Tuesday Review: Becoming a Pastor Theologian

Becoming a Pastor Theologian: New Possibilities for Church Leadership represents a growing shift in pastoral studies. The editors, Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand, note that there is very little biblical scholarship coming from the church itself. Rather, a lot of pastors are left reading other people’s work, and that work is not necessarily aimed for the church. This volume comes as an effort to address that issue. With contributions from a wide array of authors, each shows us how to be a pastoral-theologian: to do the work of shepherding a flock, and creating biblical scholarship for that flock.

With that aim in mind, the editors put together a book that collects contributions from pastors with different foci, theological views, and writing styles. The result is wide coverage of many different issues, but thankfully the contributors are able to keep this from staying surface level. Many books of this nature fail to really capture the depth of each discussion they endeavor to touch; rather, they seem content to dip their toes into too many pools. Each contributor, including greats such as Kevin Vanhoozer, Peter Leithart, Jamie Smith, all approach this problem, and the core thesis of the book, in their own ways. For some, like Leithart, they combine their already great knowledge of biblical theology with the work of the pastor. Others, like Jamie Smith, approach the role of the pastor in a political world. Those who recognize those names know it would be hard for those two to stay on the surface.

The book is divided into three sections: The Identities of the Pastor Theologian; The Pastor Theologian in Historical Perspective; and the Pastor Theologian and the Bible. The first section details the ways in which the Pastor Theologian operates in his community. He is a biblical theologian, but also a political and cruciform theologian. All of these identities form us, and inform the way that we do theology in the church. Ths section is easily the most successful of them all. All five of the authors are able to delve quite deeply into their section, bringing a wealth of knowledge into their work. This is probably because all five contributors of this section are well-known, so most readers will come in with plenty of background knowledge of their views and what they might say in this situation.

The second becomes less helpful, but only because the first was already so great. The section on the Pastoral Theologian in history takes a lot at famous theologians from the past, noting how their ecclesial context mixed with their work in biblical theology. So, for example, the first section on Calvin takes a look at Calvin in his context. A lot may be familiar with his story already, but may take away further insight by the new way his life is framed here.

The third section is the least helpful. This section probably has some of the most experimentation of all of them, which leads to a varying degree of success. One strong section notes how exegesis must be done with the church in mind. Here, he tries to resolve a contradiction between John 3:22 and 4:1-3. Instead of laying out a simple apologetic defense, he shows how this issue may be resolved in the church. Another section, The Female Ecclesial Theologian, bites off far more than it can chew, and does not succeed in wrangling all of these points back together again. At times, it feels like a rehashing of points we’ve heard before about the woman’s role in ministry, and it reads as overdefensive (which, honestly, I’m not in a place to determine if that’s a proper reaction or not). Other times the author is not able to get as deep as she would like. In a way, I’d rather this article have been given more time to breathe; but I don’t think it should have been fully removed from the book, either. She makes good points that should be heard, whether or not the whole of the article felt cohesive and comprehensive. (To be fair, many in this section became maybe too adventurous, so most of them didn’t finish all that they set out to accomplish.)

Starting off strong, Becoming a Pastor Theologian is a helpful tool for anybody who wants to be in ministry. Even at its weakest, any of the essays bring a good perspective from the table, each able to teach us at least one thing about being a pastor. As a whole, the contributors are able to challenge us to become more theologically minded and take better care of the flock below us.
(I was provided a copy of this book for review from IVP, but I was not asked to leave a positive review, only a review at all. You can buy it on Amazon or from IVP.)

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