Becoming a Pastor-Theologian

This course explores the interconnection between the role of the pastor and the role of the theologian with some practical insights on how to merge the two.


Introduction: The Importance of Pastor-Theologians

The concept of the pastor-theologian is seeing something of a revival of late. As fresh challenges press in on the Church and as more church leaders follow pragmatic ideals rather than the precepts of Scripture, the importance of pastors who are grounded in doctrine is clearer than ever. In the following series of addresses, this idea of the pastor-theologian will be explained in various ways. Each address is connected to a chapter in the course textbook, below. But before diving into the role of the pastor-theologian, first take a few minutes to consider the importance of the pastor-theologian from both the positive and negative angles in the two videos below.

  • The Positive: What Is Added

  • The Negative: What Is Lost

Reflection Questions
  • Why does Vanhoozer believe that some pastors should also be theologians?
  • What is the role of the pastor?
  • What example does Vanhoozer give of the different types of questions a pastor-theologian may ask versus the questions an academic-theologian? Are there other similar examples in your context?
  • What examples does Vanhoozer give of the errors that creep in when pastors are not expected to be theologians?

Course curated for The Gospel Coalition by Cole Shiflet.

The Pastor Theologian as Biblical Theologian

Biblical theologians study the Bible for the church hermeneutically, homiletically, and liturgically. Biblical theology is not only done during times of sermon preparation but also during times of sermon proclamation.

Reading Assignment
Reflection Questions
  • Should preaching always be done with Eucharistic application?
  • How do hermeneutical endeavors fit alongside the other responsibilities of a pastor-theologian?

The Pastor Theologian as Political Theologian

The role of the political theologian is to equip the people of God to read the secular work of our city. These political laws nudge us towards becoming a certain type of people.

Reading Assignment
Reflection Questions
  • What does the life of Augustine teach us about the work of the political theologian?
  • How should believers engage with the secular world around them?

The Pastor Theologian as Public Theologian

The role of the public theologian is to use preaching as the way to interpret the Scriptures, theologically. Their responsibility includes leading the flock that God has given them.

Reading Assignment
Reflection Questions
  • Why is it important that public theologians realize that they exist in heaven triumphantly, in the world militantly, and in earthly places habitantly?
  • How do public theologians engage in people who gather in the place that they inhabit?

The Pastor Theologian as Ecclesial Theologian

There are three types of theologians in the church, the local theologian, the popular theologian, and the ecclesial theologian. The local theologian teaches through the weekly sermon and cares deeply about theology. The popular theologian’s influence extends beyond the ekklesia and takes theology into the academic realm. The ecclesial theologian conducts theological scholarship within the local church while having conversations with other theologians.

Reading Assignment
Reflection Questions
  • In what areas does the local theologian lack?
  • In what areas does the popular theologian lack?
  • What can the ecclesial theologian teach the local and public theologian?

The Pastor Theologian as Cruciform Theologian

The cruciform theologian is a theologian familiar with suffering. During the time he was writing The Institutes of Christian Religion, John Calvin experienced great persecution and hardship, yet this suffering actually led to an intense focus within him.

Reading Assignment
Reflection Questions
  • What are some of the ways that your experience with suffering has clarified your understanding of Scripture?
  • How have you seen suffering push you to prayer?
  • In what ways does suffering equip us to destroy moralistic therapeutic deism?

The Problem for Pastor-Theologians

“I wish I had more time.” It’s the perennial frustration of pastors. The ever-increasing pull of responsibility is a major reason for pastoral burnout. So where do pastors begin when they recognize the need to exercise their responsibility as theologians? It begins by reevaluating our priorities and understanding how our culture has shaped how we do what we do.

Reflection Questions
  • What are the expectations of your pastoral role that consume the majority of your time in ministry?
  • Consider those pressures and expectations. What aspects are connected more to the secular culture around you? What aspects are clear priorities from God’s Word?
  • According to Smith, what is the source of the expectation that theology would be done primarily in the university setting?

The Future of Pastor-Theologians

Reflection Questions
  • How is the paradigm of “pastor-theologian” reshaping how next generation leaders are thinking about the academy and the pastorate?
  • What are some biblical examples of the unity of the “mind of Christ” and the “Body of Christ” imagery that Vanhoozer employs?

The Work of Pastor-Theologians

The pastor-theologian, as with many other types of scholars, exists in a sort of “in-between” space. James K. A. Smith offers some thoughts on this tension.

Reflection Question
  • How do theologians work in the “in-between” spaces?