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The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming…

The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision

by Kevin J. Vanhoozer

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Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan aim to recover a theological vision for pastoral ministry. The Pastor As Public Theologian diagnoses our contemporary anemia as "[t]oo many pastors have exchanged their vocational birthright for a bowl of lentil stew (Genesis 25:29-34; Heb. 12:16): management skills, strategic plans, "leadership" courses, therapeutic techniques, and so forth"(1). Pastors are recast as CEOs, therapuetic gurus, managers, life coaches, community activists, storytellers, political agitators and a host of other images borrowed from secular culture (7-9). With the bifurcation of academic theology from practical disciplines, pastors increasing are leaving theology to the academics and rooting their identity in these secular cultural images.

So Vanhoozer and Strachan propose recovery. The publican theologian is a scholar saint deeply invested in people's lives, sound doctrine, and biblical faith. They unfurl their proposal with a brief introduction (written by Vanhoozer), an examination of biblical and historical images for pastoral ministry (Strachan), and an exploration of the purposes and practices of pastoral theologians. Vanhoozer and Strachan point out the pastor's role as an organic intellectual who builds up the body of Christ (22). Theology is too important to leave in an ivory tower. However, Strachan and Vanhoozer are both career theologians and not pastors. Between their chapters are short reflections by twelve other scholars: mostly pastors (with the exception of Cornelius Plantinga), all male, and generally Reformed. These little snippets provide an 'on-the-ground' view of how these ideas work out in real life. These are written by people like Josh Moody, Gerald Hiestand, Melvin Tinker, Todd Wilson, Jim Samra, Wesley Pastor, Kevin DeYoung, David Gibson, Bill Kyes, Guy Davies, and Jason Hood.

Strachan is professor of theology and church history at Boyce College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His contribution to this book explores biblical and historical images for pastoral theologians. In chapter one, he looks at the Old Testament and how Yahweh's wisdom, truth and grace was mediated to the people through kings, prophets, and priests. While acknowledging differences between Old Covenant contexts and New Testament and contemporary realities, Strachan uses these images (of priest, prophet and king) to give us a biblical theology of the theological office in the pastorate. In chapter two he gives an overview of church history, highlighting the importance of theology in the tradition for pastoral work. Early church theologians, Reformers, Puritans and the leaders of the First Great Awakening (especially Jonathan Edwards), and Neo-Evangelicals like Harold Ockenga all prized the practical importance of good theology for ministry and mission; however, Medieval Scholasticism divided theology and ministry (76-77) and contemporary populists placed no premium on theology for practical ministry (86-90).

Vanhoozer's chapters present the fetures of their positive proposal. He argues that pastors are generalists who use theology to help form people in Christ's image:
Christian theology is an attempt to know God in order to give God his due (love, obedience, glory). Jesus Christ is in the thick of it: he is both the ultimate revelation of the knowledge of God and our model of how rightly to respond to this knowledge. Pastoral-theologians, too, are in the thick of it: they represent God to the people (e.g. through teaching by word and example) and the people to God (e.g. through intercessory prayer). Changing a lightbulb is child's play compared to teaching people to walk as children of the light (Eph. 5:8). Far from impractical, the pastoral-theologian is (or ought to be) a holy jack-of-all-existenital-trades. (104).
Vanhoozer than presents a compelling vision of the pastoral theologian's task: expressing the gospel , with biblical, cultural and human literacy, with wisdom and love in the image of Christ. "What are theologians for? What is the distinct service of the pastor-theologian? We reply: for confessing comprehending, celebrating, communicating and conforming themselves and others to what is in Christ" (125). In chapter four, Vanhoozer walks through the peculiar tasks of pastoral ministry (i.e. evangelism, counseling, visitation, preaching, teaching, liturgy, prayer, apologetics) and show how public theology enriches and enables real ministry.

This is a well reasoned account of the importance of theology in pastoral ministry, one in which I am in deep sympathy. Studying is spiritually formative for me, so I resonate with Vanhoozer and Strachan recovery of a robust theology for ministry. My own ideas of pastoral ministry have been shaped by my reading of Eugene Peterson. As I read this book, I thought of Peterson as the public-theologian par excellence. He certainly embodies the sort of combination of thoughtfulness, active attention and pastoral concern that Strachan and Vanhoozer describe and argue for.

Nevertheless I found this book limited in a couple of respects.First, I am on board with this vision but I have served and attended churches where good theology was not valued. What this book doesn't do is present a way to bridge the gap from the modern therapeutic/CEO models of ministry to their public theologian proposal. More work needs to be done on how this works out practically, especially in churches and contexts that 'don't get it.' Second, for a book that includes contributions from fourteen people, it is exceptionally narrow. White. Protestant. Reformed. Male. Calvinists aren't the only Christians who value theology and the life of the mind. Methodists, Radical Reformation churches, and Pietists deserve their due (there is one Evangelical Free Pastor, so Pietists are marginally represented). Women and minorities would bring different perspectives and concerns. I wish that Vanhoozer and Strachan widened their net beyond their own boys' club.

But these demurrals aside, I liked this book, agreed with it and find aspects instructive for ministry and mission. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from Baker Academic in exchange for my honest review ( )
  Jamichuk | May 22, 2017 |
For centuries, the local pastor was a public theologian. The pastor was a peculiar kind of intellectual (not an academic specialist) who "opens up the Scriptures to help people understand God, the world, and themselves" (1).

Today, this classical vision of the pastorate is all but lost. The revivalist movement of the nineteenth century exchanged the thoughtful messages of the Puritans for "the freewheeling pulpiteer, master of the homespun story" (88). This devolved to the place where a person like Billy Sunday could boast that "he knew as much about theology as a jackrabbit knows about Ping-Pong" (90)! The movement of theology from the church to the university also undermined the pastor's theological role. Where Luther and Calvin were the leading pastor-theologians of their day, pastors are now pressured to take on a host of church-growth leadership roles while they leave theology to the experts in the academy.

In The Pastor as Public Theologian, Vanhoozer and Strachan passionately call for a return of the pastor-theologian. Pastors have a ground-level knowledge that academics will never have. Pastors are called by God to guard their flocks by challenging and weeding out false teaching.

Methodologically, Vanhoozer and Strachan divide the book into four sections, following the classical division of theology:

Biblical Theology: The Old Testament roles of prophet, priest, and king are examined in light of Jesus and their significance for pastoral work.
Historical Theology: The history of the church is reviewed and the devolution of the pastor's role is charted.
Systematic Theology: The moods of the Greek language (especially indicative and imperative) are used as a framework for examining the intersection between biblical and cultural literacy in the pastorate.
Practical Theology: The various biblical roles of the pastor are reviewed to see how they contribute to the health of God's house.
The chapters in this book are interspersed with twelve short essays from pastors who show how assuming the role of pastor-theologian has benefited their own congregations. The book then ends with "Fifty-Five Summary Theses on the Pastor as Public Theologian" (183). These theses condense the message of the book into six pages.

I would encourage every pastor to buy and read this book. It is not only an accurate diagnosis of a modern illness—it offers motivation and the first steps toward a cure. ( )
  StephenBarkley | Sep 5, 2016 |
The church is facing a theological crisis. The crisis being that there isn’t much theological work being done in and for the church especially by those who have biblically been instructed to be those that are to teach the local church.

The Pastor as Public Theologian by authors Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan seeks to reclaim the identity of the pastor as a public theologian or as is described in The Pastor Theologian a local pastor theologian. This work defines the responsibility of the Christian theologian as one who “is to seek, speak, and show the understanding of what God was doing in Christ for the sake of the world” (17). This responsibility is part and parcel of what it means to be a pastor theology is not optional. Those who serve in the role of pastor have been called to be the theologians of their local congregation. Strachan’s chapter tracing the historical trajectory of the pastor as theologian readily demonstrates that the by and large the role of theologian has been tied to that of the pastor.

What sets the work of Vanhoozer and Strachan apart is the practicality of their work. Whereas The Pastor Theologian, which I reviewed earlier, seeks to give call for a renewal of an ecclesial pastor theologian the authors in this book have a broader focus which in fact is foundational for the work of an ecclesial theologian. Vanhoozer demonstrates the practicality of the public pastor theologian for the local church in the third chapter. Pastor-theologians are for life and death in this world where many are bound by anxiety and seek to address it with the ultimate reality which is seen in the death and resurrection of Christ. Pastor theologians lead the local church in growing into the fullness of Christ. Vanhoozer addresses the practical realities of being a pastor theologian and the implications of it in the areas visitation, preaching, catechesis, corporate worship, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. In addressing visitation Vanhoozer guards against the notion that the pastor theologian can fulfill his role in the privacy of the study.

At the end of each chapter pastoral perspectives are given by those who embody the concept of the pastor theologian, and this is one of the key strengths of the book. A pastor reading this book without those perspectives would be tempted to thing the vision put forward by the authors is nothing more than the wishful thinking of academic theologians.

For many this book will bring about a needed paradigm change in how they view their role as pastor. I have thankfully been mentored and educated by men who have embodied the role of pastor theologian. Many pastors don’t know who they are and what they are supposed to do, they adopt secular views of leadership and apply them to their role. This book serves as a corrective to many of the problems plaguing pastoral ministry in contemporary truth. My hope is that this book will find a wide readership and that churches and pastors would be awakened to the true nature of a pastor’s work.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html. ( )
  stevodresen | Sep 16, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0801097711, Hardcover)

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 choices.

Drawing on the Bible, key figures from church history, and Christian theology, this book offers a clarion call for pastors to serve as public theologians in their congregations and communities. It is designed to be engaging reading for busy pastors and includes pastoral reflections on the theological task from twelve working pastors, including Kevin DeYoung and Cornelius Plantinga.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 30 Jul 2015 16:21:12 -0400)

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