Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day: A Conversation with Anthony Robinson and Robert Wall (Part 1)

Recently, we invited Anthony B. Robinson and Robert W. Wall — coauthors of the new book Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day — to contribute a guest post to EerdWord.

What ultimately came of that invitation was not an article, but a conversation, the first part of which we share with you below. (Read the second part here.)

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Called to Lead
Called to Lead

EerdWord: Greetings from Eerdmans Publishing! I am writing today to invite you to help us promote your book Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day on our blog, EerdWord, by appearing as guest contributors. . . .

Anthony (Tony) Robinson: Rob and I have been chatting and are thinking of a kind of conversational post with an initial topic being, “How This Book Came To Be (and Why)?” We thought we would do entries back and forth to one another, an email conversation, and cc you on all. In fact, you can join us, if you’d like — asking questions, making comments. How does this sound as a plan?

EerdWord: That sounds like fun!

Robert (Rob) Wall: Then let me start the conversation this way: Tony, why should today’s clergy or seminary students be interested in an ancient correspondence (1 and 2 Timothy), which, even though it’s canonized as Scripture, the modern academy has mostly neglected because its historians have concluded it isn’t written by the real Paul and its theologians have concluded its content is out of touch with today’s world?

Tony: I guess I have a different take on 1 and 2 Timothy. Considered as part of the overall Pauline collection, these two letters have a unique role and nature as “Letters to a Young Pastor.” Other letters in the Pauline collection target congregations. These speak directly to the pastor; one — 1 Timothy — from the vantage point of the  absent founding pastor, and the other  — 2 Timothy — in view of the founding pastor’s imminent death. What does a seasoned founding pastor and teacher have to say, under these circumstances of absence and impending death, to his young successor? That seems to me both very interesting and highly important. What is the work of the pastor and teacher — or pastoral leader — as the founding pastor of this congregation sees it and communicates it to his young successor? How does that younger successor continue the work of forming and deepening the faith of a new congregation in a culture that has other gods, stories, and values? This sounds to me a lot like what confronts contemporary pastors, many of whom could use some wise counsel and advice!

Rob: Yes. In fact, the ancient church that formed the Bible (I believe providentially so by the Spirit’s guidance) recognized the practical importance of Paul’s instructions to Timothy to safeguard the future witness of the church. The reasons members of the modern academy sometimes give  for neglecting these letters — that Paul didn’t write them or that what is written is different theologically or linguistically from those letters we know he did  write — obscure but also undermine the letters’ usefulness in forming  congregations of resurrection practice. But what is sometimes missed when reading these letters is that — interspersed throughout, often alongside of these instructions for his young successor — are succinct summaries of Paul’s core theological beliefs. Passages such as 1 Timothy 2:3-7 and 1 Timothy 3:16 provide readers of the other letters with a crash course in Pauline theology, and, in the case of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, with a memorable definition of Scripture’s authority. More importantly, these theologically rich texts reassure us that those practical instructions you mention are of a piece with the entirety of Paul’s gospel.

Tony: This is a key point, Rob, not only about 1 and 2 Timothy, but about pastoral leadership. It needs to be theologically informed and grounded! Too often discussions of pastoral challenges and leadership issues get treated a-theologically. The implication seems to be that theology isn’t really important or relevant for pastoral leaders. Nothing, in my view, could be further from the truth. The core task of the pastoral leader is to be a teacher of the faith. Another way to put this might be to say that the pastoral leader is called to be a center of theological integrity for the congregation. So it seems to me important that 1 and 2 Timothy not only address so many of the daily challenges of ministry, but that they also do so from a clear theological center and perspective. In one of my previous books, What’s Theology Got to Do With It: Convictions, Vitality and the Church (Alban, 2006), I argue that clarity about the core convictions — the theology — of the church is crucial to congregational health and vitality. 1 and 2 Timothy got there well ahead of me!

Rob:  Yes, but these letters emphasize not only a right theology, but a right character as well — and I take it that Paul thinks the two are intimately acquainted! Almost all of the virtue lists spread across these letters stand cheek-to-jowl with theological summaries. Knowing what we must know about God informs and guides our moral formation. Theological and moral integrity are two bits of an integral whole. But this also reminds us that whilst spiritual leaders must cultivate a robust theological understanding in order to catechize their congregations into the faith, they must also pay close attention to the formation of their own spiritual and moral virtue (see 1 Tim 4 in particular) in order to cultivate these same virtues in their congregations — a capacity for forgiveness, for truth-telling and peace-making, for patience and prudence, for hospitality. . . .

Click to read part 2 of this conversation

Click to order Anthony B. Robinson and Robert W. Wall’s Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day