Kevin Vanhoozer’s 55 Theses on Pastors as Public Theologians

Why does the church need pastor-theologians? What are pastor-theologians for?

“Pastor-theologians in the early church used the ancient Rule of Faith to provide the parameters for understanding the theological realities that are part and parcel of the gospel, and to identify the God of Israel with the Father of Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things with the Redeemer of the church.”

 

Kevin Vanhoozer:

Why does the church need pastor-theologians? What are pastor-theologians for? Our answer, in brief, is that pastor-theologians are gifts from the risen Christ, helps in building Christ’s church, especially by leading people to confess, comprehend, celebrate, communicate, commend to others, and conform themselves to what is in Christ.

As suits a vision statement, in particular a book about reclaiming a vision, we conclude by summarizing our main theses, chapter by chapter. We believe these theses have implications for what ought to be happening today in churches and seminaries alike.

  1. The church is in danger of exchanging its birthright for a mess of secular pottage in the place where one might least expect it: the pastorate (from the introduction).
  2. Pastors, together with the churches they serve, are too often held captive by pictures of leadership (e.g., managers, therapists) drawn from contemporary culture rather than Scripture.
  3. The location of theology in the academy, together with the disciplinary separation between biblical studies and doctrinal theology, serves neither pastors nor the church.
  4. Pastors must exercise special vigilance in their ministries, taking care not to make the pulpit into a bully pulpit or to magnify their own names instead of, or even alongside, God’s.
  5. Pastors are theologians whose vocation is to seek, speak, and show understanding
    of what God is doing in Christ for the sake of the world, and to lead others to do the same.
  6. 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.
  7. Pastors are not unique in building others up into Christ (all Christians share this privilege and responsibility) but rather in being put into the position of overseeing this building project.
  8. The pastor-theologian is an organic intellectual in the body of Christ, a person with evangelical intelligence who is wise unto salvation.
  9. As an organic intellectual, the pastor-theologian articulates the faith, hope, and love of the believing community on the community’s behalf and for its upbuilding.
  10. The pastor-theologian is a particular kind of generalist: one who specializes in viewing all of life from the perspective of what God was doing, is doing, and will do in Jesus Christ.
  11. The pastor-theologian’s office is not a recent innovation but has its ancestry in the leadership offices of ancient Israel: prophet, priest, and king (from chap. 1).
  12. The office of pastor-theologian was commissioned by Jesus, continues Jesus’s ministry as good shepherd of the new covenant community, and participates in Jesus’s threefold messianic office of prophet, priest, and king.
  13. Pastor-theologians, like priests, represent God to human beings (especially regarding requirements for holiness, by directing the people to God’s gracious provision in Christ Jesus for their ongoing sin) and human beings to God (especially by offering sacrifices of praise or thanksgiving and prayers of intercession).
  14. Pastor-theologians, like prophets, exercise a ministry of truth-telling, primarily (but not exclusively) with words, communicating a God’s-eye point of view, especially concerning the truth that is in Christ Jesus.
  15. Pastor-theologians, like the good kings of ancient Israel, personify God’s cruciform wisdom and righteousness through humble obedience to God’s Word, thereby modeling what citizenship in heaven looks like on earth.
  16. 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).
  17. Pastor-theologians in the early church used the ancient Rule of Faith to provide the parameters for understanding the theological realities that are part and parcel of the gospel, and to identify the God of Israel with the Father of Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things with the Redeemer of the church.
  18. At some point in the early church, bishops were not only pastors of local churches but also overseers of broader regions—“enlarged” pastor-theologians—responsible for representing the unity of the church, defending the true faith, and opposing error.
  19. Pastor-theologians in the Protestant Reformation were viewed primarily as ministers of God’s Word, whose discourse was thus more authoritative than any other earthly word.
  20. Pastor-theologians in the Puritan tradition excelled in using right instruction for the purpose of transforming hearts and lives, deploying the doctrine of God for the sake of godliness.
  21. Jonathan Edwards saw the pastorate as a “divine business,” a participation in Christ’s work of representing God to human beings (especially in preaching) and human beings to God (especially in prayer).
  22. Nineteenth-century revivalists like Charles Finney were more concerned with moving the will to repentance and faith through fervent public speaking than with correct doctrine, effectively demoting theology in favor of “results.”
  23. Nineteenth-century theologians faced academic scrutiny from scientists and philosophers and turned their attention to the project of regaining intellectual respectability, thus distancing themselves from the concerns of pastors in the church.
  24. Many modern pastors who came to see their vocation as a helping profession lost interest in theology since they were preoccupied with learning practical skills that would ensure success (i.e., results).
  25. The 1940s saw the beginnings of an evangelical remnant that sought to recover the historic vision of the pastorate as a theological office.

Read More