphysically contingent state of affairs of "being a responsible pastor" passes from the realm of possibility into the realm of actuality, the state of affairs of "being a responsible scholar" vanishes into the realm of the metaphysically impossible. Thus, actually "being a responsible pastor" necessarily excludes "being a responsible scholar."

However, if Jones were not so busy preparing sermons, making hospital visits, and catechizing children, he might have known that Reformed Orthodox theologians in the seventeenth century developed an alternative metaphysics to that of "diachronic contingency." Drawing upon the thought of John Duns Scotus (even when they retained the shop-worn terminology of Thomism), Reformed Orthodox theologians proposed a metaphysical model of "synchronic contingency." According to this model, the fact that "being a responsible pastor" excludes "being a responsible scholar" at the same time does not make "being a responsible pastor" and "being a responsible scholar" metaphysically incompossible states of affairs. Because they are logically non-repugnant, one can always possibly be both a responsible pastor and a responsible scholar even though one can never actually be a responsible pastor and a responsible scholar at the same time or in the same lifespan. 

To suggest otherwise is to deprive the faithful pastor of the possible world in which he is also a respected scholar and to deprive the respected scholar of the possible world in which he is also a faithful pastor. Needless to say, Reformation21 should not be the kind of place where such metaphysical deprivation takes place.

It is unfortunate that one whose expertise lies in the area of archeology rather than in the area of historical and systematic theology should have to clarify this metaphysical point. But, then again, I am a polymath and not a pastor. 

Robin Graves apologizes to nir readers for failing to report on the many newsworthy events of the past summer but ne has been very busy editing the Stockholm University Polytechnic Institute Faculty Handbook so that it reflects contemporary best practices in the use of gender neutral pronouns. You can follow nem on Twitter @RobinGraves21 

Posted September 10, 2015 @ 6:50 PM by Robin Graves

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