Archive for category: Pastor-Theologian

The Media Product of the Pastor-Theologian (Theological Writing, or Faithful Congregation?)

05 Feb Andrew Byers
February 5, 2014

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….

St. Gregory the Great and the Pastor-Theologian | “The care of souls is the art of arts”

12 Aug Andrew Byers
August 12, 2013

I was scanning the patristics section in my college library when I found this:

Gregory the Great (540–604) was one of the most influential popes in the history of the church. One of his legacies is The Book of Pastoral Rule (henceforth, “PR” [1]).

Pastoring is an ancient craft, one Gregory calls (borrowing from Gregory Nazianzus [2]) “the art of arts.” I grabbed the book off the shelf for holiday reading material.

What intrigued me is the pastoral crisis Gregory was writing into. As the translator George Demacopoulos explains in his introduction to PR, an interesting phenomenon took place after Constantine’s conversion. As the Roman populace suddenly began flooding into the church en masse, many Christians believed the collective spiritual maturity became increasingly more shallow. Living out the faith seemed more authentic back in the pre-Constantine days, when being a Christian was less popular and even socially quite challenging. So many of the more ‘serious’ Christians made an exodus from the congregations of the masses to join monastic communities and embrace a more ascetic life.

Gregory, however, was calling these ascetics back to the churches to become pastors.

Well… not necessarily all of them. He highly valued asceticism and the monastic life; yet he knew that many Christians gifted for pastoral ministry were fleeing the parish to the monastery, so to speak.

What St. Gregory had found in his own life and throughout the wider body of Christ is that the attraction of a more spiritual and studious life can actually deplete the church of her best guides and pastors.

This temptation is very real today. For some of us, the academic life seems to afford a contemplative vocation of rigorous theological and biblical study. Oddly, a love for God’s words can actually become the means by which gifted ministers leave the parish and the pulpit. (Though let us note that many an academic will say that such a contemplative existence is a gross illusion!).

I leave you with the challenge of St. Gregory’s own words:

For there are several who possess incredible virtues and who are exalted by great talents for training others; men who are spotless in the pursuit of chastity, stout in the vigor of fasting, satiated in the feasts of doctrine, humble in the long-suffering of patience, erect in the fortitude of authority, tender in the grace of kindness, and strict in the severity of judgment. To be certain, if they refuse to accept a position of spiritual leadership when they are called, they forfeit the majority of their gifts—gifts which they received not for themselves only, but also for others. When these men contemplate their own spiritual advantages and do not consider anyone else, they lose these good because they desire to keep them to themselves. Certainly, the Truth [Jesus] spoke of this to the disciples: “A city set upon a mountain cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a candle and place it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick so that it may shine for everyone who is in the house” [Mt 5:14–15]. Hence, he said to Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And when Simon responded at once that he loved him, he said, “If you love me, feed my sheep” [Jn 21:15–17]. If therefore, the care of feeding is a testament to loving, then he who abounds in virtues but refuses to feed the flock of God is found guilty of having no love for the supreme Shepherd….
…And so there are those, as we have said, who are enriched by many gifts; and because they prefer contemplative study, they decline to make themselves useful by preaching to their neighbors, and preferring the mystery of stillness they take refuge in the solitude of [spiritual] investigations
. If they are judged strictly by their conduct, they are undoubtedly guilty for the proportion of their abilities that they applied to public service. For indeed, what is the disposition of mind when one could be distinguished by assisting his neighbors but prefers his own [stillness] to the assistance of others, when, in fact, the only-begotten of the supreme Father came forth from the bosom of the Father into our midst so that he might benefit the many? [PR, I.5]

[1] St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule (tr. George Demacopoulos; Popular Patristics Series 34; Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007).

[2] Gregory the Theologian, Apology for his Flight to Pontus, Or 2.

The Pastor-Theologian and the Small Church

25 Apr Andrew Byers
April 25, 2013

What is the best ecclesial context for doing theology as a “pastor-theologian”: a mega church or a small church?

This is the question of my previous post, and I take up on those thoughts here focusing on the small church context…

Theology in the Small Church

The vocational model of “pastor-theologian” sounds a bit too highfalutin’ for the “1st Baptist Church of Smalltown, USA” or for the village parish somewhere in rural northern England. High-brow theological training at multiple academic institutions can leave a minister feeling licensed for “bigger and better” positions in greener pastures (let’s just be honest… and the burden of student loan debt will certainly cause some of us to look for a certain salary range).

If we pastor-theologian-types can wrestle against our personal sense of ministerial grandeur, we might find that the small church setting can be a rather exciting environment for serious theological work.

Pastors of small churches cannot rely solely on their efficient management skills: they must relationally lead as well; nor can they rely on managerial executive pastors to run the church on their behalf while they devote the majority of their time to study: they must help balance the budget while reading Barth and Calvin. A small church pastor has to get into the relational, administrative, and political messes of parish life. There is no insulating layer of a highly qualified staff.

These messes may at first be viewed as distractions from the pristine work of doing theology.

Not exactly. In fact, theology that cannot engage and address a local church’s relational, administrative, and political messes is too shallow for the people of God and for the God of the people.

And when a pastor is personally wading in the muck of the parish, that’s when the parish will listen to theology and care about it.

Personally…

I’m not sure yet whether I will end up serving a local church or working in a seminary/divinity school when I complete (Deo volente!)  my PhD program. But when I was working on a Master of Theology degree a few years back, I was also pastoring a small Baptist church.

The rush and thrill of learning in a high-profile environment was exhilarating.

But if I didn’t have theology thick enough to sit in Jo’s living room after paramedics had just removed her husband’s body from her house, then the classroom experience was all for naught. If I didn’t have a theology thick enough to sit at a hospital bedside and help a nurse adjust the position of a sedated parishioner, then the impressive theological training was suffering a disconnect.

Of course, it is not entirely up to our theological instructors in the seminary and the div school to connect our theology to our ministerial labors. Ultimately, that is the job of the minister. And context helps make the connection happen.

In this regard, the small church setting was really helpful for me. It forced theology to leap off the pages and out of the libraries into living rooms, kitchens, hospitals, and graveyards.

The Ideal Context for a Pastor-Theologian: Small Church or Mega Church?

23 Apr Andrew Byers
April 23, 2013

In light of the previous post, “Will the Job Market Drive PhD Graduates into the Pulpit?“, I just wanted to think aloud with any interested readers on the ideal ecclesial setting for the vocational model of a “pastor-theologian.”

For more on how I am envisioning this model of pastoral ministry, see here and here.

I want to be careful not to promote some elitist brand of “minister” by writing so often about the “pastor-scholar/pastor-theologian.” The current pastoral leaders of the church are differently gifted and a vast range of divinely-guided inclinations are shaping their individual ministries. In using the term “pastor-theologian,” I am loosely referring to someone who engages the work of theology with all the rigor and zeal of academic theologians, but within the specific context of the parish and the pews of local church life.

But what sort of ecclesial setting is more conducive for the pastor-theologian: a small church or a larger one? There is no easy answer here because churches differ in their leadership structures, just as ministers differ from one another in their range of gifts and interests.

Pastoral Theology in the Mega Church Context

In this post, let’s just think for a bit about the potential for doing theology from the pastoral office of a mega church.

Many of our larger churches are led by CEO-styled ministers who are effective at governing and inspiring a sizable institution. This managerial model does not seem that viable for the sort of sustained reflection and quietness that attends what we normally think of as the work of theology.

Some mega church pastors, though, are permitted to devote their ministerial labors primarily to the preaching and teaching office of the church. Many of those we normally think of as high-profile pastor-scholars spend 20+ hours a week on each sermon. Their schedules are carefully preserved for studying and writing, while other manager-type ministers occupy themselves with the business of running the church.

The problem here, however, is that a pastor-scholar who gets this much time safely for reading and writing can be shielded from the daily life of the flock. Such a pastor-theologian, therefore, may not be able to do theology pastorally. Of course, if all that prep work is devoted to a sermon, then there is a powerfully pastoral element at work. Homiletics is essentially pastoral. Those countless hours of reading are usually devoted not to producing an erudite essay but a message for Sunday morning. But it should be acknowledged that being confined to a study and immersed in the works of biblical scholars and great theologians can become as much an “ivory tower” setting as the office of the professional academic theologian on the university quad.

Advantages and disadvantages abound. Any thoughts?

[Next post will be up soon focusing on the Small Church Context for Theology]

 

Pastor-Theologian: Will the Job Market Drive PhD Graduates into the Pulpit?

16 Apr Andrew Byers
April 16, 2013

While brewing a second cup of coffee to keep alert in my Greek readings this morning, I found Chris Spinks’ post “Avoid a PhD?” His reflections were stimulated by Anthony LeDonne’s most recent attempt to dissuade prospective PhD candidates from pursuing their vocational dreams (LeDonne offers such discouragement on a monthly basis).

The gist of the matter is that those of us in the throes of doctoral work are loading ourselves with ungodly gobs of debt to be qualified for jobs that simply do not exist. Universities are raising tuition and increasing enrollment, but theology and religious studies professors are among the least paid across all disciplines. More and more academic institutions are taking advantage of “adjunct” professors who teach courses for very modest stipends and for whom the institutions provide nothing in terms of healthcare or other benefits.

Spinks (aptly) summarizes the advice of one commenter on LeDonne’s post in this way: “If you are not independently wealthy, or if you don’t have the pedigree to get an advanced degree in the humanities paid for, then please leave these degrees to those who can afford them.” But Spinks is concerned about the fallout, that “advanced degrees in the humanities become attainable only by the privileged.” He goes on to suggest that “if these less fortunate folks avoid all of this [financial/vocational] mess (not an unwise decision, I’ll grant), we will end up with privileged people educating other privileged people. That would be a shame.”

I am certainly among the (partially insane) unprivileged who are taking on hordes of debt to study the Bible at the doctoral level (though, admittedly, just the fact that I qualify for a student loan plan and can even dream about a PhD evidences a hefty degree of privilege). To be honest, I would issue the same advice as LeDonne, while hoping with Spinks that some less-than-privileged folks will end up teaching Scripture and theology in our seminaries and Religion Departments. I could never recommend this vocational path to anyone without massive financial backing—my regrets are rather acute right now; but again, theology should not be the domain only of the financially backed.

Though I see no solution to the debt-problem, here is one silver lining that may well be at play: not finding a job in the academy, some Christians may be redirected from the academic lectern to the ecclesial pulpit. Perhaps the job market and the wider culture’s disinterest in theology will have the effect of proliferating pastor-theologians throughout the church.

Obviously there are drawbacks here. For one, ministry is a calling and the pastoral office is not well-served if filled by a disgruntled academic whose dreams in the academy have been dashed by an economic recession. Secondly, the sort of training one gets as a PhD candidate is not necessarily conducive for promoting the sort of theological and biblical acuity required in ministerial labors.

But “calling” is often a matter of redirection, isn’t it? What some people might retrospectively call “divine calling,” might be understood at first as a “divine cornering or redirecting!” Saul of Tarsus, for instance, never envisioned how God would put his intensive academic training to use. His vocation as an apostle arose out of the ashes of a Christ-exploded vocational dream.

As for the sort of academic training involved in the PhD… well, a lot of it is simply unhelpful in a church context, sadly. But the greatest benefit of doctoral work in theology and Bible may well be the skill of reading hard texts and the discipline of thinking about them with nuance and care. And we could certainly use the fruit of those skills and disciplines in our pulpits today.

Theoretically, Christians working on PhDs are already plying their craft to the glory of God and for the benefit of the church. When the doors of the ivory towers are barred shut during the job hunt, will they turn to pulpits and pews?

That begs another question: will the pews and chapel doors be open to academically trained theologians and Bible scholars?

Hmmm…

 

 

The Poet William Wordsworth on the Pastor-Theologian

19 Sep Andrew Byers
September 19, 2012

I visited Rydal Mount a few weeks ago, the home of poet William Wordsworth.  My father-in-law was visiting us here in England, so we spent a couple of days in “the Lakes” (besides my father-in-law, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were apparently also sighted in the Lake District that week).

Rydal Mount sits just on a sloped hill affording a view of both Windermere and Rydal Water.  With the gardens elegantly manicured, inspired by the tender care the poet gave to every flower bed, stone and patch of green, the place feels like a dreamy sanctuary.

When we were leaving, my father-in-law bought me a collection of Wordsworth’s poetry from the gift shop.  I will be reading those sonnets for the rest of my life.  I was pleased to come across this one, called “Pastoral Character,” from the Ecclesiastical Sonnets (number 18):

 

PASTORAL CHARACTER, William Wordsworth

A genial hearth, a hospitable board,
And a refined rusticity, belong
To the neat mansion, where, his flock among,
The learned Pastor dwells, their watchful Lord.
Though meek and patient as a sheathéd sword;
Though pride’s least lurking thought appear a wrong
To human kind; though peace be on his tongue,
Gentleness in his heart – can earth afford
Such genuine state, pre-eminence so free,
As when, arrayed in Christ’s authority,
He from the pulpit lifts his awful hand;
Conjures, implores, and labours all he can
For re-subjecting to divine command
The stubborn spirit of rebellious man?

 

A few things stand out to me….

For one, Wordsworth’s portrayal is of what I would call a “pastor-theologian” or a “pastor-scholar.”  Note the phrase “learned pastor,” and given the way ecclesiastical structures work in England (and noting the setting of the mid-1800s), many pastors/priests would be among society’s intellectuals, though the clergy often worked well beyond the pale of where most elites worked (like in remote country parishes, for instance).

Another observation is the restrained sense of power and authority.  There is tension between exerting force and exhibiting meekness.  I think good pastors live in this tension.  The line, “meek and patient as a sheathéd sword,” is a powerful illustration of ministerial restraint.  There is a might, a sharp-steel element of danger in the pastor.  Not a danger posed to the flock, but to evil, to twisted thoughts, to deception.  The place of conflict is the pulpit; the means of engagement is exhortation (“Conjures, implores, and labours all he can”) and the authority is that of Christ.  But again, note that these images of strength are balanced with the weight of statements about meekness and peacefulness of heart.

Another observation, made from the initial lines, is that the pastor’s home (the “mansion” probably refers to a parsonage or vicarage) is a safe, open place wherein the members of the flock feel at ease.  The pastor’s home is as critical as the pastor’s pulpit.

So the pastoral character is that of a soul exuding comfort and peace while also engaging evil in the realms of the pulpit and the hearth, the chapel and the home.

Good stuff.

 

Interview with Jason Byassee (pt. 2): The Rift between Church and Academy

02 Aug Andrew Byers
August 2, 2012

This is the 2nd part of our interview with Jason Byassee (for part 1, scroll down or click here).  We have written quite a bit on the idea of the pastor-scholar / pastor-theologian here at HR (see previous posts for some links).  Jason’s pastoral and writing ministry seems to hug the edges of the (sometimes over-emphasized, sometimes under-acknowledged) divide between the church and the academy.  We are glad to feature some of his wisdom here at the blog….

 

Church, Academy, and the Pastor Theologian
HR: You used to have an office ensconced within one of the most esteemed academic institutions in the land (oak-lined quads, Gothic-style architecture, and a state-of-the-art library, even!).  What do you miss about the academic setting?  And what about the parish setting has been most freeing or most constricting?  

I really miss the library. Appalachian State University, the institution without which Boone would not exist, has a good one, but trying to borrow the obscure stuff I need for my work is really hard. The interlibrary loan people see me as a guy off the street, which technically I am. It’s almost tempting to adjunct just for the library card or use of the school’s sports palace.

App is a growing and strong academic institution that’s comfortable in its skin. It hitched its wagon to the green economy stuff before it was cool. It serves its region beautifully. And it’s growing in sustainable ways. Duke is constantly unhappy with itself. It was founded in 1920 to catch Harvard, founded a third of a millennium before. You have to hustle to do that. That hustle makes Duke great. It also makes Duke constantly dissatisfied with itself, and that affects how people treat one another.

At Duke I was surrounded by brilliant people with worldwide reputations in their (very narrow) fields who rarely even spoke with one another. In the church I’m surrounded with brilliant people, not all of them academics blessedly, and I usually get to have conversations with them much more easily than in Durham. But we talk about their work—in business, medicine, parenting, academia etc. The range of conversation is so much wider. The academy is great at going deep, not broad. The work I’m doing now often goes both deep and broad. It’s more intellectually challenging in some ways, with less bluster.

I do feel less shielded from the culture now. Broader culture has become more coarse, more outraged—outrage is the only coin in fact. FoxNews and talk radio are to blame for this. People deal with me as though those are appropriate ways to do so. And the church is made up of really kind people who aren’t good at standing up to their fellow members when they’re being bullies. Who is good at that really? Sometimes that’s my job, to stand up to people when others won’t. And I don’t like it anymore than anyone else. Surprisingly academia can be more civil than that.

 

HR: Suspicion towards intellectualism and academic institutions persists or even flourishes in many local churches (and sometimes for good reason, of course).  How can pastors inclined toward rigorous intellectual pursuits promote a healthy vision of the “pastor-scholar” within local churches and the wider community of faith?

Maybe my parish is different in this—I don’t find my folks anti-intellectual at all. They don’t want me to hide in jargon not designed for them, and I don’t blame them for that a bit. We do have town-gown tensions that come out in church. Someone thanked me once for praying for Boone’s businesses. Seems obvious—they’re struggling, like everyone’s. But what she really meant was that I’m sometimes solely focused on the university in my preaching and prayer. There are other industries in town. She was gracious in pointing out a genuine oversight.

One way this comes out is in how the church receives historical criticism. On that I find folks all over the map. Some want me to affirm historical accuracy on every point; others are reading Spong. This doesn’t trouble me. I don’t trust in historical criticism either, and it’s not my job to pass judgment on ‘what really happened.’ My job is to bring Spong readers and other fundamentalists of all kind closer to Jesus. They both want to be close to Jesus in their deepest selves, under the tarnished imago dei. So I think some of the strain between theological academy and parish in modernity has been something like this, “How come they don’t want to hear about Q or deuetero-Isaiah in my preaching?” Answer: because historical re-creation cannot save. Neither should it be feared.

 

Counsel for the seekers…
HR: Granting that everyone’s situation is different, what general counsel would you offer for young women and men in the church who are intellectually gifted and dreaming of doctoral work in theology or biblical studies, yet simultaneously sense a call to ministry?

Eugene Peterson borrows from Denise Levertov a description of a dog walking, “intently haphazard.” That’s been my life. There is no single job on which to land. Pursue what lights you up. That’s a sign from God, a healthy, gospel-shaped ambition. Do it as a servant to increase love of God and neighbor. There will be more kinds of jobs in the future, not fewer, with social media’s proliferation and new forms of church and the academy’s bubble perhaps bursting on the horizon (its funding model can’t be sustained, and competitors will move in that aren’t as stupid as the for-profit industry). So study hard as an expression of love of God and neighbor. I had no idea 2 of the 3 jobs I’ve had existed. This one, which I did know about, I was both hopelessly overtrained and underprepared for. That makes it really, really fun.

Checking back in with Jason Byassee (pt. 1): Theology, Writing, Social Media & the Local Church

30 Jul Andrew Byers
July 30, 2012

For our series on “Loving the Church” in all its grit, grime and glory, we had some exchanges with Jason Byassee.  Before accepting an appointment as Senior Minister at Boone United Methodist Church (North Carolina), Jason worked at Duke Divinity School, heading up their Center for Theology, Writing and Media.  Since a lot of our posts here at Hopeful Realism have prodded and poked around with the idea of the pastor-scholar or pastor-theologian (most recently, see here and here), we were intrigued with the news of the job shift—it is not everyday that someone leaves a coveted academic post at a prestigious university for the pastoral trials of the parish.  We interviewed Jason last year (click here) in what turned out to be one of my top five favorite posts of 2011.  We thought it would be fun and helpful to check in and find out how plying the fused craft of theology/writing/ministry was faring….

 

Writing and Reading as a Pastor

HR: How have the past several months as a pastor shaped your writing?  Any change in style, content, length… or changes in topics of focus? 

I certainly have a less romantic view of the parish! The small church cured me of that in one way (I wrote about this in The Gifts of the Small Church), but a largish church (1400 members, 700 on Sunday) cures in another way. There are more critics. There are also more selfless servants. And those are often the same people! Sunday is more of a performance, and that’s not a bad thing. We can do more in mission. We’re also a tall steeple in a town that’s still Christendom enough that being a visible member can help you advance in your career. Odd—but there’s nothing to be done about that other than to receive it as a gift. We’re in a university town with an entrepreneurial spirit. Those are all gifts, all potentially dangerous, potentially sources of grace.

I’m struck by how much of my job is leading staff. I have no idea how to do that other than not to do what supervisors I’ve had did that I disliked. Of course merely avoiding things is no way positively to lead. I find myself faking it far more often than I’m comfortable with. But lots of senior pastors tell me they’re doing the same.

I find my view of theological education growing. Smart people are right to demand sophisticated intellectual engagement that respects and takes them seriously. But academia often serves up inside baseball debates when it thinks it’s being intellectual. Who has the patience for that outside the guild? Folks want preaching that engages their life with the treasures of the church and harsh realities of the world and takes their minds seriously. Some sui generis geniuses can do that, but that’s not most of us.

I’m sure all that’s shaped my writing some. It comes in smaller bursts of time, certainly. To be honest I know what I’m doing when I write but not when I’m leading, so writing can be an escape in the negative sense for me.

 

HR: How has serving as a pastor expanded (or constricted) your reading and studying? 

I find I read more fiction. I’m not sure why exactly. I wish I had a theory that I found narrative helpful in reading scripture or reading the congregation or working with words but it might just be fun. I certainly read more commentaries and sermons. When I get ready to preach I see if I have a sermon on a text and am sure to read it. If I’m being extra diligent I’ll read commentary on it, but not always. Modern commentary always feels the need to act more clever than anything that came before, so I get annoyed and distracted by that.

I also read things parishioners give me. Not email forwards usually, but books, and I try to work what I learn there into sermons. I both want to show them we can discover things together and I want genuinely to know what they’re reading and thinking about.

 

HR: How does your process of sermon-writing differ from the research and writing you have done for more academic purposes?

More is at stake. A sermon declares the word of God in a specific time and place, a word that judges and saves, contradicts and makes whole. Academic work also has its place in God’s purposes, but less is up for grabs. It’s second-order discourse (borrowing from Robert Jenson here): it offers reflection on scripture or church at a remove, potentially correcting or encouraging things being said in first-order discourse like sermon or church teaching. But if an academic piece gets things wrong, who cares?

That said, ideas do have legs. Terrible theologies of suffering or salvation or politics get disseminated from a variety of sources and can do harm. I’m also aware of my own post-liberal training more than I have been. The temptation is to try to turn people into liberals before they can be turned into post-liberals! Of course there’s no credit for doing that. The better goal is to approach Jesus together and see how we’re changed for having done so.

It certainly matters who I imagine will be listening on Sundays. I often find myself thinking how specific people will hear things. I hope that’s not selling out on the gospel—I believe it’s not, but it seems unavoidable anyway.
HR: You have devoted considerable amounts of time and energy to studying Patristic exegesis.  Do the approaches of those early writers on Scripture give shape to your own exegetical practices as a pastor?

They must, but I’m not sure how. Augustine is rigorously textual in his preaching. Graham Ward calls this a “letteral” sense—Augustine’s paying exacting attention to the letter, but not doing what we moderns think of as “literal” reading. Scripture has a fulsome sense, it includes history and letter and language, all that is remote. Yet it’s also brought near us in Christ, as he leads us in discipleship now. The fathers know this: that the bible is both far away and unbearably near. Monica is a good image for Augustine’s preaching. She’s uneducated but fiercely intelligent, pious and superstitious in one way, in another dramatically dedicated to Jesus in ways that affected generations. My parishioners are far more educated than Monica in a formal sense but not in theology—otherwise it’s a perfect bullseye.

 

Media as a Pastor
As a Research Fellow with the New Media Project, I know that you spend a lot of time thinking about media.  How are social media incorporated in your pastoral ministry?

Not near as well as they should be, but better than they were when I arrived. We had a 90’s era flash presentation on site that just screamed “dated.” Now we have a pretty nice looking site, put together by a lay staffer and good consultant. We have a Facebook presence where we had none before. We’re not using it very well yet. I’m struck anew by how difficult it is to connect to people in social media as an institution. They work so much better for individuals. I’ve got 2500 Facebook friends; something like 160 people “like” Boone UMC. So we’re trying to ask people what I ought to preach on etc. But it’s slow.

Personally I find it much easier to connect to people via text message or Facebook than it ever was with the tools around when I was last in the parish—phone and email. I like praying on people’s Facebook wall on their birthdays. Social media is a great way to connect with first-time visitors. All that is borrowed from folks we studied in the New Media Project. I like Tony Lee’s language—pastor of Cathedral of Hope AME in DC. He says new media increases his “pastoral touches.” Sure enough—folks I’d never connect with in person, who don’t elbow their way through the greeting line to get in the pastor’s attention—I can connect with really well digitally. It only works if face-to-face and social media work integrally.

But I don’t claim to have this figured out at Boone UMC in the slightest.

 

[Part 2 of the interview will be up in a couple of days on " The Rift between Church and Academy and the Pastor Theologian".... ]

Here are Jason’s books if any of you are interested—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Responding to Gerald Heistand on the “Ecclesial Theologian”

14 May Andy
May 14, 2012

I have been writing on the vocational idea of the “pastor-theologian.”  The recent series of posts was inspired by Doug Sweeney’s article at the Gospel Coalition, whose “call and agenda” should be received with both excitement and urgency.

Related to these thoughts, I recommend this post by Mark Stevens who is studying Eugene Peterson’s model of a “pastoral theologian.”  Also, here is an interview co-blogger Joel Busby and I did with Jason Byassee on “the tension between the hyphen of pastor-theologian” when we heard he was leaving Duke Divinity School to serve as a Methodist pastor in Boone, NC.  That interview is easily one of my top five favorite posts here at Hopeful Realism.

Changing the Blog’s Tagline

In the midst of my recent writing, thinking, and praying about the pastor-theologian model, I realized I needed to change the tagline of my blog.  The current one above is a temporary replacement of the previous, “Writing and Thinking as Cynic-Saints and Pastor-Theologians.”  I just felt so pretentious identifying myself with the latter (a presumption which I wrestled with openly in the “About the Blog” page).   Currently, I serve in no ministerial post, so “pastor” is not appropriate for the moment.  And as a PhD candidate, I am realizing more and more how unworthy of the title “theologian” I am!

Hence, the new tag line.  A benefit to the medium of a blog is its changeability, right?

Interacting with Gerald with SAET

Another benefit is the opportunity for discussion.

I was so pleased that Gerald Heistand (Exec Director of SAET and Senior Associate Pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, IL) read and replied to the last post.  I felt that his comments and the reply I started to submit were worthy of a post to themselves.  Gerald rightfully reaffirms his idea of an “ecclesial theologian” (see his paper here for more), and responding to him gives me a chance to let readers know of my motivations in HOW I have been writing on the “pastor-theologian” model.  I confess: there has been a strategy underway… but I hope a helpful one.

Gerald:

Andy,

Appreciate the post and the interaction with my essay. I agree with everything you’ve written here, and think you’ve done a very good job of articulating the worth and value of the “local” theologian. And further, I think the local theologian may indeed be more important than the ecclesial theologian, for the immediate health of the church.

My only point (and I think its an important one) is that we’ll not ever really be able to reposition the pastorate as a theological vocation, and thus raise up a generation of local theologians, until we reestablish the ecclesial theologian as a viable vision of the pastor. The reason even local theologians tend to be in short supply is because we consistently send our (writing) theologians into the academy, thus perpetuating the notion that the pastorate is atheological. We can’t consistently and chronically send all of our future (writing) theologians into the academy, in many cases telling them NOT to go into the church, and somehow think that the pastorate will be conceived of as a theological vocation.

So I think we’re shooting at the same target, but maybe have slightly different routes for getting there. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on this…

Gerald

Me:

Gerald!  Thanks so much for the reply.  And yes, I think we are both shooting for the same target.  I have been strategically approaching the issue by intentionally trying to think of the pastor-theologian model from a varying range of angles, specifically from perspectives that would view that vocational calling as threatening (in the case of churches who may have legitimate—or even illegitimate!—suspicions toward the academy) or as disparaging (in the case of fine pastors I know who feel repeatedly belittled by higher brow intellectuals while they conduct their labors in the daily grind).  I am trying to craft my public thoughts on the pastor-theologian “from below,” I guess, in hopes of somehow increasing the receptivity (and sharpening the perception) of the pastor-theologian model.

You are right that I have been posting mainly on the pastor-theologian as a “local theologian” (to use your helpful term).  But I fully endorse your call for an “ecclesial theologian” who writes and produces the highest quality of scholarship for the wider church from the social location of the local church.  Absolutely and amen.  What you all are doing with SAET has helped broaden my own vocational imagination.  Those of us who sense a call to ministry along with a call to academic work see an inevitable fork in the road between those two institutional/social settings of church and academy.  You are helping us recognize that we bear some responsibility for making that fork less divergent than it currently is!  Bravo.

As you suggest, many doctoral students (like myself, of course) must indeed consider with great care your model of the ecclesial theologian, which will hopefully help us reconceive the pastorate as a setting for intense theological work.  It may well be divine providence that an increased degree of interest in rigorous theological study is coinciding with a situation in which the number of academic posts out there has constricted!

With thanks,

~Andy

Doctrine Adorned (not necessarily Published): How the Pastor-Theologian Articulates Theology

11 May Andy
May 11, 2012

[This is the third post in an ongoing discussion on the Pastor-Theologian in response to Douglas Sweeney's article, "A Call and Agenda for Pastor-Theologians."]

My friend Gerald Hiestand has made available an excellent paper  on the pastor-theologian.  I know of no one more devoted to articulating this vocational vision for my generation.  If you are grasped by the ongoing conversation, check it out.  It is very, very good.

His piece stirred a couple of questions for me:

What type of “theology” does the pastor-theologian produce? 

And…

How should the discipline of theology change when conducted within the church rather than the academy?

Central to the discuss about the pastor-scholar / pastor-theologian is the institutional gash between academy and church, a chasm freighted with a vast and complicated series of historical developments and visually depicted as reforged in some sense by that little hyphen in the vocational terms at hand.

(I just love that hyphen).

Now that the rigorous intellectual engagement with theology and Scripture seems to have shifted more toward the academy, Gerald makes this chilling observation:

“…not only has the church become theologically anemic, but theology itself has become, in many instances, ecclesially anemic.”

Wow.

The church-academy divide has resulted in a pastoral ministry that is more practical than theological—in other words, pastors are more focused on administration, counseling, evangelism, community development, hospital visitation than they are focused on studying and writing theology.

But are not those practical pastoral tasks articulations of theology?  If the church recovers its theological vocation, should the discipline of theology be most properly embodied in study and in writing?

The Pastoral Epistles (1, 2 Timothy and Titus) are perhaps the most sensible collection of New Testament texts to turn to for guidance on for direction on ecclesial leadership.  Within these three letters “doctrine” is of prominent significance.  But this doctrine is to be articulated not only through preaching and teaching but also through praxis.  Doctine is practically expressed.  When Paul (okay, I know this is contested, but let’s just assume the Apostle is indeed the author) writes against that which is “contrary to sound doctrine” he has produced not a series of theological propositions or statements but a list of lifestyle choices (1 Tim 1:8-11).  Theology—the crafting, assessing, and working out of doctrine—is expressed in ethical and practical terms as well as in writings and teachings.

In Titus, we are encouraged to “adorn the doctrine of God” (2:10).  This clothing of ourselves in theological garb (what a great image!) means treating each other respectfully and lovingly (see the wider context, 2:1-10).  The church’s theology is to be expressed relationally and ethically, as well as homiletically and textually.

The discipline of theology within the academy is ultimately textual; that is, academic theologians are working with texts and producing texts.  You are not regarded a professional theologian in the academy if you are not publishing (the rite of passage for the PhD is a publishable thesis or dissertation).

The call for pastor-theologians is a call for theology to become once again moored within the harbor of the church.  But surely the endeavor will be sabotaged if the church recovers a robust interest in rigorous theology but allows the (secular) academy to define the discipline.  Theology published is one of the primary measures of the discipline as plied in the academy.  Theology adorned (lived and practiced) is one of the primary measures of the discipline as plied in the church.

This is not to say that writing and publication are theological projects to be viewed with suspicion—we know the image of adorning doctrine because we read it in a canonically published text!  I am contending, rather, that as the church seeks to think as rigorously about theology as academic theologians, then it will need to redefine theology as a discipline, which will include a broader imagination as to how theology is articulated.  Visiting the sick in the hospital and reading Scripture at a graveside are powerful demonstrations that “he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows’ (Isa 53:3).  Taking the time to meet with a couple in a disintegrating marriage embodies the reality that God is a “wonderful counselor” (Isa 9:6) and that Jesus is maritally bound to His people.  These theological articulations may bear much greater fruit over a lifetime and beyond the parish than even a published work.

So… the theology of the pastor-theologian: doctrine published?  Sometimes.  Doctrine adorned?  Always.

This should come as an encouragement to those pastors who are not so inclined to write.

It should also comes as a tremendous challenge….

Articulating robust theology through writing may not be included within our pastoral calling, but the articulation of robust theology is indispensable.  For our “practical” labors to be expressions of expansive, rich theology, however, they must be sourced in a rigorous life of studied fixation on the Gospel and the God the Gospel announces.

[To be clear, I am not writing against anything in Gerald's essay.  He is calling for "ecclesial theologians" who write theology out of the "steady rhythm" (p. 10) of dealing with the dire needs of the flock.  He is well aware that many pastors will not have the gifts or inclinations to write publishable theology.  Much of what I am saying in this post applies to the model of the pastor-theologian as "local theologian," as he defines it in his paper.]

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