The Need for Pastor Theologians

Authors and pastors Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson lament the chasm between academia and the church

The authors make a good case that without pastor theologians, theology has become ecclesially anemic, and the church theologically anemic. While it’s a blessing to have academic theologians working on specialized topics, such as whether James Dunn’s interpretation of Paul viewing the Jewish law as an ethnic boundary marker is correct or not, we also need students of the church who will help us see why that matters. We need pastoral theology that will “deepen the health and faith of God’s people” (91).

Authors and pastors Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson are “resurrecting an ancient vision,”  that ofThe Pastor Theologian. In their book, they lament that with the rise of the academy, theologians and intellectuals tend to find their home in that atmosphere, while pastors “no longer traffic in ideas. They cast vision, manage programs, offer counsel, and give messages…We no longer expect a pastor to be a bona fide, contributing member of the theological community” (11). And this has caused a chasm between academia and the church. As a result, “theology has become ecclesially anemic, and the church theologically anemic” (13).

The authors make a heart-felt case by offering a brief sketch in church history on the “great divorce,” a plea for why we need to reunite theology with the church, and some practical ways to bring us forward. They describe three types of pastor theologians, as local theologian, popular theologian, and the one they want to spend the most time encouraging, the ecclesial theologian. While the pastor as local theologian focuses on the theological needs in the context of their own congregation, the pastor as popular theologian extends his leadership beyond his congregation. And the main focus of the book, the pastor as ecclesial theologian, “constructs theology for other Christian theologians and pastors” (80).

As an informed layperson, I appreciate this call for the importance of pastor theologians. We live in the time of the gluttonous Christian bookstore. How are lay people to be equipped on how to discern the so-called Christian literature marketed to them? Most will gravitate toward popular level books, but while the title may appear to offer the theological guidance they are hoping for, the content may leave them worse off than they were before cracking open the book. Where can the ordinary person go for guidance to their real-life questions about how God works in the lives of his people? Timothy George opens the Foreword of the book with a quote from William Ames, “Theology is the knowledge of how to live in the presence of God” (7). This is not a mere intellectual quest. It shapes our everyday lives and it is an eternal matter.

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