Richard Hendrickson writes of the importance of “why we need scholar priests”: Though he writes as an Episcopalian, note the term “priests” where I would insert “pastors”, I strongly affirm his sentiment. The expression I use is that of a pastor-theologian, or one I have begun to use is that of an ecclesial theologian, a theologian of and for the church. (The latter way is how J. I. Packer refers to himself and his calling, which is reflective of the many books he has written over the years of and for the church.)
Hendrickson begins by noting how those in the church often conclude that anyone with any interest in theology and theological study ought to pursue that in the academy. He also notes that those in the academy often conclude that anyone with any interest in pastoral care and nurture of souls ought to pursue that ministry in the local church. We need both in both places.
We need priests and pastors with an academic background just as we need academics with the training and experience of priestly ministry. We are off in a dangerous place when we decide that some of those coming forward are too smart to be made priests.
He notes some of the reasons why this is important.
Doctrine – and sound training in doctrine – is essential for priestly ministry. It is part of what differentiates us from the spiritual but not religious. I think poor training in doctrine is at the root of why so many are now calling themselves spiritual but not religious. We need a generation of clergy ably trained in doctrine who can articulate what it is about our particular faith tradition that is unique and life-giving. . . . We simply cannot offer any answer worth hearing if we do not have priests trained to think theologically and who can delve into our tradition in creative ways to answer complicated questions and profound doubt.
After listing a number of the kinds of questions received about birth and death and everything in between, and the answers these sorts of questions require, he states,
These questions are profoundly theological ones and sound theology is the most pastoral thing we can offer. Of course this does not mean a dry recitation of Augustine on just war. Nor does it mean vague, wan sharing of our feelings about things that make us sad. It requires a meaty answer that is simple in its articulation and deep in its grounding – it requires the kind of answer that Jesus or his disciples would have given.
Doctrine is not about right answers – it is about right relationships. Doctrine is that which encodes our relationship with the Triune God and with one another.
We should be seeking out faithful academics to call into priestly ministry and supporting priests who might have an academic vocation in every way possible. We cannot afford to have an academy divorced from the day-in and day-out practice of ministry and we cannot afford to have priests who are not devoted to faithful inquiry.
A couple of questions for reflection:
- The Church and the Academy: What are your thoughts of the divide between the church and the academy? Do you think it exists? Why? What can or should be done to bridge the divide?
- The Pastor/Theologian: What do you think about the bifurcation between the pastor and the theologian? Do you think it exists? Why? What can or should be done to bridge the divide? How are you building into the side in which you do not normally bend?