Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. The theme of the conference is Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – The Gospel and the EFCA. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA. You learn more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here, with registration here.
We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.
Our preconference will also be excellent, as we address, in a debate format, the important theme of “Genesis and the Age of the Earth: Does the Bible Speak Definitively on the Age of the Universe?” This will be followed by a time of focusing on the application of these matters in the context of a local church, providing guidance to pastors and leaders as they think about, navigate and lead through these discussions.
During the Conference we have also planned a gathering of young pastor-theologians, or those who have been engaged in vocational ministry for five years or less. During the lunch hour on Thursday, February 2, we will meet in the conference room in the Waybright Center. If you fit this description, or if this would apply to someone with whom you serve in ministry, or someone you know, please either plan to attend or encourage that other person to attend.
My desire is to come alongside those engaged in the first years of pastoral ministry. Although there are many larger churches in America, most are smaller, which means many/most will begin pastoral ministry in a solo setting, or with possibly one or two other staff persons. This is also true in the EFCA in that almost 80% of our churches consist of 250 attendees or less. And in most of these instances, it is expected the person serving in the pastoral role has already figured out most biblical, theological and pastoral issues. However, this is inaccurate. They are, rather, engaged in working out the final step in their theological formation, that of pastoral theology, which consists of applying the truth of God’s Word to specific situations and the lives of people. Too often the assumption, inaccurate I may add, is that this step is either already done, or because other learning of the Bible has taken place, this happens naturally.
Recently I read the following from Mentoring Others, which was a statement made about a PCA church:
The members of the presbyteries know their theology fairly well, but when it comes to applying their theology in daily life, they desperately need help. It is one thing for us to teach systematic theology in intensive courses; it is another thing to help those who haven’t seen it modeled learn how to raise children, or how to live together in harmony, or how to resolve interpersonal conflicts.
This gets to the heart of pastoral theology. I consider this to be the final step in the process of moving from the Bible to theology. As one has written, Pastoral Theology
answers the question, How should humans respond to God’s revelation. Sometimes that is spelled out by Scripture itself; other times it builds on inferences of what Scripture says. PT practically applies the other four disciplines [exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology and systematic theology] – so much so that the other disciplines are in danger of being sterile and even dishonoring to God unless tied in some sense to the responses God rightly demands of us.
Too often, we demarcate between the more academic and the more churchly approach to the discipline of theology. The more academic and theological is for the academy and the more pragmatic and practical is for the church. This is profoundly wrong and hurtful to the church.
I also listened to an interview with Leith Anderson, NAE President, and Daniel Aleshire, Executive Director of The Association of Theological Schools: Trends in Theological Education. Something Aleshire said resonated with what I noted above and resonated with my sense of how many approach pastoral ministry, particularly those who have received formal theological training, either a Bible degree from a college or a MDiv degree from a seminary. They receive all the academic training focusing on the Bible, theology, Christian education, missiology, history, etc., with little pastoral theology. This is a bit overstated, but more often than not, accurate. And then when these students enter pastoral ministry, they encounter many pastoral matters regarding marriage, finances, counseling, addictions, infertility, gender dysphoria, etc. Because these are pastoral issues, too often these new pastors set aside or forget what they learned in seminary and they pursue a pragmatic, practical direction, as if the foundation they received in seminary has nothing to say to any of these matters. This increases the bifurcation, and it means pastors become more practically or pragmatically driven, rather than biblically and theologically driven. They ought to move from the foundation established in the Bible and theology to discern how that forms and shapes their pastoral response to these issues.
This is not to suggest students in Bible college or seminary are not involved or engaged in a local church ministry. The expected assumption is that they are. But there are vastly different expectations and requirements leading in that context in a pastoral, vocational capacity than it is to do so in a non-pastoral, not vocational capacity. It is important to note that I do not believe this is the seminary’s primary responsibility. It is the church’s responsibility. The church has all-too-often given over all of the pastoral training to the seminary, and the seminary has taken it, some by default and some by design. This leaves a huge gap in the learning and training provided by the Bible college or seminary, one which they are not designed to give. Therefore, we expect too much from the seminary, while the church abdicates our primary responsibility.
Here is my point. Because there are few helping young pastors to apply the biblical and theological foundation they have received to the pastoral issues of the day, i.e., to engage in the discipline of pastoral theology, the final discipline in moving from the Bible to theology, it is important for us in the EFCA to help those in the first five years of ministry do this very thing. These first five years are the years in which these questions and answers are given, one’s pastoral theology is forged and formed, which become the habits and disciplines of one’s pastoral practice, which, in turn, become formative for the duration of a person’s pastoral ministry over a lifetime.
If you are a young pastor-theologian or you have been in pastoral ministry for five years or less, please plan to attend this gathering.