Imagine a situation. You are waiting in an operating room, about to have a major surgery, and are very nervous about it. You spoke to others who had the surgery, and there is a real potential for something to go badly wrong. In walks the surgeon, who greets you, and then begins to fiddle with his surgical instruments. It almost seems as if he is nervous. So you ask him, “Everything is going to be ok, right doc?” “Oh yeah, I think so. I mean, what could go wrong?!” This doesn’t exactly comfort you so you have a follow-up question. “You’ve done this plenty of times before, right?” The doctor shifts uneasily. “Well no, but I did listen to a great podcast about it this morning!” Gulp.
It’s understandable that medical doctors go through many years of education for what they do. We expect it. We wouldn’t want to undergo surgery with someone who Googled “what is a double-bypass surgery” an hour before. Bodily health is too complicated, and we value our physical wellbeing too much to trust just anyone with a scalpel. But what about our souls?
Pastors have traditionally been called “soul doctors” and pastoral ministry “the cure of souls.” Wielding God’s Word is like handling a spiritual scalpel that pierces deeper than “joints and marrow” (Heb. 4:12). So we might hope—and even expect—that these spiritual surgeons are trained and equipped to do this sensitive and difficult work. Just as perusing WedMD.com does not make one a qualified doctor, we should desire to see Christian ministry leaders prepared to know the different types of cancer that sin produces and operate appropriately.
You may be following the analogy, but what about in the uncertain time in which we live, the age of Covid-19? Don’t we need doctors on the frontline now more than ever — how can we wait for years of schooling and education? But I think the analogy still holds. We want skilled, competent medical workers treating the ill, and we should want Christian leaders who are not simply panicking and reacting to the difficult circumstances around them. The goal is not simply action, but strategic action — intentional, purposeful, well-thought out action for the sake of Christ’s kingdom.
It is often said that we live in uncertain times, but what time in human history is certain? It may not seem like an ideal time to pursue theological education in preparation for ministry, but what time is ideal? You might even argue that this is a ripe time for the church to have aspiring ministers equipped for the harvest ahead of them. It is more often in difficult times, not pleasant times, that people are most likely to give attention to matters of ultimate meaning and destiny.
But I also won’t sugarcoat the context we live in. Churches are faced with overwhelming challenges in these circumstances. But in considering these trials, what we need more than ever is not hasty, knee-jerk reactions. What we need is a deep knowledge of God’s Word and the enduring truths of our Christian faith—along with unwavering faith and courage. Not more gimmicks, but greater guidance from the full counsel of God and the wisdom of the Christian past.
One of C.S. Lewis’ greatest addresses is “Learning in War Time.” Facing the possibility of Hitler’s invasion, Lewis spoke to college students at Oxford University about why education and learning were still important, even in the middle of a war. It is something we can hear for our own “pandemic time” as well. As Lewis recognized then, the challenges that face us are not solved with simple solutions, for “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh.” Rather, our task includes “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God,” and we must “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4–5). If the church stops investing in good doctrine, it will not have no doctrine, but bad doctrine. Ideas have consequences.
Knox Theological Seminary believes that now is the time to invest, and to invest in sound learning. The spiritual pandemic is as important as Covid-19 and whatever may follow, and we need spiritual doctors on the frontlines to fight the viruses of sin and error. Podcasts and Google searches have their place; we can rejoice that there are so many available resources online. But as we expect doctors to have deeper study, we believe that we should want the same for the church’s soul doctors. We want patients in the operating chair to have confidence that these doctors are ready to make the right diagnosis and perform the right incision.