I’m a student of theology. I love spending my time reading books. I’m the guy that reads Reformed Dogmatics for fun, or watches apologetic debates on my downtime. I love the study of God. But how does that translate to my pursuit of ministry? Aren’t there plenty of pastors out there who not only don’t do such things, but are also critical of this approach to ministry? “What’s the purpose of spending so much time in study,” they say, “when we could be out there evangelizing or serving?” Or perhaps, “How will reading John Calvin make me a more effective preacher?” Theology has become for us a hindrance, not a help. So, naturally, the title of “theologian” (wrongly) indicates too many pastors a life devoted to endless rabbits trails, isolated book study, and public defense of the faith. This is oftentimes what the pastor didn’t sign up for, so theology is left behind in his ministry (like that’s possible).
Sadly, this is how most of us view the study of Christian theology. It is its own branch of Christianity where the distinguished scholars and thinkers break down the deeper things of God and make them understandable for the rest of the Christian tree. We have little problem with people becoming “pastors,” but the title of “theologian” is either intimidating or frowned upon. We are struggling to grasp the widespread necessity of the pastor-theologian, and The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision is, as Eugene Peterson’s endorsement rightly states, “urgent.”
Books on pastoral ministry are everywhere, but few address today’s church with urgency and conviction. Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan have written a book for us, the people in the trenches today trying to figure this difficult marriage of pastoral ministry and theology. Here is a good thesis of the book, presented by Dr. Vanhoozer:
“First, pastors are and always have been theologians. Second, every theologian is in some sense a public theologian, a peculiar sort of intellectual, a particular type of generalist. A key underlying conviction of our argument is that one need not be academic to be an intellectual. Pastor-theologians are not necessarily persons with high IQs, but they must have high TQ (theology quotient). Third, the purpose of the pastor-theologian being a public intellectual is to serve the people of God by building them up in “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).” (15-16)
The book follows a seamless timeline. After Vanhoozer’s presentation of the problem and proposal, Dr. Strachan begins chapter 1 with an analysis of the pastor-theologian and how he relates to the prophet/priest/king model found in the Old and New Testament. Then in chapter 2, Strachan focuses on an historical sweep through church history, highlighting key eras and figures that have exemplified the pastor-theologian model. In chapters 3 and 4, Vanhoozer addresses the purposes, then the practices, of the pastor-theologians ministry. You’d think a book with 4 chapters doesn’t have much to say, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. This book is full of rich, practical understandings of the public pastor-theologian, and why it is a necessary office.
Here’s some of my favorite excerpts. One of the best defenses of the pastor-theologian model was when Dr. Strachan talked about how the priest is a type of pastor-theologian. Strachan argues that the priests, especially the Levites, were involved in “directly theological work” because “they acted out the very story of redemption before the people of God…They showed the people, most importantly, who Yahweh was” (43). On pages 78-80, Strachan gives a vivid account of John Calvin’s approach to preaching and provides a couple anecdotes. Very insightful and helpful. Finally, in chapter 3, Dr. Vanhoozer talks at length about society’s struggle with anxiety and further shows that a pastor as theologian is able to combat anxiety faithfully.
Two more features from the book really stuck out to me. The first is the “Pastoral Perspectives” found at the end of each chapter. Each of these sections held 2-3 small anecdotes (think blog posts) from many faithful pastors defending Vanhoozer’s and Strachan’s theories according to their context. Pastors like Kevin DeYoung, Gerald Hiestand, Todd Wilson, and Cornelius Plantinga Jr. offer deep and helpful insight into how we apply these truths specifically to the pastorate. The second feature of the book I found unique was the conclusion. Dr. Vanhoozer lists out 55 summary theses statements on the book’s contents. These are almost like a catechism, and so helpful for a pastor who wants to make this book’s wisdom a part of the mission he constantly calls himself to.
Overall, I can’t recommend this book enough. One of my fears going into the ministry has been, “Is my study of theology going to hurt or help my chances of becoming a pastor?” As Vanhoozer and Strachan show, it is fundamental to becoming a pastor, and a public pastor-theologian at that. To rightly handle the Word as truth, to properly feed the flock entrusted to us, to appropriately build Christ’s Church upon the rock, we must witness the pastor as public theologian and reclaim the lost vision we once had.
I received this book for free from Baker Academic. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”