Monday, July 20, 2015

Help Wanted: Pastor-Theologians! (Apply Within)

Remember your leaders,
those who spoke to you the word of God.
Consider the outcome of their way of life,
and imitate their faith.
Jesus Christ is the same
yesterday and today and forever.
—Hebrews 13:7-8

The great Notre Dame historian Mark Noll famously stated in his 1995 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

More than a quip, it was a lament, and it hit a raw nerve with many people. Allow me an observation in the spirit of Dr. Noll which will hopefully strike a similar nerve:

The scandal of the Church of Christ minister today is that he or she is rarely a theologian.

Where is the minister-theologian today, and what is this potentially extinct species all about?

In my opinion, the dearth begins with the common reality that many ministers in churches see themselves primarily as counselors, leaders, and motivators. This focus often comes at the expense of the theological office — the teaching and preaching roles in which our people are formed in the doctrinal and theological distinctives of the Christian faith. The lack has even led to the phenomenon of the “theologian-in-residence” in many Mainline churches. Notably this resident theologian is usually someone other than the resident minister, a point lamented by pastor and The Message translator Eugene Peterson, who says “my gut feeling is that the pastor should be the theologian in residence.”

We need ministers who are theologians. What I am advocating for is a minister who is comfortable navigating the grammar of the Christian faith from the perspectives of biblical theology, church history, historical theology, and systematic theology. To what end? To feed our people on a diet fit for a richer life of faith by uniting our pastoral ministry with theological formation. If you’re still not sure what I envision, then consider the union of theological formation and pastoral ministry as typified by Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Wesley, and Karl Barth and you will get the idea. Remember that all these folks were ministers and theologians.