Interview with Philip Graham Ryken

Greg Strand – December 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Philip Graham Ryken served as the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, initially with James Montgomery Boice (who followed Donald Gray Barnhouse) until his death, and then as the sr. preaching pastor. In 2010 Ryken transitioned from serving in pastoral ministry at Tenth to the presidency of Wheaton College. A couple years after that transition, he was interviewed about his transition and his role as president: From Pastor to President.

Although this interview was conducted a couple of years ago, there is still much to glean from it. I highlight three important aspects: (1) the importance of a call to the ministry of the gospel and the role of a pastor-theologian; (2) the importance of biblical and theological training; and (3) the importance of a godly father.

First, the call of God that remains on the life of a pastor to a ministry of the Word, even though the specific location or responsibilities change. I sense that strongly in my role. Though he moved from the pastorate to the presidency of Wheaton, he notes,

It is important to say that I did not “leave the pastorate” but continue to exercise a gospel ministry that has the blessing of my denomination. My calling to a ministry of prayer and the Word of God (see Acts 6:4) is for life, and I could never leave it. What has changed is that I no longer serve a local congregation but the wider body of Christ through the work of Christian higher education.

Second, the recognition of that which is vital, indispensable to effective ministry is a relationship with Jesus Christ and spiritual gifts focused on the faithful ministry of the gospel. And with this as a foundation, it is also important to recognize the role that academic training has in the life of the pastor. To the question, “What place do academics have in the training and ministry of a pastor?”, he responds,

Many effective pastors have had little or no academic training. One thinks of Peter and John, for example (Acts 4:13). What is indispensable to effective ministry is not an academic degree but a vital relationship with Jesus Christ, with spiritual gifts for the ministry of the gospel.

Yet Reformed and Presbyterian churches rightly emphasize the value of a learned clergy, and for this there is no substitute for a rigorous education. A good example is the Apostle Paul, whose exceptional education prepared him for worldwide leadership in the church and a primary position in the development of Christian doctrine.

Third, the influence of a godly father. When asked about his father’s influence in his life he replied with the following (Leland Ryken, his father, has been a professor of English at Wheaton since 1968):

My father’s influence in my life is so pervasive that this is hard to answer. Some of my earliest memories are of him reading me Bible stories at bedtime — especially about Nicodemus and the boy Samuel. God used these stories to give me the gift of the new birth and call me to gospel ministry.

 Later on I studied literature with my father, taking various courses in British literature and the literature of the Bible. His sensitivity to literary genres helps me every time I open my Bible for personal study or public preaching.

My father has also set a good example for me in his commitment to the church. Growing up, our family was in church every Sunday morning and evening, including Sunday school, and generally sitting near the front for public worship. We also attended a Wednesday night home Bible study throughout most of my childhood. All of this helped to instill in me an appetite for good preaching and a deep satisfaction in the rhythms of congregational life.

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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