For centuries, the local pastor was a public theologian. The pastor was a peculiar kind of intellectual (not an academic specialist) who “opens up the Scriptures to help people understand God, the world, and themselves” (1).
Today, this classical vision of the pastorate is all but lost. The revivalist movement of the nineteenth century exchanged the thoughtful messages of the Puritans for “the freewheeling pulpiteer, master of the homespun story” (88). This devolved to the place where a person like Billy Sunday could boast that “he knew as much about theology as a jackrabbit knows about Ping-Pong” (90)! The movement of theology from the church to the university also undermined the pastor’s theological role. Where Luther and Calvin were the leading pastor-theologians of their day, pastors are now pressured to take on a host of church-growth leadership roles while they leave theology to the experts in the academy.
In The Pastor as Public Theologian, Vanhoozer and Strachan passionately call for a return of the pastor-theologian. Pastors have a ground-level knowledge that academics will never have. Pastors are called by God to guard their flocks by challenging and weeding out false teaching.
Methodologically, Vanhoozer and Strachan divide the book into four sections, following the classical division of theology:
- Biblical Theology: The Old Testament roles of prophet, priest, and king are examined in light of Jesus and their significance for pastoral work.
- Historical Theology: The history of the church is reviewed and the devolution of the pastor’s role is charted.
- Systematic Theology: The moods of the Greek language (especially indicative and imperative) are used as a framework for examining the intersection between biblical and cultural literacy in the pastorate.
- Practical Theology: The various biblical roles of the pastor are reviewed to see how they contribute to the health of God’s house.
The chapters in this book are interspersed with twelve short essays from pastors who show how assuming the role of pastor-theologian has benefited their own congregations. The book then ends with “Fifty-Five Summary Theses on the Pastor as Public Theologian” (183). These theses condense the message of the book into six pages.
I would encourage every pastor to buy and read this book. It is not only an accurate diagnosis of a modern illness—it offers motivation and the first steps toward a cure.
—Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015).