Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Did Pastors stop being theologians or theologians stop being Pastors?

In a great post at First Things, Gerald Hiestand talks of the great divide that has come into being between Pastors and theologians -- acknowledging that the great Pastors of the Church were also great theologians and the great theologians were also great Pastors.  You can read his posting for yourself HERE. He begins with a very provocative comment:  Pastors, not professors, should be setting the theological agenda of the church.  I have excerpted a couple of his other paragraphs.

Historically, the church’s most influential theologians were churchmen—pastors, priests, and bishops. Clerics such as Athanasius, Augustine (indeed, nearly all the church Fathers), Anselm, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Edwards, and Wesley functioned as the wider theologians of their day—shaping not only the theological vision of their own parishes, but that of the wider church. In their day, the pastoral community represented the most influential, most insightful, and most articulate body of theologians.

Who can read the fathers of the first several centuries without hearing them speak as pastoral individuals who were ever conscious of their ministry within the church setting and to the people of God?  What is more missing today except the same pastoral dimension (except for a few voices on the world scene)?

When did this happen?  Why?  Did Pastors stop being theologians?  Certainly the rise of non-seminary trained clergy among some denominations has contributed to less theological discourse.  Certainly the times are moving away from dogmatic and doctrinal conversation to the realm of feeling and experience -- more relational.  Certainly there are abundant academic resources, individuals, and works that have flooded the marketplace and many have ceded the theological enterprise to the "professionals."  But is there more?

But since the nineteenth-century (in North America, at least) the center of theological reflection has shifted from the parish to the university. The pastoral community is no longer called upon—as a matter of vocation—to construct theology for those beyond their congregations. Instead, our present context views the academy as the proper home for those with theological gifts. Those with shepherding gifts are directed toward the pastorate. And those who are gifted in both areas? Well, they’ll have to choose. But can this be right? Do we really mean to suggest that the proper home of a theologian is in the academy, disconnected from the pastoral vocation?

Wasn't it Brevard Childs who opined upon the distance between Biblical theology and preaching?  I seem to recall that he was adamant that exegetical theology and textual criticism not exist simply as an academic discipline but must relate to and be seen through the lens of the Church's witness, proclamation, and life through the Word.  Could part of this be related to historical critical methodology, to the Joseph Campbell style of seeing all religious truth as basically the same and detached from event and fact, and to the way our modern culture has replaced objective truth with subjective reality and veritas?

I think that the Missouri Synod may be somewhat removed from this debate since we have a heritage of theologically trained clergy and a seminary tradition of training Pastors who are theologians and not the other way around.  But clearly our own church body suffers from those who have abandoned the theology of things in order to adopt methods that seem to work to pack the pews and fatten the church's wallet.  We have sent many folks to places where successful and fruitful practice trumps faithful dogmatic theology such as Fuller Theological Seminary.  They have come back with many things that are foreign to our experience and vocabulary but have been adopted almost without scrutiny.  I guess you could say we know that these things are not compatible with confession so we invented the idea of separating style from substance in order to make is possible to use things we feel uncomfortable about theologically and confessionally.

The same is true of liturgical things, as well.  We have learned to leave the theological side of the brain at the door in order to use what we think will work, will get us where we want to be, and accomplish what we want done (just in case God's work through the means of grace is not as effective or as efficient as we want it to be).

I am not sure what happened first -- Pastors stopped being theologians or theologians stopped being Pastors -- but it has not been good for the parish, for the theological enterprise, or for the Church.


Anonymous said...

The truth is every pastor is a
theologian whether he wants to be
or not. It is part of his vocation.
Unfortunately, some pastors are poor
theologians due to their priority of
becoming a CEO of their parish rather
than a resident theologian. Dr. Louis
Brighton of Concordia Seminary St.
Louis believes clergy should spend
half of their time studying the Bible
and theology and the other half
preaching, teaching, and making calls.

Anonymous said...

It should be noted that Brighton
practiced what he preached. He
was a parish pastor for 22 years
from 1952 to 1974 at London, England,
Decatur. Illinois, and Lexington,
Kentucky. He was professor of
exegetical theology at Concordia Sem
in St. Louis from 1974 to 1999 for
25 years. Dr. Brighton's gift to the
church is his Concordia Commentary
on Revelation. It is a great addition
to any pastor's library.

Bill Hansen said...

"Did Pastors stop being theologians or theologians stop being Pastors?"

In a word...yes.