The Painful Joy of Academia

From Piper’s book, Think:

The Move of ’79

After twenty-two years of nonstop formal education and six years of college teaching, I left academia for the pastorate at age thirty-four. That was almost thirty years ago. I remember the night of October 14, 1979, when I wrote seven pages in my journal about the crisis in my soul concerning college teaching versus pastoral ministry. It was one of the most important days of my life — I can see that now.

It seemed to me then that these things — thinking and feeling and doing — would perhaps find a better balance in the church than in school. By “better” I mean a balance that would fit my gifts, and God’s call, and people’s needs, and the purposes of God for this world. I think I did the right thing. But I don’t mean it would be right for everybody.

In fact, one of the purposes of this book is to celebrate the indispensable place of education in the cause of Christ. If every faculty member in the university or seminary did what I did, it would be tragic. I love what God did for me in academia for twenty-eight years, from ages six to thirty-four.

I am not among the number who looks back with dismay on what I was, or wasn’t, taught. If I had it to do over again, I would take almost all the same classes with the same teachers and teach almost all the same classes. I didn’t expect college and seminary and graduate school to teach me things that have to be learned on the job. If I have stumbled, it wasn’t their fault.

The Painful Joy of Academia

Nor did I leave academia because it was spiritually stifling. On the contrary. All through college, and more so through seminary, and then even more in my six years of college teaching, my reading and thinking and writing made my heart burn with zeal for God. I have never been one of those who found the heart shrivel as God and his Word are known better. Putting more knowledge in my head about God and his ways was like throwing wood in the furnace of my worship. For me, seeing has meant savoring. And the clearer the seeing, the sweeter the savoring.

Though there are sufficient Biblical reasons to judge both Piper and F.F. Bruce unregenerate, I surmise that academia affected these two men differently (cf.