A couple of weeks ago I asked one of my lecturers at Ridley College, Michael Bird, to guide me in my (long and difficult) quest to become a Bible lecturer. He did not say much. He basically just said that it’s a noble profession but we always had to have the right motivation of doing it. To be honest, though, I was listening but it kind of just went past me (I’m not even sure what the exact words that he said, but it’s somewhere along that line). I wasn’t really thinking about what he said, not because I wasn’t interested, but because I thought it was common sense. Everyone, Christians and non-Christians, know that we have to have good reasons to do anything in life and I would assume all Christians know that everything that we do in life we do it for the sake of the Kingdom, not for ourselves. So our conversation went kind of fast and short. At the end of it he told me to read three books, one of which is called A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America (2008). This book is about George E. Ladd, one of the most prominent (evangelical) New Testament scholars in the last century. Long story short, I began to read it last weekend and here is what I found by the end of the Introduction.
Close to the end of the Introduction, the author, John D’Elia, gives a short sneak peak to each of the chapters of the book, in it he says:
“Chapter 5 examines the completion and release of Ladd’s Jesus and the Kingdom (1964) and his response to the critical reaction. Ladd had worked on this book for more than a decade and dreamed of producing a major work of scholarship for twice that long. He intentionally sought a publisher outside the evangelical world, and when Harper and Row accepted it, Ladd felt as though his goal was within reach. However, he was devastated by a review of his book by British theologian Norman Perrin and descended into a time of bitter depression and alcohol abuse from which he would never fully recover. In the aftermath of the review Ladd lashed out indiscriminately, even at friends who tried to console him, and decided to abandon the quest that had driven his career from the earliest days.” (pp. xix – xx)
When I first read this I was on a train looking down to my book and I thought to myself, “What motivated this man to become a scholar in the first place? If it had been for God, surely he wouldn’t have reacted like this to a criticism!” But then I paused, looked up, and thought, “What about my motivation? What motivates me to become a scholar? I gotta be careful not to deceive myself into thinking that I’m doing it for the Kingdom and yet the truth is I am not.” My lecturer’s words became so clear in that moment (I see what you did there, Mike).
This article is not a book review. What I am trying to say is; everyone who has felt a calling to ministry has to constantly revisit their motivation. I am sure that most of those who aspire to be ministers started doing it with a good motivation, for the cause of the Kingdom. And yet, as John Calvin once said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” In the middle of the way we are too prone to get lost to our sinful desire to idolize ourselves. We start studying and pursuing the art of Bible studies for our own glory. We make God a mere object of study. Our life’s goal shifts from glorifying God to analyzing God. We stop pursuing a Master of Divinity as a mere degree and start thinking of ourselves as masters of the Divine. Then when criticisms come to us, our pride cries aloud and forces us to think that our credibility as a master of the Divine is lost. Then we react the way Ladd did.
I encourage all of you, including but not limited to students of the Bible, to constantly rethink about your motivation at present. Are you (still) doing what you are doing for the sake of the Kingdom?
N.B. I cannot say what Ladd’s real motivation was, I haven’t got into that point in my reading. I cannot say that he reacted the way he did because he was idolizing himself. No, that is not what I’m saying. I am looking forward to reading the content of the book, but right now I am just sharing my personal reflection that comes upon reading the book. I am sure it will be an interesting read!