In his book Jonathan Edwards and The Ministry of the Word Sweeney says, “In the early twenty-first century, when many pastors have abdicated their responsibilities as theologians, and many theologians do their work in a way that is lost on the people of God, we need to recover Edwards’ model of Christian ministry. Most of the best theologians in the history of the church were parish pastors.”
Look at almost any major theologian in church history and you’ll find a man that likely considered himself a pastor first and theologian second. This is a model we need to recover and, happily, it looks like we are working to recover.
This summer two books on the topic—the first was published in June and the second is due in just over two weeks—hit the shelves and further the conversation. Ordinary pastors will want to work their way through these complementary visions of pastors advancing theological understanding.
The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson. Pastoral ministry today is often ruled by an emphasis on short-sighted goals, pragmatic results, and shallow thinking. Unfortunately, those in the academy tend to have the opposite problem, failing to connect theological study to the pressing issues facing the church today. Contemporary evangelicalism has lost sight of the inherent connection between pastoral leadership and theology. This results in theologically anemic churches, and ecclesial anemic theologies.
Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand contend that among a younger generation of evangelical pastors and theologians, there is a growing appreciation for the native connection between theology and pastoral ministry. At the heart of this recovery of a theological vision for ministry is the re-emergence of the role of the “pastor theologian.”
The Pastor Theologian presents a taxonomy of the pastor-theologian and shows how individual pastors—given their unique calling and gift-set—can best embody this age-old vocation in the 21st century. They present three models that combine theological study and practical ministry to the church:
- The Local Theologian—a pastor theologian who ably services the theological needs of a local congregation.
- The Popular Theologian—a pastor theologian who writes theology to a wider lay audience.
- The Ecclesial Theologian—a pastor theologian who writes theology to other theologians and scholars.
Raising the banner for the pastor as theologian, this book invites the emerging generation of theologians and pastors to reimagine the pastoral vocation along theological lines, and to identify with one of the above models of the pastor theologian.
The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision by Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan. Many pastors today see themselves primarily as counselors, leaders, and motivators. Yet this often comes at the expense of the fundamental reality of the pastorate as a theological office. The most important role is to be a theologian mediating God to the people. The church needs pastors who can contextualize the Word of God to help their congregations think theologically about all aspects of their lives, such as work, end-of-life decisions, political involvement, and entertainment.
Drawing on the depiction of pastors in the Bible, key figures from church history, and Christian theology, this brief and accessible book offers a clarion call for pastors to serve as public theologians in their congregations and communities. The church needs pastors to read the world in light of Scripture and to direct their congregations in ways of wisdom, shalom, and human flourishing. The Pastor as Public Theologian calls for a paradigm shift in the very idea of what a pastor is and does, setting forth a positive alternative picture.
In addition to pastors, this book will be invaluable to seminary students training to be pastors and to their professors. It includes pastoral reflections on the theological task from twelve working pastors.
I’ve recently listened to a couple podcasts pursuing one, if not both, of the books. Listen in and whet your appetite for your eventual reading.
- The guys over at Christ the Center just last week interviewed Hiestand on “The Pastor Theologian.”
- The Mere Fidelity men interviewed Hiestand and Vanhoozer on their respective visions for restoring a prominent place in today’s church for pastor-theologians.