Becoming a Pastor Theologian: New Possibilities for Church LeadershipEdited by Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand (InterVarsity, 2016).

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This work is made up of papers—both plenary addresses and other contributions—from a 2015 conference sponsored by the Center for Pastor Theologians, and edited by its co-founders, Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand. For the sake of brevity, I shall deal with the plenary papers.

Peter Leithart (“The Pastor Theologian as Biblical Theologian”) promotes “ecclesial biblical theology,” biblical theology for the church, and from the church (10). For him, this means pericopes of Scripture must be interpreted canonically, reflecting earlier texts, and linking them all in exposition (13–15). But Leithart caught me off guard with his requirement that “the literal [interpretation of texts] must open into the spiritual senses, into Christological allegory and tropological exhortation” (16). Also, he avers that “the pastor theologian’s most important theological publication is the sermon” in a liturgical setting, particularly that of the Eucharist (19). “If you are preaching without bread and wine, then your first task is to put an end to that anomaly as quickly as possible.” All of this is not very convincing, in my opinion.

James Smith (“The Pastor Theologian as Political Theologian”) continues the theme of his other writings: humans are not just thinkers, but lovers. And political institutions are “incubators of love-shaping practices,” advocating a vision themselves (26). These must be countered by the pastor who, first, exegetes the love-shaping cultural rites of political institutions, unmasking their idolatry (false worship) and, second, communicates an alternate vision of what the Good is (26). Smith sees Christian worship as that alternate vision (30), with baptism and the Eucharist at its core. As in his monographs, there is no mention here, either, of how Scripture may propound and shape the godly vision of the divine kingdom.

For Kevin Vanhoozer (“The Pastor Theologian as Public Theologian”), the pastor theologian need not be a scholar: “Theology is the project of seeking, speaking and showing understanding of what the triune God is doing in and through Jesus Christ for the sake of the whole world, and this is far too important to be left to academics” (41). Well and good, but “what the triune God is doing in and through Jesus Christ”—consummating all things in Christ, and conforming all his people into the image of Christ—needs to be proposed for the flock’s consideration in weekly sermons, pericope by pericope. Sadly, Vanhoozer and his co-authors all seem to manifest a certain naïveté to the notion of preaching and application.

Gerald Hiestand (“The Pastor Theologian as Ecclesial Theologian”), like Vanhoozer, does not think pastor theologian = pastor scholar. Nonetheless, Hiestand sees the pastor as a “local theologian” (working within a local congregation), a “popular theologian” (writing for lay people), and—of interest to this chapter—an “ecclesial theologian,” whose work is directed to other theologians and scholars. One wonders where this hapless pastor is going to find the time to preach and shepherd amidst all the theological burdens he has to bear! But Hiestand recognizes the difference between an academic theologian and an ecclesial theologian. The attention of the former will mostly be on research side of things, and the attention of the latter mostly on the implementation end. I suggest that there may even be another species of theologian that takes what the researchers produce and provide it in usable form to the practitioners: the one mediator between academia and ecclesia.

Todd Wilson (“The Pastor Theologian as Cruciform Theologian”) declares that the ecclesial location of the pastor “entails a cruciform vocation,” a conformity to the cross of Christ, being crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20) (70). According to Wilson, “cruciformity means real, concrete suffering … self-sacrifice … in Jesus’ name for the good of others” (70). But that is not what Gal 2:20 implies. Nonetheless, Wilson describes Paul’s suffering and consider that a paradigm for pastoral ministry. Perhaps it is Wilson’s own sufferings (a major health issue) and those undergone by his church (crises of some serious proportions) that have influenced his trajectory of thought. Suffering is, of course, a necessary crucible for character development, but to make it a sine qua non of the pastor theologian’s ministry seems unwarranted. Suffering is the lot of all God’s children—“cruciform Christians”: cruciform homemakers, cruciform physicians, cruciform pilots, cruciform construction workers …. I am not sure making the Pastor Theologian a Cruciform Theologian is a quantum epistemic leap.

Many of these plenary addresses/papers focused on the function of the pastor theologian in the pulpit. I would strongly urge the Center and its thinkers refocus their attention to the remaining 167½ hours of pastoral ministry in a week, and expound on how the admittedly crucial tasks of the pastor theologian may be accomplished therein. Please, folks, leave the sermon time in the pulpit for exposition of the biblical text, pericope by pericope, discovering the thrust/theology thereof, and bringing it home in powerful application that progressively molds believers into the image of Christ. This is the key task of the pastor-preachers. If this is not done, nothing else is worth accomplishing. First things first!

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 17.2 (2017): 57–58

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