This week Dr. David Powlison (Harvard, Westminster Seminary, U. of Penn) is in town teaching biblical counseling at the Pastors College. As many of you already know, Powlison is a gifted biblical counselor who through his speaking, teaching, and writing has really shaped biblical counseling into its present form (ie CCEF). He would be in my list of top 5 most unique, gifted, and valuable teachers in the church today.
As time allows, I have poked my head in on the classes to learn from his 30+ years of biblical counseling wisdom. If you follow me on Twitter, you know the classes have been rich. I’ll be back in class today.
Last night C.J. and I enjoyed dinner with Dr. Powlison. And for about 20 minutes I had an opportunity to ask him more about something he mentioned in class today, the value of literature for pastors as they seek to discover and better understand the chaos and messiness of the human experience. Theology, Powlison says, is the compass that points to true north as the storm of life swirls around us. Studying theology is essential, but we cannot neglect studying the realities of human experience of this world. You can tell Powlison has a burden for pastors to become familiar with the storm of everyday life for the purpose of informing pastoral labors and helping connect biblical promises to the contours of life. Scripture makes sense of the chaos.
To this end, he recommends pastors become familiar with the arts. Over coffee and crème brûlée, Powlison recommended a number of books, drawn from required reading he assigned in his class on ministry and literature. Powlison recommended psychological novels like Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, a book that details many sides of human experience—anger, shame, fear, passion, guilt, shamelessness, suffering, child abuse, adultery, reconciliation, etc. He also recommended two titles that illuminate life reality but also feature simple pastors as their heroes—Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
In his class, to encourage pastors better understand the messiness of life, Powlison also assigned readings from a number of dark and despairing, but thoughtful, books. He categorizes them as “dark realism”—Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories, The Stranger by Albert Camus, The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Conrad, he said, can see straight into the pit of human darkness, and writes with an unalleviated cynicism. Checkov is equally pessimistic but with a degree of common grace and palpable love and respect in the way he presents the characters. Each of these authors value honesty, an honesty pastors can learn from.
I hope to elaborate on our conversation and these recommendations soon. But I am aware that this week is the time to record and document. I can elaborate later.
See you later today on Twitter for more updates from the classroom.