The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost VisionBy Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan (Baker, 2015)

The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Hardcover)
by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Owen Strachan

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Vanhoozer teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Strachan at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The former does the Introduction, Chapters 3 and 4 (dealing with systematic and practical theology), and the Conclusion, while the latter handles Chapters 1 and 2 (dealing with biblical and historical theology).

The goal of the book is to correct “[t]he widespread confusion about the nature, identity, and role of the pastor” (x). That it takes two professor theologians to delineate what it means to be a pastor theologian makes the result a view from the lectern and not from the pulpit.

Essentially the “four chapters treat the biblical, historical, systematic, and practical theology of the pastorate respectively” (26). Pastors, apparently, have lost interest in theology, primarily because of the separation of church and academy, with theology migrating to the latter, remaining in the realm of abstract and theoretical scholarship (5). Besides, “much of what pastors find in many scholarly commentaries on the Bible is hard, if not impossible, to preach. The standard biblical commentary produced in the modern academy typically treats the Bible as a historical document, often focusing more on the world behind the text (e.g., historical backgrounds, ancient Near Eastern parallels) than on what God is saying through the church today in and through the text about the subject matter of the text: God’s plan of salvation summed up in Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:9–10) (6–7). Amen!

On biblical theology, the reader is told that the offices of priest, prophet, and king are connected to that of the pastor. That seemed quite a stretch—works well for Jesus Christ, but just did not fit for the shepherd of the local flock. Pastoral ministry, it was emphasized, ought to be Christocentric, dealing with “the wisdom of a message about a crucified king” and having “the cruciform nature of kingly pastoral ministry” (52, 54). Many readers of this Journal will struggle with such a narrow conception of the pastorate.

Historical theology did not fare much better. The examples paraded—Irenaeus, Chrysostom, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Baxter, Edwards, et al.—lead me to suspect that the endeavors of historical theology are simply proclamations of systematic theology: rule of faith, creeds, doctrine, correction of heresies, etc. (71–75).

On systematic theology: “theology is the attempt to set forth in speech what is in Christ.” And “the theologian is a minister of reality. … Pastors are public theologians because they bear witness to what is in Christ, and there is no greater reality than that. … Insofar as the theologian helps people to live into the reality of the resurrection, the new creation in Christ, the theologian helps people to get real” (109). Again, wonderful stuff from a thoughtful and perspicacious theologian. And regarding the source of this vision: “Scripture alone provides an authoritative account of what is in Christ” (114). I found myself in hearty agreement, but wondered how “what is in Christ” could be discovered from the biblical text, say, for instance, from the pericope dealing with Leah and Rachel battling for reproductive superiority in Genesis 29–30, or from the story of Ehud eviscerating Eglon in Judges 4? How do I know what Christ looks like, from these narratives?

Practical theology is, well, practical, and the various images of a pastor—as an evangelist, a catechist, liturgist, and apologist —were helpful, but quite non-specific (152, 161, 164, 174).

The degree of specificity preachers look for, to better undertake their expository responsibilities, was not found in this tome. Preaching, in much of the conceptions herein, turns out to be “[t]he apostolic preaching of the gospel of Christ”—evangelistic in function and nature. Citing Acts 17, where “Jesus” is never mentioned in Paul’s “sermon,” there is some fudging: “Paul’s message might initially seem rather different from those of Peter [in Acts 2] but in reality, it is similar” (57). That tells the reader how much the notion of “preaching” is being stretched.

It seems to me, from my vantage point as a preacher, that in all this there is something missing: a specific means to derive Christlikeness from particular pericopes of Scripture. That is the kind of theology we need, both to preach on, and also to be edified by, so that both the preacher and the flock may be conformed into the image of Christ (Rom 8:29).

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 16.2 (2016): 49–50

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