One of my heroes of the faith is a man by the name of Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), who is a fitting example of the stuff I’ve been writing about over the past few posts. Schweitzer was a German theologian and missionary who exemplifies having a passion for both heart and mind perhaps more radically than anyone else in history (besides Jesus and Paul). Schweitzer is best known for winning the Nobel Peace prize in 1952, but it’s the rest of his life that has intrigued me.
Schweitzer was brilliant; I mean, crazy smart. The dude got four PhDs in four different subjects: Theology, Philosophy, Music, and Medicine. And please note, these are not honorary doctorates, which are given to someone after they write 20 or 30 popular level books. These are PhDs; they are earned degrees and the result of spending thousands of hours in painstaking study.
Along the way, Schweitzer wrote two very significant books in theology that are still widely read today: The Quest for the Historical Jesus (1906) and The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1930). Both are monumental in the scholarly fields of “Jesus Studies” and “Pauline Theology,” and both are considered way ahead of his time. He also wrote tons of other books on theology, philosophy, music and mission.
Why mission, you may ask? Well, this was Schweitzer’s true love, and mission is the reason why he got his fourth doctorate in medicine. After studying Jesus, and writing scholarly books about Jesus, Schweitzer gained a passion to live like Jesus. So in 1912, he joined the Paris Missionary Society to be a medical missionary in the jungles of Africa, in what is known today as Gabon (west of the DRC), to build and work at a hospital. To get there, he had to travel 200 miles (14 days) by raft to a place where there was no outside communication. In his first 9 months, he saw over 2,000 patients. “So he left his stale scholarly environment to pursue the real stuff of ministry!” you may say. “Amen!” Well, not really. Schweitzer and his wife operated on patients by day, and he continued to write scholarly books at night (he didn’t sleep much!). In other words, Schweitzer never saw a dichotomy between living for Jesus and thinking about Jesus, between scholarship and mission, between the jungles of Africa and the ivory towers of Europe. Jesus is Lord of all, and it was Schweitzer’s encounter with Jesus through rigorous study that fueled his passion for mission. And it was his encounter with the missions that continued to fuel his passion for scholarship. He didn’t see the two fields as at odds with each other. Both are necessary.
Not everyone is called to this type of ministry; in fact, most aren’t. But let’s drop the “either/or” dichotomy between thinking and doing, between scholars and missionaries, and let’s see how both are highly valued in the Kingdom. We need both.