On Tuesday I sat in a worn, green, boxy and slightly sticky chair on the main floor of the library, reading “The Supremacy of God in Preaching” for PR 601. With sun beams dancing through the window, I was captured by one of my chief influences, speaking on my favorite topics (God, glory, and preaching). In the second half, an exposition of Jonathan Edwards’ life, he expressed his appreciation for one tidbit of advice he received in seminary:
When I was in seminary, a wise professor told me that, in addition to the Bible, I ought to choose one great theologian and apply myself throughout life to understanding and mastering his thought–to sink at least one shaft deep into reality rather than always dabbling on the surface of things. I might, in time, be able to “converse” with this theologian as a kind of peer, and know at least one system with which to bring other ideas into fruitful dialogue. It was good advice.*
This got me thinking. Who would I want to take a 2-year stroll with? Dr. Arthurs, or Dr. Gibson? As much as I look forward to their instruction, they probably don’t fit the scope that’s being recommended here. Barth? I have, indeed, been intrigued by this neo-orthodox character I hear more and more about…but no, studying Barth at Gordon Conwell is like telling everyone how amazing Inception was. Perhaps Whitefield, the great American preacher–I could read his books by his bones, half an hour away! Or Chrysostum! Hadn’t Stott called golden-mouthed man, the greatest preacher among the patristics?
I puzzled over this for the last 24 hours, when a thought finally hit me. It was still the wrong thought, but it was in the same species as the right one. Paul! I should become conversant with the Apostle Paul! Or…John! Or…
Then it hit me: Jesus.
Please don’t hear me wrong, I’m not saying anything about Piper, or his mentor, or his advice. Having heard and read the man, I know that “in addition to the Bible” is no obligatory concession for Him, but it is for me. If there’s any thinker or teacher who I want to know, love, and quote to the point of embarrassment it’s Jesus, but I don’t. His philosophy has been right there, on the nightstand, this whole time. His life contains deeps unseen and unfathomable heights. Furthermore, he is the risen one, the living Lord, whose Spirit I truly can stroll with. I love Jesus as my Savior, but I have neglected him as my Teacher.
To those with a thousand questions: This is not to hold up Biblical theology over systematic theology. This is not to assert a canon within the canon. This is not to discount the value of theology, theologians, or anyone’s dear, dead theologian. It is only to say: Maybe not yet, or, at least, not yet for me. Do you know Jesus well enough to justify a theological elective? I, for one, don’t.
I do intend to spend the rest of my life seeking and following Jesus, but I think I need to dedicate the next few months to knowing him in a special way. God gets all my devotional-reading-time, but it’s time for me to devote some study-reading-time (sorry, Paul Copan) and fun-reading-time (sorry, Emily Dickinson) examining and enjoying Jesus. His teaching, life, and work are the one subject I refuse to leave seminary without.
*Piper, John. The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker. 65.