Should a minister be godly or knowledgeable? Is this even a choice that has to be made? I don’t think so, but sometimes one is set up against the other as a kind of false choice, as if we can only choose one.
I came across this great quote from B.B. Warfield in my studies today, which has bearing on this question, and shows that the kind of thinking that leads to this erroneous thinking is not new. In Warfield’s little book The Religious Life of Theological Students he writes:
A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minster must be godly. Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs.
These are some wise words for all who ministers of the Gospel, or those who aspire to be (such as the Princeton Seminary students whom Warfield probably had in mind).
I remember one person, years ago, who, when he saw me carrying a systematic theology textbook that I had been reading, proceeded to discourage me from such study!
He was had such a low view of knowledge that he apparently thought serious doctrinal study would somehow hinder my spiritual growth. While it’s certainly possible to be come puffed up with knowledge, it’s also dangerous to teach and lead without having adequate knowledge (James 3:1).
I don’t think it’s wise to pit knowledge and godliness against each other, and I don’t think it bears good fruit long-term. Paul instructed Timothy to watch carefully both his life and doctrine. (1 Tim. 4:16) Careful thinking should not be set against careful living. Proverbs says it’s not good to have zeal without knowledge. (Prov. 19:2)
Usually, those who emphasize godly living to the neglect of learning are simply reacting against the opposite (and equally dangerous) extreme. There are many examples in history and today of those who have a lot of knowledge, but whose knowledge has served to corrupt them and others, rather than aiding in godly living and effective ministry. (Many 19th century German theologians come to mind, and more than a few college professors.)
In Jesus’ day the Pharisees and scribes were good examples of those who fell into this trap of much learning, but little obedience to Jesus.
However, on the other hand, it’s worth noting that while Jesus used unlearned fisherman to propagate the Gospel, he also used a converted Pharisee, who had much learning, to write over half of the New Testament, plant numerous churches, and serve as a missionary to the ends of the earth. That knowledge—with the addition of a renewed heart—was a powerful tool for ministry.
We need not throw out learning in our well meaning attempts to live godly lives, least of all those of us who aspire to lead in ministry. Rather, learning and loving the truth should support long and faithful ministries.
Question: As you consider your own life, which of the two are you more comfortable focusing on? Why do you think that is?