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The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision Hardcover – August 18, 2015
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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 depiction of pastors in the Bible, key figures from church history, and Christian theology, this brief and accessible book offers a clarion call for pastors to serve as public theologians in their congregations and communities. The church needs pastors to read the world in light of Scripture and to direct their congregations in ways of wisdom, shalom, and human flourishing. The Pastor as Public Theologian calls for a paradigm shift in the very idea of what a pastor is and does, setting forth a positive alternative picture. It also includes pastoral reflections on the theological task from twelve working pastors.
From the Back Cover
"An important, ringing call for working pastors and preachers"
"This is a timely, more than timely--urgent--book. Kevin Vanhoozer, one of our leading theologians, protests the 'putting asunder' of theology by American pastors. A 'great chasm' has opened up as pastors, more often than not, abandon their vocations as theologians in their congregations for careers in which the secular culture calls all the shots. It was not always this way. Vanhoozer and Strachan skillfully fashion insight and discernment to bring us back to what the church ordained us to do."
--Eugene H. Peterson, Regent College, Vancouver; pastor emeritus, Christ Our King Presbyterian, Bel Air, Maryland
"Preachers today must present biblical truth to people who are more and more resistant to it. The skillful preacher must understand something of the history of ideas and the baseline cultural narratives of our day in order even to be comprehensible to them. Not only that, but preachers in our cities must often speak to people from several diverse world cultures all at once. I've come to the conclusion that ministers need more robust theological education and training than they did when I came into the ministry forty years ago. This book is an important, ringing call for working pastors and preachers to exercise a higher level of theologically informed leadership in our churches."
--Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City
"There's not much wrong with the practice of pastoral ministry that can't be cured by a good dose of theological refurbishment. This book gives strong impetus for construing the work of the pastor as authorized, energized, and sanctified by the pastor's theological commitments. A spirited, Spirit-filled book."
--William Willimon, Duke Divinity School; retired bishop, United Methodist Church
"For years I have told students that they were too smart for the academy, that they should stretch themselves with the harder intellectual work of the parish. And here I thought I was being original. Vanhoozer and Strachan show the original and eschatological unity of two things that modernity has tried to pull apart--the vital parish and the learned pastor. Suddenly the job seems harder and more blessed than ever."
--Jason Byassee, Duke Divinity School; senior pastor, Boone United Methodist Church, North Carolina
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Top customer reviews
Kevin VanHoozer and Owen Strachan serve up a timely antidote to this troubling, anti-theology age we find ourselves in. The Pastor as Public Theologian presents a fresh vision; a vision for "reclaiming the vocation of the pastor-theologian." But the authors have a larger vision that unfolds throughout the book. Their vision extends to local congregations. They too need to reclaim the vision and vocation of the pastor theologian.
Part one explores biblical theology and historical theology. Part two explores systematic theology and practical theology. Each chapter is drenched in biblical wisdom with an eye on kingdom priorities.
This book stands in the same stream as David Well's excellent works, No Place For Truth, God in the Wasteland, and The Courage to Be Protestant - to name a few. The great strengths lie not only in setting forth a description of the problems in the church but in the prescription for moving forward. Such a move entails pastors who are theologically motivated and theologically driven. These pastors offer up theologically rich sermons which equip, edify, and send the people of God to the nations.
The Pastor as Public Theologian is a sweeping book. It is, in many ways an epic accomplishment. Indeed, VanHoozer and Strachan achieve their goal in setting forth the biblical case for recovering the biblical portrait of the pastor-theologian.
The Pastor as Public Theologian is a profoundly encouraging book. Pastors who are serious about their call should read and devour this excellent material. Some pastors will find themselves repenting for embracing a secularized model of the pastorate. Others will be re-energized to boldly proclaim the truth for God's glory and the good of God's people
Their primary argument is that "Every pastor is responsible for communicating Christ and for ministering God’s Word, at all times, to everyone, and in many ways. Ministering the Word of God to the people of God is the pastor’s lifeblood.” If it seems pretty simple and straightforward, it kind of is.
I think almost every pastor is going to agree with their primary argument. The rub is going to come when you begin to flesh that out. Vanhoozer and Strachan seemed a little harsh on how pastors have fallen into “American careerism” (a quote they borrowed from Eugene Peterson). There is obviously some truth in those observations, however I don’t think a blanket statement like that is helpful or fair. I also think it is telling that these two authors admit to writing from their perspective as seminary professors, not pastors.
Perhaps my favorite quote from the book was:
"Stanley Woodworth, my high school French teacher, once described the peculiar passion for his own vocation in the following terms: “The joy of teaching lies not in one’s own enthusiasm for the students, or even for the subject matter, but rather for the privilege of introducing the one to the other.” If this is true of French, chemistry, or history, how much more is it true of the pastor’s passion, which is not simply love of God or love of people, but rather the love of introducing the one (people) to the other (God)?"
As a pastor, that is my vision for teaching. It’s not in my enthusiasm for my “students” or even the subject matter (though, I do love the Lord). My enthusiasm comes from wanting to introduce one to the other and there is great joy in that.
The most practical and helpful information in this book was withheld until the conclusion, "Fifty-Five Summary Theses on the Pastor as Public Theologian.” Again, I enjoyed these mostly because of my familiarity with the material they presented to support their theses. Amongst my favorite were:
- Pastors are public theologians because they work for, with, and on people— the gathered assembly of the faithful— and lead them to live to God, bearing witness as a public spire in the public square.
- Pastors from previous eras of church history uniformly understood their vocation in theological terms, and most of the best theologians in the history of the church were also pastors (from chap 2).
- Pastor-theologians devote themselves to the privilege of studying, interpreting, and ministering understanding of God’s Word to others; for Scripture alone is the divinely authorized account of what God is doing in Christ to reconcile humanity and renew creation.
- The practices of the pastor-theologian are rooted in the pastor’s own union with Christ and involve communicating what is in Christ (from chap. 4).
The biblical and historical approach to this book was not as helpful to me personally, as I graduated from a seminary that did a great job equipping me to be a pastor-theologian. I had hoped to receive some practical help in how to do this on a day-to-day basis, but that may have been an unfair expectation. For those pastors who lack a seminary education, I would highly recommend this book to help you think through your role in the local church.
I did not receive a free copy from a publisher, I joyfully paid for my copy. Therefore, my review is 100% honest and unbiased. Check out more of my reviews at aaronnichols.net