Monday, January 11, 2010

Pastor as Theologian

I am giving a lecture to a group of ministry leaders on the topic "The Pastor as Theologian". I'm interested to know what comes to your mind when you reflect on this idea?

I would also alert you to the recent and quite stimulating series of posts by Gerald Hiestand on the "Taxonomy of the Pastor-Theologian" over at SAET (The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology) website. I'll give my two cents on the subject in a future post.

Addendum: I was remiss not to include the  lecture sponsored by the Carl Henry Center this past spring: “The Pastor as Scholar, and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry with John Piper and D.A. Carson”. John Piper's lecture in the form of an autobiography made  a deep impression.


Austin Eisele said...

I think of a pastor as theologian in one of two ways:
First, to put it in terms of Robert Brandom's "Making it Explicit," the pastor makes explicit what is implicit in our narratives and practices. This enables parishoners to develop a capacity to bring to mind explicitly what they are doing implicitly in engaging with the Bible, or engaging in a church practice. This also works as criticism - e.g., what is the explicit commitment to certain social practices, like buying SUV's, or supporting war.

Second, is a John Howard Yodarian type idea, that theology is developing the capacity to see the logic or the coherence in the Church's statements about Jesus. E.g., he speaks of the "logic of solidarity" in which the early church understood a certain solidarity between Jesus and us. Thus the pastor as a theologian enables parishoners to see these logics, and to develop a capacity to bring their own stories into this theological coherence.

Rick Wadholm Jr. said...

I've been in contact with Gerald over the last couple of months myself concerning this issue. While I largely agree with his taxonomy I still wonder who such individuals ultimately write for (which is basically THE primary goal of SAET)? If we say "the Church" then who within "the Church" is intended to actually read such work and if so will it truly be Ecclesial (because it would be supposed that the writing would be rather technical for most lay persons and possibly many pastors)? I look forward to your thoughts on this topic...

Andrew Esqueda said...

I think that this is a great topic. It is a major problem that we don't think of pastor's as theologian's. This has given many pastor's, but not all, the go ahead to study popular culture in place of Christian doctrine. This results in theologically empty sermon's and uneducated congregations. It's a sad thing that you could walk into a majority of churches and hear sermon's that could also be given at a college graduation or a therapy session. Theology is one thing that "should" make pastor's different from every other inspirational public speaker.

JohnO said...

I think it is a great topic. Unfortunately for me I can only recount how the pastors I have been familiar with in my short time have failed to be theologians. So, I think the topic is worthy of time and effort!

Eddie said...

I think the idea of "pastor as theologian" highlights necessity of the theological formation of Gods people. And perhaps "theologian as pastor" likewise highlights the need for theology to be life-giving and not simply an academic affair.

Timothy said...

A pastor has to be careful when becoming too theological in their services. I am not saying there is not a place in church to do so, but I believe it was St. Paul in the scriptures who wrote that the Christians still needed milk and not solid food. In other words they needed to get back to the basics of it all.
However, for more mature Christians, deeper theological reflection from the pastor is a necessity. There is time for the pastor to be a theologian in this instance. Ecclesiastes chapter 3 talks about how there is time for everything under the sun.

For more information on this topic, look at the book, "Loving God With Our Minds: The Pastor As Theologian", by Michael Welker.

Gerald said...

Hi Joel,

Look forward to reading your thoughts on this topic.

Those interested in a direct link to the whole Taxonomy series can find it at Matthew Mason's blog(one of our SAET Fellows).

Gerald said...

I think I'll wait till Joel lays out his thoughts before interacting too much here, but let me say this briefly:

The SAET's vision of the pastor- theologian is driven by the conviction that social location significantly influences theological formation, and that moving all of our theologians to the social location of the academy has been deleterious to both the theological depth of the local church and the ecclesial sensitivity of orthodox theological reflection.

The SAET's primary operating conviction is that our "wider" theologians -- those who serve the wider ecclesia by providing theological guidance and direction, should once again be located in the pastoral community. Not every pastor is called to be a "wider" theologian, but the pastoral community as a whole has been charged by Scripture to guard the apostolic trust and to integrate it afresh with each new cultural moment. Since the rise of the modern university, the pastoral community has ceased to function collectively as the church's most important body of theologians. The result is often an ecclesially weak theology that fails to interact with local church sensitivities.

So the mission of the SAET is not to make pastors more theologically astute, but to equip pastors to function as "wider" theologians -- those who engage in theological synthesis for the good of the wider church (not just their own local congregations).

Or to say it again, the SAET is not so much concerned about getting more theology into the churches, but about getting more of the church into theology.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...


I would encourage you to think of what Paul says in it's original context. Read over 1 Corinthians and you will see that there is trouble at the Corinthian church and when Paul makes the statement about milk and solid food he does so with remorse.

Chris TerryNelson said...

This is a fantastic topic and will be very helpful to many pastors, I'm sure.

Both these words, "pastor" and "theologian" need massaging. The word "pastor" probably conjures up images of either an administrator or a therapist. After debunking these images, the word needs to be reconnected with its shepherding roots, so that watching over the flock requires leadership and direction. The word "theologian" probably conjures up an academic surrounded by books and caught up in abstract ideas. The theologian needs to be teacher of the Word, first and foremost.

I've always found it interesting that Ephesians 4:11 could denote a double-role: "The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers."

I'm not enough of a greek expert to know whether that ANDkai could function as separating or connecting the last two roles, but there it is.

Finally, I think administration and therapy are useful tools, but they are not ends in themselves. These things (might) produce tight ships and a sense of love and care amongst the crew, but what good is a ship if it never leaves the harbor?

A pastor does not know where to lead them unless he or she listens to the voice of the one true Shepherd (Pastor) which is Jesus Christ. Thus, the role of theologian, ultimately means that one is listening to God first before seeking to lead the flock. Without this work, the pastor will not only burn out, but may likely receive heaps of praise for not challenging the congregation with a word from the Lord.

Those are a few things that come to my mind with such a topic. Blessings in your preparation.

Anonymous said...

Chris: No offense taken, but it was Joel who put this 'very helpful' post up, although Michael is quite capable of posting 'very helpful' material as well ;)

Gerald, I'll be posting something in a few days. You know I am very good friends with a good many of your fellows, although we've never met.

John Smuts said...

What kind of tautology is this?

A theologian who is not a pastor is like a blunt pencil. (Pointless)

A pastor who is not a theologian has no lead in his pencil. :-)

Thanks for the link to Carson et Piper... very complementarian.

Gerald said...


Yes, I've heard your name come up a few times at our SAET Symposiums. And I was just talking with Jonathan Cummings last night, and he mentioned your name. Appreciate your scholarship and ministry, and look forward to connecting in the future.


sujomo said...

Thanks for the stimulating post, Joel,

I think a pastor should be a biblical theologian. cf Acts 2:25-35. We shepherd our flock by preaching and teaching the "whole counsel of God". We should shepherd our flock by focusing both of the 'big picture' of the message of Scripture as well as particular sections of Scripture (showing their context to the whole). This means preaching on both the OT and the NT. How we preach on the Bible as a whole will communicate to our flock how we view the message of Scripture as whole. It is not a case that our preaching majors on those passages of Scripture that we adjudge to be most relevant to the flock that we are presently shepherding but, rather, demonstrating the relevance of all of Scripture to all of God's people over all generations.