Pastor-Theologians/Theological-Pastors

Greg Strand – March 12, 2013 6 Comments

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.

His conclusion:

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

6 responses to Pastor-Theologians/Theological-Pastors

  1. Sounds like the very heart of ministry. Bless You,
    Chaplain Ken Hyatt, U.S. Navy (Retired)

  2. Yes, in a lot of ways I do think there is a divide between the church and the academy. Far too often intellectualism and spirituality are seen as antithetical in the church today and attempts to define or communicate doctrinal truths in the church are condemned as nothing more than pride filled and sinful attempts to define that which is “unknowable.” At the heart of this divide, I believe, is the church’s acceptance of the nihilistic epistemology of postmodernism. Today doubt has become the new virtue to which we are to strive and those who doubt most are extolled as the ones who are most spiritual; doubt itself has become the “evidence” of true humility. While we must not forget that there truly is much that is unknowable, I believe we have made a tragic mistake when we accept the idea that nothing at all is knowable. Such a proposition is not biblical nor is it a reflection of true biblical humility. It is this proposition that I believe is at the heart of the divide between the church and the academy today.

  3. Todd Patterson March 13, 2013 at 7:34 am

    Thanks for opening up this topic. This is right where I live.

    As a missionary teaching at a seminary I’m caught up between the tension of academic performance and the responsibilities of local church ministry. I’ve especially been thinking about this lately because I finished my dissertation last year and now I’m trying to be more involved in the local church and at the same time I have increasing pressure to publish in order to improve our accreditation standing as an institution.

    But I think it’s all a part of the calling of being a Pastor-theologian. It’s artificial to make a distinction.

    I wrote my own personal reflection on this topic here: http://toddjana.com/u/gs02

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