If you know me to any significant degree, you will likely know that I’m quite passionate about retaining the natural link between theology and practical matters. There’s a statement I say occasionally that my wife likes to call my ‘life motto’:
Everyone’s a theologian. Everything is theological. And all theology is practical.
In other words, I can’t stand it when people drive a wedge between theological understanding and practical matters (e.g., you often hear this when people speak of ‘heart’ versus ‘head’ and things like that, as if the Biblical view of man is partitioned like that). In my view, these things are mutually inclusive and interdependent.
Having presented that caveat (or better, complementary comment), I love what Paul Tripp is saying here. It’s challenging and pastorally perceptive.
It is quite easy in ministry to give in to a subtle but significant redefinition of what spiritual maturity is and does. This definition has it roots in how we think about what sin is and what sin does. I think that many, many pastors carry into their pastoral ministries a false definition of maturity that is the result of the academic enculturation that tends to take place in seminary. Permit me to explain.Since seminary tends to academize the faith, making it a world of ideas to be mastered, it is quite easy for students to buy into the belief that biblical maturity is about the precision of theological knowledge and the completeness of their biblical literacy. So seminary graduates, who are Bible and theology experts, tend to think of themselves as being mature. But it must be said that maturity is not merely something you do with your mind (although that is an important element of spiritual maturity). No, maturity is about how you live your life. It is possible to be theologically astute and be very immature. It is possible to be biblically literate and be in need of significant spiritual growth.… Now, the roots of this are a deep misunderstanding of what sin and grace are all about. You see, sin is not first an intellectual problem. (Yes, it does affect my intellect, as it does all parts of my functioning.) Sin is first a moral problem. … So it’s not just my mind that needs to be renewed by sound biblical teaching, but my heart needs to be reclaimed by the powerful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. … Seminary, therefore, won’t solve my deepest problem–sin. It can contribute to the solution [and I would also add that it can contribute to the problem], but it may also blind me to my true condition by its tendency to redefine what maturity actually looks like. Biblical maturity is never just about what you know; it’s always about how grace has employed what you have come to know to transform the way you live.
Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 25-26.