Alliance Net

The Preacher and Teacher: The Intersection of Duties

Written on 11/30/2018
Jeffrey Stivason

by Jeffrey Stivason

For me, as for so many others, Sinclair Ferguson has been and continues to be one of my heroes in the faith. While a Ph.D. student at Westminster Theological Seminary he was one of my professors. What is more, while he was pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, I would listen to his morning and evening sermons week by week for almost ten years. So, when he published Some Pastors and Teachers it was a book I greatly anticipated and one that has not disappointed.  Let me give you an example.

I once asked Dr. Ferguson advice on selecting commentaries for use in preaching and teaching. He gave some wonderful counsel.  He told me to buy the best commentary on the book I happened to be preaching through, and then he added, the best book may not be the one with which you have the most in common theologically.  I understood him to be saying, “Read and think” not “read and mimic.” 

So, when I opened the pages of Some Pastors and Teachers I read and re-read with delight.[1] However, the article that caught my eye was the one originally published in 2009 in a book titled Sola Scriptura. It is the chapter titled, Scripture and Tradition.  It was written during the two years in which Dr. Ferguson was preaching through the book of Romans in Columbia, SC.

In the midst of that article, Dr. Ferguson writes, “It would be hard to find a better illustration of the new approach to the Bible in Roman Catholicism than the widely acclaimed commentary on Romans by Joseph A. Fitzmyer” (p. 378).  Now, Dr. Ferguson did not award Fitzmyer the title of “best commentary on Romans” (cf. p. 378).  However, he is able to recognize why some might. 

Nevertheless, in this article Dr. Ferguson patiently and precisely enables the reader to see how a Roman Catholic scholar like Fitzmyer, who has a desire for careful exegesis coupled with faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Church, is led to state “that the teaching of the Scriptures cannot simpliciter (‘directly’) be identified with the teachings of the sacred tradition” (p. 378-379).  For instance, Dr. Ferguson points up Fitzmyer’s acknowledgment regarding Romans 3:21-26, wherein Fitzmyer says, “It is important to recognize that such effects [i.e. justification, redemption, expiation and possibly pardon] of the Christ-event are appropriated through faith in Christ Jesus, and only through faith. It is the means whereby human beings experience what Christ has done” (p. 380).”  

Being a scholar, Dr. Ferguson is quick to point out that it would be quite wrong and even naïve to read Fitzmyer as capitulating to the Protestants. He is not.  But Dr. Ferguson is pointing up the remarkable, Fitzmyer’s recognition of Paul’s emphasis on the unique role of faith, which could be mistaken as the comment of a Protestant exegete!

Now, my point in all of this, no matter how fascinating, is to point up the fact that this chapter, which is more academic in nature, likely, had its beginnings in the regular duties of pastoral work.  By simply writing this article for the church Dr. Ferguson was demonstrating the inter-relationship between the work of a pastor and that of a teacher.  Or to put it differently, Dr. Ferguson was, in his work as a pastor and teacher, serving the bride of his Savior.   

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.




[1] Most of the articles have been published before and many in “relatively obscure places” (p. xi). The delight of the book is to have them combined in a single volume and organized as they are here.



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