A chasm has opened up between the academy and the church. In this situation, the academy is seen as the place where serious theology is done by theologians who are working according to the criteria of the academy, while the church is where pastors are called to guide people in living life, giving them biblical wisdom for tackling the everyday challenges of the real worldJoel D. Lawrence in Becoming a Pastor Theologian, page 123.
I received Becoming a Pastor Theologian for Christmas after hearing a recommendation on Cary Nieuwhof’s podcast. At the time, I was deep into my studies for an MA in Bible and Theology, but I vowed to read the book as soon as I finished my degree. It capped to my studies perfectly; cementing the investment of my degree to the call I serve under in as a pastor.
Identities and Possibilities
The book was produced from the 2015 Center for Pastor Theologians conference, “The Pastor Theologian: Identities and Possibilities.” Founders, Todd Wilson, and Gerald Hiestand confess on the first page that “by and large, (pastors) don’t know who they are or what they’re supposed to be doing.” Quoting Princeton Seminary president Craig Barnes, “the hardest thing about being a pastor today is simply ‘confusion about what it means to be a pastor’” (page 1).
I’ve felt that confusion. It had been an ever present tension in my studies and ministry. I’ve felt the pull in theology classes to go deeper, and the pullback of ministry asking, “Does this relate to the needs of my people?” “Will it preach?”
How often have we in pastoral ministry questioned the relevance of the academic world to our work? Similarly, how often have those in the academic world felt the frustrations from the lack of depth in the local church?
This book showed me that I’m not alone in feeling that tension. Additionally, the tension is necessary, and something for us in ministry to work in and through. As Gerald Hiestand states on page 54, “pastors are uniquely positioned to make ecclesially focused contributions to contemporary theological discourse.”
Reading and Skimming
The fifteen chapters are divided into three sections. The first five focus on the identities of pastor theologians. The next chapters (6 though 9) are biographies of those who have worn the pastor theologian mantle well. Finally, the last five chapters are a resounding call to focus on the Scriptures.
As expected from a series of conference papers written by various authors, the writing is uneven, coming from several voices. Don’t expect every chapter to hold your attention; I skimmed a few chapters but often caught myself going back for more in-depth reading.
Several chapters especially caught my attention. Peter J. Leithart’s opening chapter on “The Pastor Theologian as Biblical Theologian” was excellent. I enjoyed his work with the beasts in Revelation. Todd Wilson’s chapter on “The Pastor Theologian as Cruciform Theologian” should be required reading for ministry students. Additionally, Philip Graham Ryken’s chapter introduced me to a kindred spirit in Thomas Boston.
Cruciformity means real, concrete suffering—not splinters but self-sacrifice. Cruciformity is suffering, big and small, in Jesus’ name for the good of others. This kind of suffering is part and parcel of the pastoral calling. You can’t be a pastor without embracing a large helping of heartache and heartbreak—your own and that of the people you serve.Todd Wilson, page 70.
Feed My Sheep
Finally, this book will most certainly challenge you. It’s not light reading, but you’ve likely done enough light reading to last you a while. A book like this would be excellent as a group read with a few co-laborers. Moreover, once in a while it’s necessary for us to stretch ourselves for the sake of our calling. Addressing the importance of this book, Kevin J. Vanhoozer writes on page 41, “Theology is a local public work; it’s first and foremost God’s work ‘to bring into being the people under his rule in his place.'”
Churches need pastor theologians, but so do our communities. All too often, the people we encounter—inside and outside the church—are mired in “pop theology.” They have gleaned what they know of God from greeting cards, Facebook posts, and the History Channel. If the local pastor isn’t going to dig into the deep truths of faith for his community, then who will?
A Work in Progress
The Center for Pastoral Theology continues to produce new volumes from their yearly conferences. Amazon currently lists volumes on Sexuality, Creation and Doxology, and Spiritual Formation. While I have no experience with these collections, I’m certain they would be excellent. Their pursuit of “theological renewal of the church and ecclesial renewal of theology” is commendable and necessary for connecting the academy and the church in the shared mission of addressing the needs of our world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Want to Dip Your Toe in First?
Becoming a Pastor Theologian can be a bit of a challenging read. As a primer for the book, check out of Andrew Wilson’s Christianity Today article, “Why Being a Pastor-Scholar Is Nearly Impossible.”