Monday, January 3, 2011

Recovering the Vocation of the Pastor-Theologian


This is a brilliant article on the growing gulf between academic theology and the pastorate that I think all of us can resonate with:

The Pastor as Wider Theologian, or What’s Wrong With Theology Today

One question I might ask would be, is their a connection between the structure of our churches and what he calls a lowering of the "theological water level"?

7 comments:

Collin said...

Jon, I also read this article and found it very compelling. I wondered, however, how exactly this guy imagined pastors taking up the call to return to their roots as pastor-theologians. More intense sermons? More intense Sunday schools? Writing books? I was convinced but at a loss practically to know what to do. How can academicians become more ecclesiastically oriented -- talk with more pastors? Get involved with church?

I also wondered what you meant by suggesting a connection between the structure of our churches and the lowering theological water level.

david gentino said...

Great article Jon and much to be commended and heeded. I might not find the situation as dire: 'pastor-theologians' like Piper, Keller, Warren, Hybels, Bell, Campollo, Lucado, etc. still hold more sway over the populous than our academic theologians, for better or for worse.

And a trend I fear is the pastor-scholar: the pulpit lecturer and prolific writer who has little time for actual pastoring.

But still, I am all for theology written on the front lines of mission. That seems to be the biblical mode most clearly demonstrated in Paul.

The article also hints at why our seminaries churn out graduates so ill-prepared for ministry.

Great article, Jon, thanks for passing it along.

david gentino said...

From my teammate:

Thanks, brother, for the article. I enjoyed reading it. I think our
ordination vows calls us to be "wider theologians" at least in the sense that we have a duty to the church beyond just our local church. That is, in part, why we are Presbyterians. This is also why

I think a local church can and should be the best place to train men for ministry. Good biblical
theology connected to real life ministry is powerful and helpful to the church.

-Richey

Jon Furst said...

Thanks for the comments guys, and for the most part, I think I would agree. Mark Noll talks about "consummate theologians" as being those that end up having the final word on theological issues when the church can't pull its act together. With the names that you mention (again, some for better and some for worse) I wonder what balance needs to be struck between good theology that captures the hearts and minds of the laity.

I appreciate your warning about pastor-scholars–– men staring at their navels in the pulpit.

Richey, if you are saying that all functions of the church need to be done with a view to the local and global church, right on (I hope I'm not putting words in your mouth). We protestants need to think more deeply about catholicity.

Jon Furst said...

Collin,
I just realized I didn't respond to you at all. My apologies.

Yes, involvement in the local church is a start. As ambiguous as this admonition is, it is worth repeating. It may be the one place that an academic who otherwise has very little contact with those outside of the academy can engage with average people. Moreover, it seems significant that nearly all (if not all) of the great theologians have either been pastors or maintained an active role in the church. As J.I. Packer says, theology is for doxology, and here theologians have something vital to offer the darkest corners of the church.

The church structure thing is something I'm trying to tease out. I wonder to what extent ecclesiology impacts the other areas of our theology, negatively or positively. For instance, the retention rate of conversions among revival movements is notoriously low. Even if the theology is pretty good from the pulpit, if there is not an ecclesial structure to foster deeper growth, statistically there is little likelihood of anything being sustained in the life of the converted. Of course, this is from a very human view, but still, we don't want to be negligent. Any thoughts?

P.D. said...

Furst, I'm really confused as to what a theologian is today if not a publishing, lecturing, teaching academic.

Should pastors have to take more rigorous theological exams? I'm not sure I like the results for the ones that already do.

Would it be better to merely say that the quality of a pastor's theology ought to be better? (Quality I would judge as jiving with scripture rather than other theologians)

(Bear with me, I'm not sure if this will make sense but it came to mind) There's something analogous between the disconnect of a lot of art historians to art, and theologians to God. That shouldn't be the case. When art history becomes its own thing for its own cause its really problematic. There needs be to some kind of 21st return to the text. Not a Harold Bloom kind of approach, but something...

Jon Furst said...

PD,
The point in question is who the intended audience of theologians is. There are notable positive examples of theologians today who are countering this-- Tom Wright comes to mind with his academic and lay materials.

I think you hit it well in your second sentence. This is what I meant by mentioning "consummate theologians." Theology is always present, the question is what sort of theology it is. I think this calls for a more serious discerning engagement with popular preachers (Rob Bell, etc.).

A related problem for Evangelicalism, however, is that there is no body in existence that can do this. It's fine for the Acts 29 group to denounce Brian McLaren, but it's only going to matter to people who actually listen to Acts 29 (and probably already have reservations about Brian McLaren). For all the strengths of voluntaristic faith, there are serious deficiencies that come with it.

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