The Pastor as Theologian, 2: The Modern Division of Pastors and Theologians

The idea that depth of learning and theological concern should be relegated to the classroom while the “practical” aspects of Christianity should be reserved for the church is deadly. It was perverse when liberals espoused it in the first half of the twentieth century and it is no less diabolical when advocated–even if subtly–by conservatives.

The separation of the role of the pastor from that of the theologian is a modern development…How did the separation of this unified calling occur? One significant factor has been the church’s abdication of its theological task. The Apostle Paul declares the church to be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). This means that the church is the steward of truth. We must recognize, therefore, that God has give to the church the responsibility to confess, reflect upon, and apply the truth, which is simply another way of describing the work of theology.

The Christian faith is inherently (though not exclusively) doctrinal. The truth which God has revealed throughout all of redemptive history and which culminates in Christ is to be explored, understood, explained, proclaimed and defended. Thus, truth is to set the agenda for the church.

Where this understanding of the church prevails, the pastor will be seen primarily as a “truth-broker.” He will see himself responsible for doing the work of theology-studying, proclaiming and applying God’s Word.

Tom Ascol, “The Pastor as Theologian”

As Ascol implies, if a pastor abdicates this role as theologian for the church, he is acting essentially no different than the liberals of the early 20th century who minimized the centrality and authority of Scripture. It is not only possible to minimize the centrality and authority of Scripture as a conservative, it is a rather common occurrence. Sermons become the opinions of the preacher, shallow in content and without the ability to change lives.

The only corrective for this trend is for pastors to reclaim their role as theologians. This is not to imply that the pastor’s job will look like the theologian’s in the academy.

It does mean, however, that the pastor will have the same conviction of the theologian that what people need to hear is sound doctrine. Not his ruminations on the text. Not his last minute thrown-together sermon. Not his bypassing of observation and interpretation of the text just to get to the application that will please his listeners. A pastor-theologian understands that many parishioners are starving for a substantive Word from God.

In Part 3 we’ll look at the preaching of a pastor-theologian. To conclude, we’ll return to Tom Ascol’s article:

Recovering the pastor-theologian model is not optional for a ministry which is committed to being biblical. God’s Word requires pastors to see themselves in this light. Though this approach to ministry will require going against the stream of modern thinking, the benefits are far reaching.


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