Theologian = Writer.
That is often how we understand vocational theology. We equate theologians with academic writing. The fruit of theology is a book.
And certainly, those of us doing theology and biblical studies within academic domains are required to write.
Everyone in every job has to demonstrate some evidence of “output.” What do theologians have to show for their hard work? Books and journal articles. Academic theologians are assessed and measured by their writing output. In this model, the better theologian is the one writing the most articles and books at the highest quality.
Pastor-Theologians as Writers…?
But how well does this model work for theologians whose vocational domain is not the academy, but the local church? Are the best pastor-theologians those writing the most essays and books at the highest quality?
The hyphen in “pastor-theologian” creates quite a bit of vocational tension. To fulfill the “pastor” bit, there will be inevitably be less writing of books and articles. As Jason Byassee has commented in an interview on this blog, congregations should be allowed to beckon their pastor out of the quiet study to the hospital bed, graveside, or pulpit.
Does the “theologian” side of “pastor-theologian” therefore suffer because the “pastor” dimension limits the amount of theological writing?
The answer depends on how we define “theology.”
Congregations as Published Theology
I think we can agree that Paul could be classified as a “pastor-theologian.” As such, he did not publish theological tomes. One of the greatest Christian theologians of the early church, he did not leave us with sustained systematic reflections on the Incarnation of Christ or the Doctrine of the Church.
He left us letters. The media product of Paul the Theologian is a collection of his correspondences with localized churches.
But Paul seems to exalt another media product higher than his letters. The primary media product of a pastor-theologian may actually be a faithful congregation:
“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.” 2 Cor 3:2
The strongest attestation of Paul’s work as a pastor-theologian was not a published monograph or collection of essays but a publicly visible community of Christians. He seems content to construct his vocational reputation not on his academic feats but on his pastoral work in forming congregations.
More could be said. And of course, the media product of a pastor-theologian need not be either theological writing or faithful congregations. It could well be both. And the disciplines of theology and pastoral ministry inform and enrich the other. As a writer, I am in no way interested in diminishing the task of writing in the pastoral office.
But as it turns out, today is my day in the chaplain’s office, and pastoral appointments await….