Kevin Vanhoozer is one of the premier systematic theologians in Evangelicalism. He serves as Research Professor of Systematic Theology at TEDS, our EFCA seminary. Though his primary place of ministry is in the academy, his primary purpose in ministry is as a servant of and for the church.
Recently he delivered an excellent lecture at TEDS: “What Are Theologians For?: Why Doctors of the Church Prescribe Christian Doctrine.” This was the first in The TEDS Lectures Series I mentioned earlier this week. This is the post I promised.
Vanhoozer believes “what the Church needs now is pastor-theologians” who “prescribe Christian doctrine.” He concludes with seven summary theses.
Doctrine tells us who God is and what God is doing in Christ. So, doctors of the church prescribe doctrine in order to preserve the integrity of our Christian witness.
Second, doctrine tells us who and what we are in Jesus Christ. And doctors of the church prescribe doctrine to preserve the integrity of Christian identity. We’re not like the other nations, we’re a holy nation, a people of a new covenant.
Third, doctrine says of what is in Christ that it is. Doctors of the church prescribe doctrine in order, as I’ve said, to minister reality—the only reliable tonic to the toxins of meaninglessness and nothingness.
Fourth, doctrine restores sinners to their senses. Doctors of the church prescribe doctrine to wake up people who are sleepwalking their way through life, helping us see with the eyes of the heart the bright contours of the splendors of God revealed in Christ.
Fifth, doctrine provides a fiduciary framework for understanding God, the world, and ourselves. And doctors of the church prescribe it to dissipate the mist of confusion and apathy about the meaning of life.
Sixth, doctrine directs the church in the way of wisdom, godliness, and human flourishing. If we prescribe doctrine, we’re clarifying the mission of the church and we’re answering another question, maybe for another time, what are the people of God for?
And seventhly, doctrine instructs not only the head, but orients the heart and guides the hand. Doctors of the church prescribe doctrine so that our faith, hope, and love, our credenda, spiranda, and agenda, will go with the grain of the Gospel and correspond to the historical and eschatological reality of what is in Christ.
So, in sum, theology sets forth in speech what is in Christ. And at its best, it’s the attempt to set forth in persons what Christ is like. That is, doctrine is for growing disciples. . . . I’m suggesting, then, that the pastor-theologian is the church’s primary care physician. Problem is, too many pastors have stopped doctoring.
Vanhoozer answers the question “What are theologians for?” by focusing on the important role the pastor-theologian plays in “growing healthy disciples” who are “being renewed in Christ.”
Theologians are for growing healthy disciples who know how to live along the grain of the created order as it is being renewed in Christ. Theologians are for ministering health to the body of Christ, for helping its members to become little Christs. This is no waste of time. It is the way to redeem the time by cultivating godliness that is the lived knowledge of God. We might say that the real work of theology is the work of getting real, of conforming our speech, thought, and actions to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ who is the index of reality, the repository of all truth, goodness and beauty.
I would encourage you either to watch the video or to read the lecture video transcription. Vanhoozer, as always, provides a great deal of food for thought as he faithfully expounds the biblical and theological teaching on the role of the pastor-theologian. There is much to learn.