The Pastor as Public Theologian, Reclaiming a Lost Vision by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan

The Pastor as Public Theologian follows the same lines as Gerald Heistand’s and Todd Wilson’s The Pastor Theologian and D. A. Carson’s and John Piper’s The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry. Vanhoozer and Strachan contend that pastors must be theologians, that every theologian is in some sense a public theologian, and that a public theologian is a very particular kind of generalist (pp. 5, 15-16). The aim of the book is “to reclaim the theological pedigree of the world’s boldest profession and to awaken the church to the immensely challenging, exciting, and joyful vocation of being an evangelical pastor.  Specifically, the present book sets out to reclaim a lost vision for three sets of people: pastors, churches, and seminaries (p. 2).”

During the Middle Ages serious theology moved from the pulpit to the academy, but was recovered by pastors during the Reformation. In America, revivalism associated with the Second Great Awakening separated theology from the pastor and churches and pastoring became a practical ministry, leaving doctrine to the professional theologians (pp. 87-91). A recovery of the pastor as theologian, without neglecting other shepherding duties, is imperative and is the purpose for the book (see p. 15).

The irony of neither Strachan nor Vanhoozer being a pastor is not lost even on the authors, which is why, I assume, they include short contributions mostly from twelve pastors (with two exceptions). Interestingly, most of the contributors have received at least part of their theological education from secular universities in the UK such as Cambridge or Oxford. There are hints of Christocentric hermeneutics (pp. 17, 63, 113), and quotes from questionable sources such as Rowan Williams (p. 20), Lesslie Newbigin (pp. 21, 119) and Tom Oden (pp. 23, 156). Strangely Strachan saw hope for the return of pastor-theologian in Harold Ockenga and the founding of Fuller Seminary (pp. 91-93), but he does not mention the rapid capitulation of Fuller toward liberalism.

Two highlights of the book are Gerald Heistand’s six steps toward being a pastor-theologian (pp. 29-31) and a listing of six “barrier beliefs” that make Christianity difficult to swallow in the post-Christian West by Jason Hood (p. 181).

Overall, the thrust of the book is an important one and the authors do a commendable job encouraging the return and growth of the pastor as theologian.

by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015), 221pp., paper $19.89

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher, Southern View Chapel.

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