Every so often, I pick up a book with it’s hot new take on this or that particularly theological issue. The author claims to have a fresh, new perspective that will enable us to understand a Bible passage or book, or a doctrine in a new way. I’m wary of such claims, novel ideas rarely turn out well. They are either genuinely original but therefore lacking in soundness or they are sound but not that original after all.
Anyway, as I flicked through the early pages of the book, I noticed something. As is standard, these days, the book had several pages of endorsements. These came from the great and the good of evangelical scholarship -and to be clear, there were some conservative heavyweight there. There were experts in Church history, doctrine, New Testament studies etc and there were ministry leaders with parachurch organisations too. However, there were some people completely missing from this impressive list … everyday pastors of local churches.
I want to suggest that this was an oversight for a few reasons. The book was being marketed at a popular level, not as an academic text-book. It was claiming to have practical insight for application. Who is going to be interested in a book that seeks to apply Scripture? Well, presumably pastors will be. So, if I want to know if a book is going to be helpful to me in my pastoral ministry then I want to hear from other pastors.
More than that though, a pastor’s eye over the manuscript may well just have been helpful to the author and may well have protected them from some rather sloppy, silly mistakes that began to stand out as I read through the book. Those mistakes were related to the close exegesis of the text and in fact, in my opinion, some of them were crucial to the author’s thesis. Now, the author may think that he is okay because he has had a couple of New Testament scholars look at the manuscript, though I’m increasingly of the view that even the heavy weights in this field are good at the big picture stuff but, perhaps because of the way this encourages them towards a specific agenda, are not always so good on the detailed exegesis.
Now, here’s the thing. Your average local church pastor-preacher is exactly the kind of person who spends his time, day in, day out with his head in the detail of Scripture. He is both trained (often in the biblical languages) to do this and experienced. This is his field of expertise – more so than the academic. What is more, he has skin in the game. He’s no arm chair general. If he gets his exegesis wrong, it matters, not just for book sales or intellectual pride but for the spiritual wellbeing of the flock.
So, before you unleash your big new idea on the world, instead of finding a few clever academics to applaud your theory, please run it past a few pastors.