Dallas Willard, who passed away in 2013, was a philosophy professor at USC and a deep and thoughtful writer on the Christian faith and spiritual formation. I ran across this interview with him just yesterday. In response to the first question he talks about his journey as both pastor and philosopher.
He says that as a young pastor he learned he was, “terminally ignorant about God and the soul.” He knew what he could find in Scripture on the topics, but he notes that in the world of pastors there was little to no reflection on these issues. He knew, however, that philosophers dealt with both issues at length. So he ended up studying philosophy while staying connected with his pastoral calling.
In my opinion, this disconnect he found – philosophers talked about God and the human soul but pastors did not – is still alive and well. His remarks, and his description of his professional journey, highlight at least two issues for me.
First, pastors need to do a better job of prioritizing these two issues that seem so critical to the vocation – God and the human soul. We need to do a better job of valuing and seeking out conferences that deal with these issues and making room for this kind of theological development. We need to spend more money on these kinds of books and have these kinds of conversations with fellow pastors. We are great at talking about marketing strategies, but still pretty bad about explaining how God and the human soul work. That just seems wrong to me.
Second, there really is a lot of value in a pastor seeking out some serious philosophical wisdom. There are a lot of living (and long gone) Christians who do wonderful philosophical work on these two issues. We should not neglect them. I know philosophers are sometimes hard to read, but Willard is right about the value they bring to these topics. A pastor may not agree with a lot of what many philosophers say, but that is part of the point of reading thoughtful people on important subjects. You and I refine what we believe when we rub up against good thinkers and hopefully come to better and more useful conclusions ourselves.
This video is the first of four parts (the audio/video quality is not the best). It is worth a little bit of your time if you are interested in pastors, pastoring, or discipleship in general.