The Thoughtful Pastor
Reading that promotes thinking
We do not often think of the pastorate as an intellectual profession, but it is. A pastor, according to Paul, must be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). For the apostle, teaching is more than a recitation of facts. Note that Paul himself “debated,” “reasoned,” and “argu[ed] persuasively” with people to convince them to follow Christ (Acts 9:29; 17:2; 18:4,19; 19:8).
More generally, Paul viewed the mind as an arena of sanctification: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, emphasis added). For the apostle, a renewed mind was a necessary condition of discerning and doing God’s will.
Whether viewed from the angle of professional obligation or personal sanctification, then, the pastorate demands its members think deeply and express their thoughts clearly. Two new books, both written by Christian authors, can help pastors become more thoughtful, though neither were written with that aim in mind. They examine thinking’s inward work and outward expression, respectively.
The pastorate demands its members think deeply and express their thoughts clearly.
The first book is How to Think by Alan Jacobs (Currency, 2017). He writes: “The person who genuinely wants to think will have to develop strategies for recognizing the subtlest of social pressures, confronting the pull of the ingroup and disgust for the outgroup. The person who wants to think will have to practice patience and master fear.”
Thinking requires virtue, in other words. Who the thinker is matters as much as what the thinker thinks. Indeed, who the thinker is to a large degree determines whether a thinker can arrive at the right thought in the first place.
How to Think outlines the ways our deepest desires — especially attraction to and repulsion from other people — shape and misshape our thoughts. It notices how keywords, metaphors and myths can substitute for critical thinking. Sometimes, our minds are open when they should be shut and shut when they should be open.
Fundamentally, Jacobs believes we need to cultivate “a more general disposition of skepticism about our own motives and generosity toward the motives of others.” This combination of humility and charity — we are not necessarily right, they are not necessarily wrong — is “the royal road” to thinking.
The second book is Good Arguments by Richard A. Holland Jr. and Benjamin K. Forrest (Baker Academic, 2017). It defines an argument not as a yelling-and-screaming match but as “a systematic account of a claim or belief.” An argument presents “objective, factual claims for the purpose of persuading others to acknowledge certain facts about the world.”
Successive chapters in the book focus on logic, fallacies, definitions, analogies, cause and effect, and authority. The authors conclude with practical advice about how to state a case — especially a case for faith — in writing or public speaking.
Of these two books, I found How to Think most challenging and Good Arguments more conventional, yet I recommend both. Thoughtful pastors must both be good thinkers and articulate good thoughts, and these books will help them achieve those aims.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 edition of Influence magazine.