Those who have been in ministry for some time have much to teach us. Too often they retire and the church simply moves on without even considering that there may be something to learn from their years of experience. I recall taking a class on John Calvin from Kenneth Kantzer. He had made some handouts for the class. When the professor came in who was teaching next in the class he saw the handouts and immediately wanted copies. Dr. Kantzer was modest and said, “Oh, it’s something I just threw together.” The professor would not be deterred. “Anything you have thrown together is worth having.” Dr. Kantzer was more than happy to give him copies. The junior professor knew that Dr. Kantzer would not give his class second-rate work and though it was just “thrown together” it would still have value and he didn’t want to miss it. This was a good example for me to see.
John Frame has an essay entitled “A Few Things I Have Learned from My Years in Ministry” in his book John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings. I’ve said before how much I appreciate Frame so I looked forward to reading this short piece. I was not disappointed. He offers eight thoughts. I will only rehearse a couple of them here. All italics are his. The bold is mine for emphasis.
“[D]on’t expect God to give you a lot of new ideas.” . . . Our system of doctoral studies tells its candidates that they have to come up with original ideas, so every dissertation promotes the importance of its supposed discoveries. But these typically turn out to be restatements of old ideas, or applications of old ideas presented with a lot of quotes from recent scholars, a lot of pretension, and a lot of unjustified boasting.”
“[W]hen a new theological idea comes along that captures the attention of the theological world with a bandwagon effect, reflexively ask what’s wrong with it. When everybody is saying that the church must be incarnational, or missional, or eschatological focused, or sacramental, or hermeneutical, chances are that people are not very clear on what these terms mean, and chances are that many of the ideas that go under these labels are overgeneralized, illogical, impractical, or unintelligible. Stay off the bandwagon for a while, and instead, if you are a theologian, ask analytical and critical questions.”
“[P]rove all things. When a new theological idea comes along, you might or might not like its conclusions, the ideas or practices it recommends. But more important than evaluating its conclusions, evaluate the arguments that are offered for those conclusions. And when you present your own ideas, give close attention to the quality of your arguments. . . My own experience is that when people object to my ideas, they spend most of their time deploring the conclusions, my ideas, and almost no time analyzing the arguments I make for those conclusions. While I’m talking about life lessons, I must confess that I am a bit ashamed at the discipline I am a part of. When I look at arguments in articles by philosophers, or historians, or scientists, and then compare them with articles by theologians, it always seems to me that theologians are less cogent. We theologians need to promote higher intellectual standards in our discipline, so that theological change can progress in an orderly, logical way.”