It’s been a struggle to start writing on this blog again for the past month. Part of the reason is simply practical; I have presentations to prepare, reviews to write, and a chapter to finish – so my mind is pre-occupied with academic matters. If I write, the post will inevitably be one about Herman Bavinck because that’s all I’ve been thinking about. But, secondly, I resist writing about academic matters, no less because every time I’m tempted to do so the voice of my supervisor rings loudly in mind, which goes something like: ‘don’t post anything academic or worth publishing on a blog!’ (Thanks, James). Since that talk many months ago, I’ve stopped myself countless of times from responding to various articles I’ve disagreed with or from posting recent research ideas on this site.
The third reason, I think, is one with which most writers can sympathize. That is, most times I stop myself from writing because I’m unsure that I have anything worth saying. The feeling is a familiar one. It comes right before I have to preach from the pulpit, or when I reflect on a past journal article, or even as I write this post now. Why should I be writing my thoughts down? What does it do, who does it help? Nine times out of ten, I simply think, well, no one. Most times, too, of course, this is false. Writing and reflecting helps the writer adopt a clearer vision of all things; lucidity in writing reflects a lucid mind. It is also in reading other writers on the same topic that we can continue to develop. Reading others always serves as a potential to learn.
This past week I spent four days at Aberdeen, attending a series of Presbytery meetings upon the invitation of a friend. I had a lovely time, but what strikes me most in meetings like this is how far away I and most (young) theologians are from the tasks of the local pastor, how different the academic task of theology is from the pastoral task. The meetings bring me back to those summers in Jakarta, when I find myself having no time to read or write, where life consists of sermon preparations for Sunday or a retreat or two, where the days are filled with attending to relationships – a mere glimpse of what life in the pastorate would look like. At one point between the Presbytery meetings a pastor came to me to ask about neo-Calvinism and Bavinck’s life – after he said that he was so glad he could learn about this, I could not help but think ‘no, I am the one that needs to learn from you.’
Perhaps that is the constant reminder one needs. Faithfulness is the goal of the Christian life – and that comes in various forms. Whether in writing, teaching, preaching, if faithfulness and obedience to God are not the aims, it all dissolves into vainglory. This is what frees one up from a pre-occupation with the self, liberating one to learn from others without envy, and to admire those traits that the world hardly notices.