The Pastor as Public Theologian

An often forgotten role of the pastor is a public theologian. It is enough that the pastor’s life is under close examination as a religious figure, but more so once in the eye of the public. To be sure, the public eye misses nothing. The public eye will scrutinize and dissect any opinion that appears remotely controversial to the cultural rhythm. What is also forgotten is that the pastor serves as a medium of sorts between the culture “outside” of the church and the church congregants. Long gone are the days, according to Drs. Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, when the pastor eludes the public. It is urgent the pastor faces the public.

“The Pastor as Public Theologian” can be summarized to the points above, but obviously this book contains much more. The reader can sense the urgency of the call for pastors to become public theologians. In relation to Wilson and Hiestand’s book, “The Pastor Theologian”, this book takes the role a step further, that is, to the public. So not only are the pastors to be theologians, but also theologians in the public. This is a major push for the current religious right (some might say “rightfully” so). Regardless of your theological persuasion, it is necessary for pastors to be in the public eye.

“The Pastor as Public Theologian” is separated into two parts. The first discusses a biblical and historical model of the pastorate and roles of the pastor, while the second presents a systematic and practical theology of the role of pastor as public theologian. Strachan and Vanhoozer do well to present both cases. In the first portion,  Some might even find the relation between the Old Testament roles of prophet and priest and the present pastor to be troubling.

In the first portion, Strachan and Vanhoozer present the biblical and historical case. The first chapter discusses the relation between the role of prophet, priest, and kings from the Old Testament (Old Covenant), as well as participating in the ministry of Jesus and the apostles as outlined in the New Testament (New Covenant). A troubling aspect for some is this book is written from a covenantal perspective. However, the authors are covenantal theologians, so a book from a covenantal perspective is not all that surprising. Another aspect one might find troublesome is the relation of the Old Testament offices of prophet, priest, and king to the current pastorate. Their case is built upon surveying the roles these offices, and office holders served in Ancient Israel. Their case, then, is not so much exegetical as it is biblical theology (e.g., the purpose of the section). Of the same importance as tracing the biblical portion of the role is the historicity of public pastor-theologians which is chapter two, and Strachan surveys (mostly) Reformed and/or conservative theologians whom he believes embody the principle best.

The second section is the practical and systematic approach of which Vanhoozer is known for. He authors the two chapters of this section which discuss the “Evangelical mood” and the different practices of the pastor-theologian. Within the third chapter, Vanhoozer makes a compelling case for the need of seminaries to be within the bounds of orthodoxy (however, that boundary line is different for every seminary). The crux of the need for seminaries is stated well when Vanhoozer writes, “The seminary’s special vocation is to cultivate in students the knowledge and wisdom required rightly to handle God’s Word…The word wells richly when it permeates a person’s thinking, doing, and being” (126). He concludes this section with the practices of the pastor-theologian. These practices include proclaiming, teaching, celebrating, and demonstrating what is in Christ. It is paramount the pastor-theologian demonstrates these every day, “in season and out of season.”

Vanhoozer concludes with a comprehensive “Fifty-Five Theses Summary” on the need for pastor-theologians. It seems proper to end this book in the manner chosen.

This book is an important contribution to the field of pastoral and systematic theology. I encourage you, young pastor-theologian, theologian, or student-theologian, to pick up this book, read, reflect, and act as God leads, “for you are a gift from the risen Christ” given to “help build Christ’s church” (183).

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic through the Baker Academic Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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