The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision By Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2015, 187 pp.
In The Pastor Theologian, the authors seek to redefine the sometimes narrow scope of the local pastor. The tasks of modern pastors are many, from the administrative to the caring of souls. The authors see the role of the Theologian as a necessary addition to pastoral responsibility. As Timothy George notes in the introduction, “This book seeks the renewal of the church through the retrieval of the historical model of the pastor-theologian.” The authors advance through their organization the Center for Pastoral Theologians (CPT), a multi-denominational group with the cause of renewing genuine theological research at the local pastor level. Theology is not just for the academic.
Gerald Hiestand is the co-founder of the CPT and the Senior Associate Pastor at Memorial Church in Chicago. Hiestand has written two subsequent books, Becoming a Pastor Theologian: New Possibilities for Church Leadership (Center for Pastor Theologians Series, 2016) and Creation and Doxology: The Beginning and End of God’s Good World (Center for Pastor Theologians Series, 2018). Both books focus on complementary aspects of the thesis for The Pastor Theologian.
Todd Wilson is a Ph.D. Cambridge graduate and co-founder of CPT. He formerly served as Senior Pastor for Calvary Memorial Church in Illinois. Wilson has authored 12 other published works on various topics for laity and academic studies. Wilson and Hiestand have collaborated on several of these works previously.
The first chapter opens with a review of pastoral identity, traditional and modern. Here we find the pastor-theologian as the exception currently due to the pastor’s time constraints and the lack of awareness toward profound theological contributions by local clergy. The times have changed, and pastors should no longer think of their contributions to theological topics outside of their responsibilities. The authors propose that the church has become eccleisally lifeless as well as theologically lacking. The argument presents the fact all Christians are qualified for studying and contributing to theology.
The second chapter is a well-documented review of the history of the Theologian in the clerical role. The historical summary is complex, noting issues of politics, literacy, and the availability of actual books. Chapter three offers the reasons for the demise of the traditional pastoral-theologian function in North America and Europe. The reasons are the enlightenment, the “new science,” and the end to Aristotelian physics. For example, In America, urbanization and specialization produced large cities, which further separated people from their churches. This results in cities, the civil government became the authority rather than local clergy as in the past. The forces of the American revolution called for a more egalitarian look at structures of power.
In chapters four and five, the focus is on the “Anemia” of the Church and Theology. A lack of contribution by pastors toward theological research leaves the church weaker. The resulting loss is “the theological integrity of the church.” Chapter five opens with the narrative of a potential associate pastor’s interview. The interviewee is offered the advice, “Be ready to explain why you got an MA in theology.” This stunning admission brings to bear the book’s thesis, not toward anti-intellectualism but toward the accepted belief that clerical functions should remain focused solely on their congregation. According to Ratzinger, the divergent theological methods lack the spiritual perspective necessary for a complete theological study that results in proper Chrisitan formation. In conclusion, the divergence in vocations separated individuals seeking an academic career path since the pastor cannot practice theology.
We begin to see solutions to the pastor-theologian problem in chapters six and seven. The difference between the ecclesial and local Theologian can be remedied locally by a theological writing ministry. Heistand and Wilson cover three ways that this new ministry can form. The local Theologian, a pastor with more experience in contemplating the theological needs of their church. The popular Theologian is defined as the go-between for academic theology and the local congregation. And thirdly the ecclesial Theologian who “writes theology to other Theologians and scholars, drawing upon the wealth of resources in the most enduring works of the church….”
Chapters eight and nine conclude with a summary of the need for the local pastor-theologian, but the path is not simple. The additional role of theological labor has to be well thought out and intentional. Training for the position includes getting a Ph.D., networking, and publishing.
I believe this book does complement the field of Theological knowledge. The authors offer real-world experience in local churches, so their testimony presents as genuine. Peer review is excellent in endorsements by well-known scholars in the field. The book is also easy on the lifestyle of the reader at only 128 pages.
In conclusion, regardless of the reader’s intention toward taking on the role of pastor-theologian, it should be read by pastors and laity to appreciate an important aspect of ministry for their church. Any issue found lacking in the book can be answered by the subsequent complementary publications and the pastortheologians.com website, which contains information on fellowships and conferences.