The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision

The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision 

(Zondervan, 2015) by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson
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Driven by Puritan theologian and Dutch divine William Ames who in The Marrow of Sacred Divinity affirmed that Theologia est Scientia vivendo Deo meaning “Theology is the knowledge of how to live in the presence of God” (p. 7), The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision confronts one of those elusive and false dichotomies that has shaped the life of the church, namely: “Can a Christian minister be both a pastor and a theologian?” (p. 7) This is described as a crisis of identity due to the claim that “we’ve lost touch with the ancient traditions of the church” (p. 9).

The authors here are the founders of the Center for Pastor Theologians whose mission is to “help pastors provide intellectual leadership to the church and to the church’s leaders” (p. 10). The underlying assumption is that “pastors aren’t viewed as theologians, but as practitioners” (p. 10). The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision make the case that pastor theologian are a rare species since they “no longer traffic in ideas” (p. 11). The pastorate is not viewed as an intellectual calling. This underscores a division of labor between theologians and pastors that does not have historical precedent. Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Hopkins, Joseph Bellamy and Nathaniel Taylor were all pastor theologians “who combined spiritual urgency with profound learning” (p. 12). Of course this was a time when the word ‘theologian’ was synonymous with pastor. However, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision informs us that nowadays this is not the case for “theology has become ecclesially anemic, and the church theologically anemic” (p. 13), a reality that has led to a new division of labor where “pastors aren’t theologians and theologians aren’t pastors” (p. 14). Despite this predicament, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Visionenvisions and advocates “for a return of the pastor theologian who has a shepherd’s heart and a pastor’s primary vocational identity, yet who functions as an intellectual peer of the academic theologian and, as such, produces theological scholarship” (p. 14-15).

The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision proceeds from chapters 2 to 9 to resurrect the paradigm for the pastor theologian. Chapter 2 consists of a historical survey that examines the legacy of the pastoral theologian and underscores the division of labor between clerical and nonclerical theologians. After introducing the experiences of British theologian and scholar N.T. Wright (Tom) Wright, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision provides an account of the relationship between the church, the pastorate and theological scholarship through five major periods, namely: Apostolic Fathers to Constantine (90-300), Constantine to the monasteries (300-600), monasteries to the universities (600-1200), universities to the Reformation (1200-1500), and the Reformation to the Enlightenment (1500-1750). Theologians here are described and examined under three headings, namely: clerical, nonclerical and monastic. Chapter 3 continues the historical survey by documenting how theologians from the Enlightenment to the present ended up in the academy. The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision points out that the Enlightenment in Europe and the Revolution and the Second Great Awakening led to the “tragic divorce between the theologian and the pastor” (p. 42).  On the one hand, under the upheaval of the Enlightenment and its ‘new science’ theories the church was part of the problem and not the solution leading the university to be instruments of the state rather than being in the service of the church; to the undermining of the Bible as a sacred text and to the dethroning of theology as the queen of the sciences. On the other hand, the American Revolution and the Great Awakening led to the divorce of the pastor and the theologian due to the ensuing urbanization and secularization of American culture, the resulting egalitarian impulse and the founding of evangelical divinity school obviously shaped by the cultural shifts. The pastor theologian was replaced the professor theologian, a shift that was accompanied by the institutional structures of the university and its cultural and intellectual prestige.

Chapter 4 examines the challenge of theological anemia of the church. After noting the role of the theologian in the church, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision points out that the evangelical church has lost its way not because of the absence of contemporary theologians and scholars but because “pastors, not professors, are the theological leaders of the church” (p. 57). The local pastors is not only no longer endowed with the theological capacity it once enjoyed but also is no longer able to be a “broker” of theological truth, a position not fully embraced by the authors here since it represents in their view a ‘demotion’ and one that leads pastors to be mere middle-management position. Thus, the task of theology is up to the academy and not the pastoral community, a mistaken belief that has delayed the church from experiencing theological recovery. Chapter 5 examines the challenge of the ecclesial anemia of the church. The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision addresses the popular claim that evangelical theology is too removed from the needs of the local church. Two challenges related to this claim are the diverging social locations and diverging theological methods of the academy and the church. The former highlights the different pressures, needs and vocational priorities that the pastor and the theologian have. The latter describes the different questions that the pastor and the theologian face particularly exacerbated by the academic guild-specific rules that govern evangelical theology and the hostile culture that undergirds the modern university and the resulting lack or discouragement of theological engagement on explicitly Christian matters that are of utmost importance to the local pastor.  

Chapter 6 proposes a taxonomy of the pastor theologian. The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision proposes the pastor theologian as local theologian, popular theologian, ecclesial theologian. The local theologian “is a theological astute pastor who ably services the theological needs of the church” (p. 81). The popular theologian “is a pastor who writes theology” (p. 83) and whose writing is “an effort to help other pastors and the laity better understand the importance of relevant issues in theology” (p. 84). The ecclesial theologian is “a local church pastor who views the pastoral vocation from theological vantage point” (p. 85) and “who provides theological leadership to God’s ecclesia” (p. 86). Chapter 7 provides a vision of the pastor theologian as ecclesial theologian. The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision expands on the previous chapter by highlighting eight characteristics of the ecclesial theologian’s scholarship and identity. The ecclesial theologian (1) inhabits the ecclesial social location; (2) foregrounds ecclesial questions; (3) aims for clarity over subtlety; (4) theologizes with a preaching voice; (5) is a student of the church; (6) works across the guilds (7) works in partnership with the academic theologian and (8) traffics in introspection. Similarly, chapter 8 offers ten practical steps as they relate to the ecclesial-theologian paradigm. The local pastor is urged to pursue the vision of the ecclesial theologian by following these ten strategies: (1) getting a Ph.D. (reasons for such endeavor are provided); (2) building a staff that values theology; (3) getting networked (a case study of a church is presented here); (4) guarding study time with a blowtorch; (5) reading ecclesial theology and good literature (another case of teaching pastor of provided here); (6) urging pastors to refer to their workplaces as their primary study place; (7) building study-and-writing leave into the pastor’s schedule; (8) recruiting a pastor-theologian intern (a case study is presented here); (9) earning buy-in from church leadership; and (10) letting the necessity of love trump your love of truth. Chapter 8 concludes by stating that “theology serves the church” (p. 122) and that “all our scholarship ought to drive us deeper into our love for God and his people” (p. 122). Finally, chapter 9 urges students, pastors and academics “to seriously consider the church as the best place to satisfy both their theological and ecclesial impulses” (p. 19). Grounded by the claim that “churches won’t rise above the theological level of their leaders” (p. 123), The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision offer some advice to three constituencies, all of which are simply urged to be aware of the present division of labor between the academy and the church. First, professors are asked to embrace and hold out the vision of the ecclesial theologian. Second, pastors are asked to embrace their intellectual gifts for the “church needs pastors who are capable of connecting – with robust intellectual integrity – the deep truths of God and our contemporary context” (p. 127).  Third, students are asked to “take seriously the need for, and believe in the possibility of the ecclesial theologian” (p. 128). A prayer to God closes this chapter. The appendix of The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision offers an excellent survey of the ratio of clerical, nonclerical and monastic theologians in order to orient the reader to the larger narrative of the pastor theologian” (p. 133).

Reading The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision is an enriching experience for three reasons. First, I was quickly reminded of three little, yet significant books that echo similar pastoral and theological themes, namely: Piper and Carson’s The Pastor as Scholar and The Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry, Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology and Thielicke’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. Second, I was alerted of the illuminating role that church history plays in today’s contemporary challenges. Finally, while I am content to witness a group of God-exalting and Gospel-loving pastor theologians who are committed to sound biblical study, theology, church history, I am equally joyful and hopeful (as a teacher of clergy and lay leaders) that this conversation will remain a courageous sign and beginning of a generation of Christ leaders who are courageous enough to retrieve the catholicity of the church for the renewal of the church by resurrecting the ancient vision of the pastor theologian.


The author David