Book Review: The Pastor as Public Theologian

Nate PickowiczBook Reviews, Christianity1 Comment

I remember getting into a theological discussion with a pastor one time, and at the end of our kerfuffle, he looked at me and asked, “If you had the choice, would you rather pastor a church or teach in a seminary?” I’ll never forget his puzzled look when I responded, “Pastor a church.” Because of my intrigue with theological discourse, he simply assumed that standing in front of a group of budding seminarians would best suit me, and couldn’t fathom why I would want to do the messy, non-glamorous work of pastoral ministry.

For many today, the general assumption is that brainy, theologically-minded scholars belong in the academy, while rugged, servant-oriented pastors belong in the churches. However, this distinction is a false dichotomy. In their book, The Pastor as Public Theologian, Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan unseat this two-pronged myth, and make their plea for a robust amalgamation of both realities simultaneously existing in one pastor.

In the Introduction, Vanhoozer addresses the problem that has crept into Christendom, where theologians have fled the church for the academy, leaving Christ’s Bride starving for sound doctrine. He writes, “While theologians shoulder the primary responsibility for demonstrating the importance of doctrine for discipleship, pastors cannot afford to neglect theology or to wait for someone to broker peace talks between biblical scholars, systematic theologians, and practical theologians.”1 This no doubt conflates the problem, as we are in the midst of a theological and biblical illiteracy crisis! He adds, “The way forward is for pastors and theologians to bear one another’s burdens, responding together both to the ecclesial amnesia of the academy and to the theological anemia in the church.”2 Both entities are in trouble, and he posits that the ministry of pastor-theologians is the solution.

The core issue is that “theology is too important to be left to the ‘professionals.’ Every human being is accountable before God for responding to the knowledge of God that is available… [and] ‘Ordinary’ Christians (if such a thing exists) are able to read the word of God with some measure of understanding and, again, are responsible for responding in love, trust, and obedience.”3 Ultimately, theology cannot exist only in the seminaries, as every-day believers need to know the Lord (John 17:3). Local pastors are responsible for bringing what is hashed out in the seminaries, and teaching and applying it to believers.

In making the case from an historic perspective, Strachan notes, “Pastors have a tremendous spiritual heritage, though one wouldn’t necessarily know it from today’s evangelical media.”4 From the Old Testament ministries of Israel’s prophets, priests, and kings, to the New Testament pastors and teachers, and into the early church—the role of pastor-theologian has been ever-present. Strachan brings the reader through a tour-de-force of biblical and church history, noting some of antiquity’s most notable laborers: Irenaeus, Tertullian, Chrysostom, Augustine, Anslem, Luther, Calvin, the Puritans, Edwards, Kuyper, Niebuhr, and Ockenga.5 The model and mandate for pastor-theologians is pronounced throughout history.

Vanhoozer explores the purpose of the pastor-theologian, noting that, in sum, he “cures despairing souls by sharing the joy of the risen Christ.”6 He is to serve the body, ministering faithfully. He must be a generalist—able to speak to all areas of life from the Word. He must not be lacking in common sense, but also must be steeped in “canon sense: the ability to interpret particular passages of Scripture in light of the whole Bible.”7 As Spurgeon liked to say of Bunyan, “Cut him anywhere and he bled Bibline!” We need more Bunyans.

Beyond fulfilling the transcendent purpose of preaching and applying the Word to the church, the pastor-theologian also has practices he must attend to. Whether it may be discipleship, evangelism, counseling, visitation, preaching and teaching, catechizing, or administering the ordinances, the pastor-theologian functions as an “Artisan in the House of God.”

To what end is all of this to be done? Vanhoozer asserts, “The ultimate end of theology, as with all things human, is the glory of God.”8 All that is done, both in the seminaries and in the churches, exists for his glory. Pastor-theologians are facilitators and administers of the efforts that are done to the ultimate end. In conclusion, “pastor theologians are gifts from the risen Christ, helps in building Christ’s church, especially by leading people to confess, comprehend, celebrate, communicate, commend to others, and conform themselves to what is in Christ.”9

The Pastor as Public Theologian smashes the false dichotomy that pastors and theologians must be separate. They ought not to be. In the end, they cannot be. We need robust, godly, intellectual, compassionate, zealous pastor-theologians to leadthe sin-soaked and starving flock of God to the rich pastures of His living Word.

May a whole new generation of pastor-theologians rise up!

Title: The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision
Author: Kevin J. Vanhoozer & Owen Strachan
Publisher: Baker Academic (August 11, 2015)

Purchase: Amazon

Nate Pickowicz

Nate Pickowicz

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Nate Pickowicz is the pastor/planter of Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. After being called into ministry in 2009, he led a team to plant in 2013. He and his wife Jessica have two children.


Show 9 footnotes

  1. Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015), 7.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., 16.
  4. Ibid., 70.
  5. Owen Strachan has published his doctoral dissertation on Harold J. Ockenga in a work titled, Awakening the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015.
  6. Vanhoozer and Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian, 108.
  7. Ibid., 114.
  8. Ibid., 139.
  9.  Ibid., 183.