I’ve talked to a lot of pastors over the years. Sometimes the conversation will turn to something of a theological or philosophical nature. I’ve been struck at the number of times these pastors have said something along the lines of “I really need someone like you in my life.” What they were intimating at was that the conversation alerted them how out of touch they were with current theological trends. I could see in their eyes a mix of guilt and pleasure. The conversation stirred old passions from seminary days when they engaged in daily conversations like this one with professors and fellow students. And though I never asked I suspect the guilt came from thinking that if they fostered this kind of friendship, with further dialogues, it might distract from their pastoral work. In their new book The Pastor as Public Theologian (Baker Academic) Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan make a case for the importance of the pastor as a theologian. The book offers a number of additional essays from pastors. Gerald Hiestand writes a compelling piece on “Six Practical Steps toward Being a Pastor-Theologian.” My next three posts will offer two of these points. Gerald Hiestand is the senior associate pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois and the executive director of the Center for Pastor Theologians. He is a PhD candidate in classics at the University of Kent (Canterbury) and the coauthor (with Todd Wilson) of The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Zondervan). Here are his first two points.
“Hire staff with vision. Building a staff that values theology will go a long way toward creating a robust theological culture at your church. I don’t recommend making staffing changes solely with a view to the vision of pastor-theologian. But if you oversee hiring at your church and are in need of new ministry staff, let me strongly encourage you to look for ministry partners who share your send of calling to theological leadership. If you can find a like-minded ministry partner who is serious about theological leadership, you will have overcome perhaps the most significant hurdle of the pastor-theologian: isolation. This is a significant disability to the pastor-theologian. In previous church contexts, I didn’t have a working environment where I could pop my head into the room next door and talk about how Aquinas’s prioritization of the intellect in conversion causes him to arrive at a different ordo salutis than Calvin, and the implications this has for the doctrine of total depravity (for example). Now I do, and the difference it has made is significant.
Get networked. Not all of us are in a position to hire a fellow pastor-theologian. Perhaps your church is too small. Regardless, the next most important thing you can do is to become involved in a network of like-minded pastors. Whether a denominational gathering, or an informal meeting of outside colleagues, having a network of pastoral peers who desire to engage theologically is crucial to sustaining your theological calling. Use Skype, connect at ETS, or start a blog. I meet monthly with two other pastors via Skype to discuss what we’ve been reading and writing. The regular exchanges help to provide a sense of camaraderie and motivate me to keep sharp theologically. However you do it, find a group of pastors who are committed to engaging theologically.”
The Pastor as Public Theologian is a hardcover with 240 pages and sells for $19.99.
Kevin J. Vanhoozer (PhD, University of Cambridge), one of the leading evangelical theologians in the world, is research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He previously taught at Wheaton College and the University of Edinburgh. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Everyday Theology, The Drama of Doctrine, Is There a Meaning in This Text?, and the award-winning Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible.
Owen Strachan (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he also directs the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement and serves as a Fellow with the Center for Pastor Theologians. He is the coauthor of The Essential Edwards Collection and the author of Risky Gospel.