Studying the lives of early church fathers like Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, and Gregory the Great, as well as Reformer Martin Bucer and Puritan Richard Baxter, Purves paints in broad strokes the colors that most highlight the pastoral role’s more classical tradition. Most interesting to him was the theme of the importance of honest self-evaluation and accompanying action, as illustrated in this quote from Purves, quoting Gregory the Great:
“Gregory argues that to reject a call to ministry when one is well qualified and graced for the work is false humility. Thus the general axiom: ‘One who has not been cleansed, must not dare to undertake sacred ministries; and one who has been cleansed by supernal graces, must not proudly resist under the guise of humility’ (I.7,33). Typical of Gregorian antinomies, a false humility may hide a corresponding pride!” (66)
According to Learner, the irony of Purves’ book and those pastors he studies within it is that almost each one, at some point, purposely and aggressively (and sometimes even physically) fled God’s pastoral call on their lives. It became humorous (and humbling to him) to read of these men and their strong belief in one’s need to be clearly called by God to the pastorate as evidenced by their hesitancy to embrace such a call because of their own perceived inadequacy.
Learner's questions: how did they relinquish their fears and submit themselves to God and such a great call? And how did they justify this change in perspective to themselves, their friends, and those who they were to serve in this call? After all, it wasn’t that the terms of the call changed; rather, they did in considering it. What must this process have been like for each man?
For most of his life, Learner has written off the pastoral role as not being for him. This disregard has been due to his own less-than positive opinions of certain pastors from his past, as well as from certain others’ less-than affirming voices – not of him personally, but of the pastorate/church in general. As a result, he has not until now – a full year into his seminary experience – begun to seriously ask God if a pastoral call is his desire for him, as he came to seminary with a view to teach in academia, not to pastor.
Learner wonders about inquiring as to this call is what God would have him do? After all, with regard to a call to the pastorate, shouldn’t he simply just know, making the decision of “Will I or won’t I accept it?” the key question rather than “Am I or aren’t I called in the first place?” From his reading of Purves, both questions – only in reverse order – seemed in play in the lives of those studied: “Am I or aren’t I?” first; “Will I or won’t I?” second.
The scary part is that in asking the first question first (which he's beginning to do, and should have done before), the second question becomes scarier to consider…and answer. But then again, maybe that’s the point with regard to the seriousness of the pastoral call.