The Table Podcast

The Pastor as Public Theologian

In this episode, Drs. Darrell Bock and Kevin Vanhoozer discuss the pastor as public theologian, focusing on the minister’s identity and mission.

Timecodes
00:15
Vanhoozer explains why he wrote The Pastor as Public Theologian
03:06
Vanhoozer defines the term public theologian
06:41
Critiques of current pastoral practices
09:21
Why do some pastors neglect theology?
14:27
Why do some pastors lose interest in theology?
18:59
Pastors as public theologians and the “medium of theology”
23:28
Pastors should promote the integration of faith and work
29:54
Pastor-theologians, like prophets, exercise a ministry of truth telling
34:06
Pastor-theologians must respond biblically to current issues
39:05
Pastor-theologian must be a “holy jack-of-all-trades”
41:38
Pastor-theologians must increase biblical literacy in their churches
Resources

Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer, The Pastor as Public Theologian, Reclaiming a Lost Vision

The Culture Translator https://axis.org/ct/

Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture, and our topic today is the pastor, both as he is and how – and as he should be. And our guest is Kevin Vanhoozer, who is research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, better affectionately known as TEDS, and he is with us via Skype. It take it from Illinois. You’re still in the Illinois area or your Skyping in from somewhere else?
Kevin Vanhoozer
No, I’m ten miles north of Trinity.
Darrell Bock
Okay, so where? From your home or –
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yes.
Darrell Bock
Very good.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Where I live and work and have my being.
Darrell Bock
There you go. Well, that’s true. All of us live and work and have being if we exist, so that’s good. We’re glad you’re alive, Kevin, and you’re gonna help us work through the idea of The Pastor as Public Theologian, Reclaiming a Lost Vision. This is a book that you did [with] Owen Strachan what, five years ago or so? Am I right about that or is it longer than that?
Kevin Vanhoozer
It feels more like three.
Darrell Bock
Okay, all right, and you worked through a vision of what the pastor should be. I’m gonna just let you tell the story of how you two came to write the book and what the thesis is, and then we’ll just dive in.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Okay, well, Owen is a former PhD student of mine and he overheard a remark I made. I don’t think it was off the cuff, but it was something to the effect that I was saying that the pastor should be evangelical as a default public intellectual and the sermon should be the prime mode of theological interpretation of scripture. And he latched onto that sentence and said, “We ought to write a book about this.” And at the same time, both of us have involvement at the nearby Center for Pastor Theologians. It’s a fairly new venture, but I think very exciting and successful and two pastors there have also got this vision for recovering the role of the pastor theologian. And Owen was part of one of the fellowships in that group and I’ve been involved with as well. Those two factors together, my off the cuff statement and then our joint involvement in the Center for Pastor Theologians, but led him, who – Owen is a very entrepreneurial kind of guy. He whispered in my ear and in a moment of weakness, I accepted to co-author this book with him.
Darrell Bock
So watch what you say. It will be used against you in a court of law, huh?
Kevin Vanhoozer
It will be, yes.
Darrell Bock
I’m glad you all engaged in this and you’ve already stated in real brief what the core thesis is. Develop it a little bit. What do you mean by the public theologian and we may end up having a little bit of a conversation here between okay, theologian, what kind of a theologian are we talking about it? Because I’m a biblical studies guy and you’re a systematics guy, and rumor has it the twain rarely meet, but in fact, we actually work very much together and side by side.
Kevin Vanhoozer
We do indeed. Yeah, the operative term is theologian in fact because our concern was that pastors have ceded that role to academics. And we think that that is a modern distortion of the way pastors have normally gone about their work in the church. And the loss of the pastor theologian is a losing prospect for the church. The church has nothing to gain by not doing and being familiar with theology. On the contrary, theology is supposed to build up the church and so we felt that the pastors have somehow lost their vision for what their vocation actually is and that this is not a good thing for the body of Christ.
Darrell Bock
So, your take is that too many pastors are pastor theologians.
Kevin Vanhoozer
And sometimes not even with the whisper and so the problem is our culture is very powerful. I think our culture colonizes our imaginations. It forms our spirits and I suspect that cultural pictures of what a leader is has – have made their way into the church. And everybody wants to be a success and if our models for success are taken from society, then it only stands to reason that we should do the same things in church to become successful leaders that, I don’t know, generals do or CEOs and maybe presidents. And I think that’s what’s happened, is that people have wanted to adopt models of leadership and port them into the church, and in the process, the idea of a theologian, that doesn’t seem to be as exciting or as loaded with potential for success.
Darrell Bock
O.K. And of course the Hendricks Center here in Dallas is dedicated to Christian leadership, which the adjective is very, very important. It isn’t leadership of any kind. It’s particularly a Christian leadership. That automatically suggests the import of theology in how we think and how we do what we do in leading. Here’s how I wanna go at this ‘cause you’ve written a whole book on it, but you did us a service at the end of the book in the conclusion with the 55 summary theses on the pastor’s public theologian.

I hear echoes of Luther in the background and so what I did is I went through this list. There’s no way we can discuss all 55 of these and kinda divided your assessment into two categories, what I call critiques of the pastorate as it’s being practiced and then the call of the pastor. Kind of a recall to what it ought to be. I want to go through it in that order and so I start with number one. The church is in danger of exchanging its birthright for a mess of secular pottage in the place where one might least expect it, in the pastorate. The floor is yours. What are you getting at in that point?

Kevin Vanhoozer
We’re all worried about secularization and we all know that it’s a problem, but I don’t think we are perhaps sensitive enough or aware enough about is that the problem may be in the place where we’d least expect it, right in front of the church. That is in what pastors think they’re doing and what they’re saying. For example, if a pastor thinks of himself as an entertainer or a businessman or a manager of programs, which is often times what pastors seem to have to do, is manage people and programs, then they might begin thinking in management terms. And I’ve heard many pastors say that they wish they had earned an MBA rather than an MDiv. That leads me to think that there’s a picture of success that has infiltrated their thinking and I wonder if that picture comes from scripture or from the secular society.
Darrell Bock
Your idea is that’s a bad trade.
Kevin Vanhoozer
That’s a bad trade. I think once you begin thinking of the ministry in career terms, you’re on the wrong path. I’ve been influenced by Eugene Peterson here. Eugene Peterson wrote a book on vocational holiness and he makes a really important distinction, I thinik, between a career and a vocation, and he says careers are about making our name great. Vocation is about making God’s name great. And the way we pursue those two different paths is very different.
Darrell Bock
Now I take it that – and this relates to the second point that’s on the critique, so I’ll wrap it in ‘cause it’s basically the same point, a little more focused. This is number two on your list. Pastors, together with the churches they serve, are too often held captive by pictures of leadership. For example, managers and therapists drawn from contemporary culture rather than scripture. Let me push back a little bit in a gentle way and say it isn’t that you’re saying that these skills are unimportant or shouldn’t be considered in the pastorate, but when they become the primary drivers of the pastorate, then we’ve got an imbalance that’s actually not doing the church a service.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Right, administration is a spiritual gift. Obviously we are concerned to minister the word and to provide healing doctrine of salutary health giving. And Jesus was a healer. There’s obviously a place for secular knowledge in the church, but it’s not in the driver’s seat. At best, it should be in the copilot seat.
Darrell Bock
Okay, so the third point here is the location of theology in the academy, together with disciplinary separation between biblical studies and doctrinal theology neither serves pastors nor the church. So our very talking together is a sign that we’re not here, but it is a risk that happens that we so siloed these disciplines from one another that sometimes one is given the impression, particularly in going through seminary, that one has to choose between these disciplines rather than connecting them to each other.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yes indeed and students have to choose between the disciplines, particularly if they go onto PhDs. I have had many students in my office saying I’d like to go on. I don’t know if it should be in New Testament or systematic theology or Old Testament. And they have to choose because we live in a society that, at least in the university system, has specialized knowledge and tends to reward specialization and tends to look down, to some extent, on generalists as perhaps not being qualified to write textbooks for university presses, for example. But yes, I’ve had to live with this dichotomy in the seminary as well as more broadly between biblical studies and theology for a long time and I’ve tried to chip away at that wall. I think it’s a dividing wall of hostility that ought to come down.
Darrell Bock
We’re all into reconciliation of the various parts of the body that work together. I agree with you very much there, but the backside of this point is that a pastor is really a generalist. He’s got to be able to handle a core exegesis of the passage on the one hand, and its theological results on the other, and what that means. Have a little bit of understanding of the history of the church as well. We don’t expect him to give his life to any one particular area of that, but we do expect him to be familiar enough to have facility to move between those different platforms, if you wanna think of it that way. Is that what you have in mind?
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yeah, exactly, but it’s not easy and the fact that sometimes departments have a hard time talking to one another because they’ve developed different vocabularies, different conceptual schemes, different societies, different journals, different dictionaries and so on, the fact that departments have a hard time talking to each other mean that the students have to integrate in a way that sometimes they do not see modeled in seminary.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I think that’s very fair. Yeah and – go ahead.
Kevin Vanhoozer
I think being a pastor, because of this necessary bringing all these aspects together to minister the word of God, being a pastor, I think, is more challenging in many respects than becoming a specialist where you can just develop a tunnel vision, one little area of knowledge that will be your territory and then you can forget about all the other areas of knowledge. We’re asking pastors to do something that is quite difficult and yet very rewarding and absolutely necessary for the health of the body of Christ.
Darrell Bock
The danger is, if I can summarize where we’ve been already, there’s a nearsightedness that can come from specialization. There’s a farsightedness that can come from being too influenced by culture and so we’re really asking people to – pastors to think about the – a middle path that is sensitive to culture on the one hand and sensitive to the various disciplines that feed into biblical studies on the other, but that balances and sees the value and relationship between those parts with a commitment to doing theology very much at the center of what one is doing.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yeah, this is why it’s so challenging to be a pastor. You have to know God’s word and you have to have a competence in the world we live in, and then you have to be able to bring God’s world to bear – God’s word to bear on the world we live in. This is not an easy task and yet this is the privilege and responsibility of being a pastor.
Darrell Bock
And we haven’t even mentioned yet, you might be able to put that altogether, but then to be able to communicate it to an audience that’s able to connect and follow you is yet another challenge, another layer of this conversation.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Right, and to do it at a level that would be accessible to the congregation and presumably there are people at different levels in the congregation. It’s a little bit like lecturing to a class of students, with some who have no prior knowledge of the Bible, others who may have been to a Christian college. Even in a seminary classroom, I find that I have students at very different levels and the challenge is somehow not to lose those who are just beginning and not to bore those who’ve been at it for a long time.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, all very fair. The last part of the critique statements that I wanna look at is I’m gonna jump all the way from the first four to number 24. And it says many modern pastors who came to see their vocation as a helping profession lost interest in theology since they were preoccupied with learning practical skills that would ensure success, that is results. And this is the creeping danger that you’re alerting people to and I think it’s fair to say it’s not because, again, the concerns about how you minister to people, et cetera are unimportant or that you want to set them aside, but you want the pastor to be able to bring something to that engagement.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Right. The only thing that a pastor really has to give the congregation that some other human social worker doesn’t have is the word of God. And so we want our pastors to know the word of God, to understand it. That’s theology. If you aren’t bringing theology into the pulpit, you’re not giving the congregation what they deserve. You’re giving them something less, something that they could find elsewhere. Maybe they could find it elsewhere in even more professional mode like counseling. Yeah, I think in the 1960’s and 70’s, there – Karl Menninger wrote a book, Whatever Happened to Sin?, and he discovered that seminarians – and this is the 1970’s, mind you. He discovered that seminarians were losing confidence in their vocation because they saw all of these other helping disciplines, especially psychotherapy, and they had, again, journals behind them and concepts and major theoretical figures. And I think some of the pastors asked what can we do to help people? How can we make a difference? And it’s a great question, but it’s tragic that they weren’t able to answer it and say we minister the word of God.
Darrell Bock
Yes, and in fact, when I was reading that section of your book, I was thinking to myself maybe that title would be shortened today, to simply whatever happened. We wouldn’t get to sin. Yeah, I agree. The centrality of the word of God. I like to say to people if you ask, in my mind, why mainline denominations have struggled, it’s because theology has become so much like everything else going on around it, that people ask what do I need religion for. And so when you bring the distinctives of the word of God, and particularly the distinctive ways in which the word of God looks at life, which is often countercultural, et cetera, you’re bringing something that’s important and is inherently a framer and corrective to where we go instinctively. That’s very important to the pastoral responsibility.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Right. If we had more time, we’d probably have to criticize pastors in these different traditions differently, the liberal tradition versus the conservative traditions. But I think both are in danger of wanting to do what the other nations do, wanting to be successful or accepted. And I think it often results in a very bland kind of preaching, where there’s nothing to offend because nothing offensive has been said. Nothing radical has been said, particularly about the cross or the resurrection. These are radical realities we’re supposed to be talking about.
Darrell Bock
Maybe the metaphor is when Israel longed for a king like the other nations and God alone wasn’t good enough, but let me turn to the call. Let’s turn to that side ‘cause you have some very positive things and instructive things to say about the pastorate. I’ve got a ton of these. I don’t think we’ll get through all of ‘em, but it says – this is number six. Pastors are public theologians because they work for, with, and on people. The gathered assembly of the faithful and lead them to live to God, bearing witness as a public spire in the public square. Now that’s an interesting metaphor at the end, the public spire in the public square. Fill that one out. What do you after in this point?
Kevin Vanhoozer
Okay, well, these are dense sentences. I think we need some exegesis here, but the two – the operative contrast you’ve highlighted. In part, that’s because of the book cover. I didn’t choose the book cover, but there is a church spire in the background on a main street, American main street. There’s a sense in which the church used to be the most prominent feature of the land. The whole idea of a steeplechase, being able to race cross country by going from one church steeple to another indicates that at one point, the church was the prime witness in our country. Now that seems to have been taken over by the public square, where there’s a different kind of discourse that takes place. One challenge is how can we speak as Christians into the public square, and I compare the church as a holy nation set amidst another nation. And our job then is to be an embassy of sorts to the world we live in.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, or we’re called to be ambassadors for Christ in 2 Corinthians 5. And the thing that strikes me about this pictures is if you’ve ever lived in Europe, you know that particularly the older cities, it used to be that the church was the highest point in the city. If you looked at a church landscape from a distance, the thing that would stand out most is the spire of the church. Now you look at the landscape of most cities, et cetera and you’d be hard pressed to find a spire in the midst of everything else that you’re looking it. Same kind of picture.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yeah, I’m happy to report, I just came back from Switzerland, where I was doing some lecturing. And at least in Zurich, in the old city, the altstadt, that’s still the case. You can still find your way around by looking at the various spires of these wonderful reformation churches. Let me go back though, if I may, to the first thing you said though about public theology. Let me just underline that because the contrast there is with professional or academic theology. I think a lot of people might associate theology as working with ideas and concepts, and obviously there is that, but I’m also suggesting that theology, the ultimate task, is to form people’s thinking and their hearts and their spirits. In other words, theology, at its best, is to transform people’s lives and so the pastor is doing theology not because the pastor wants to write books, but the pastor is working on these living letters, these members of the church. And the people are the medium of theology and I think this is, to me, very exciting and encouraging, but it also is intimidating because working with people is much more difficult than working with books or ideas.
Darrell Bock
Because they talk back [laughs].
Kevin Vanhoozer
This is the ultimate theme. What’s that?
Darrell Bock
Because they talk back [laughs].
Kevin Vanhoozer
They talk back. They push back. They resist. Exactly, but this is real life and pastors are doing the real work of theology, which I would argue is about getting real. That is working with people to help them live out the reality of Christ in their lives.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, this is one of the reasons why we’ve emphasized the role of what we’ve called cultural engagement here, is because the idea here is that people are made to really show the relevance of God’s presence in all spheres of life. And to do so in a way in which the distinctiveness of the Christian perspective is obvious and the role and the value of theology and theological thinking is valuable to people. And we’re looking at some of the issues of the call of the pastor. I’m gonna pickup with number seven next, and it goes pastors are not unique in building others up into Christ. All Christians share this privilege and responsibility. There’s something I wanna inject in that when we – as we discuss it ‘cause I think it’s an important point. But rather in being put into a position of overseeing this building project. That’s a very interesting observation. I want you to fill that out for us. What do you mean by overseeing this building project?
Kevin Vanhoozer
What I have in mind in that thesis is pretty much the reformer’s idea of the office of the pastor. Luther, for example, said – affirmed the priesthood of all believers. Every believer has the right and responsibility, the privilege of ministering the word. The question then normally arises, so what’s different about the pastor? And though Luther affirms the priesthood of believers, he also affirms the set apartness of ministers of the gospel, people who would have a special responsibility to teach others, to proclaim the word, to celebrate the Lord’s supper and the like. That’s what I have in mind when I speak of overseers.
Darrell Bock
And when I think about this declaration that not all are unique in building up others into Christ, an area that I think has become prominent here recently in thinking about this is the role of Christian business people in encouraging faith and work, and the whole faith and work perspective in churches. This is a wonderful example of you’re not talking about pastors here, but people who bring a unique experience and a unique combination of skills that can help the church with regard to a vocation where many people spend most of their adult life. And help them think through the application of that and the failure to address that area is – almost produces a black hole in our discipleship and in our holistic thinking that almost unintentionally reinforces a secular sacred divide.
Kevin Vanhoozer
I agree. The dualism, the idea that certain things are church related and related to Christ, and other things are not, that cuts at the heart of what the disciple is to be bringing together. A disciple follows Jesus in everything that they do. I agree. This initiative to think through the implications of faith for everyday work, very helpful for the project of making disciples.
Darrell Bock
And this may be a case where the pastor and the businessperson, the pastor and the layperson, as we sometimes say it, although that can obscure the fact that we’re all ministers in one sense, really need to work together more tightly in some ways so that all of life gets addressed in the activity and in the perspective of the church. Part of being a public theologian is recognizing the variety of gifts that exist in your midst.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yes, and this is another good example of why theology has to be public. It’s done with people and so public has that dual meaning. It’s done with people and sometimes those people are actually doing their work in public. That is in the – before the eyes of the watching world as business people are.
Darrell Bock
Okay, now the next one that I’m gonna take on is number ten. As I said, I’m skipping around and we’ve already alluded to this, but it’s worth developing. The pastor theologian is a particular kind of generalist, you say. One who specializes in viewing all of life from the perspective of what God was doing, is doing, and will do in Jesus Christ.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yes, so this comes back to my understanding of theology as basically saying what is, talking about reality, but with a special interest in what God is doing and through Christ. That may sound like a very particular focus, but in fact, it’s the most general thing one could be interested in because all things that were made were made through Christ. In Him, all things hold together. This one idea, what is in Christ, is actually another way of talking about a whole Christian worldview and the history of creation and salvation and consummation. It’s specific. That’s why it’s a particular point, but it’s a specific truth that encompasses everything, so it’s also general.
Darrell Bock
And here’s another huge challenge because the story of scripture obviously is the story of creation, redemption, and consummation in one sense. There’s also a huge element of restoration in that move from redemption to consummation, which means that we live in a fallen world that’s full of tension. People don’t respond the way God desires or even in line with the way God has designed them when He made them in their image. And so we end up – people are pastors ‘cause they deal with dirty sheep and the pastor is one of those dirty sheep as well. This realignment of life, if you wanna think about it that way, is a huge challenge for the pastor in the church and in their engagement with larger society.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yes, but again, this is why we need physicians or shepherds, because we have people who are sick and are lost. And in ministering to these people, pastors are simply imitating our Lord, who was the great shepherd and the great physician. But yes, Christ’s ministry was to set things right and it’s happening already in Christ. Things have been put right, but we’re not there yet and so when I speak of what is in Christ, I have to qualify my-is because factually not everything is set right. But eschatologically, that is already, but not quite yet, things have been set right in Christ and we taste the first fruits of this new creation. But this is, again, the great challenge of doing church. The church is this light of the new creation that is dawning in the midst of a dark fallen creation, and that’s an exciting corporate project.
Darrell Bock
It is and we’re called to be, at least hopefully, in our best moments, a sneak preview of what is to come.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yes, I – that’s not as dignified as an image as I would perhaps want to look at this, but it’s exact. We are a preview of the greatest possible coming attraction.
Darrell Bock
Yes, exactly, in which the coming attraction will be the far better affair. Okay, number 14. Pastor theologians, like prophets, exercise a ministry of truth telling, primarily, but not exclusively with words, communicating God’s eye point of view, especially concerning the truth that is in Jesus Christ. Now I know what you’re getting at this one. This is one that I had a little reaction to as I read it, but I – in terms of thinking about it being perhaps being too narrow, but then I balanced it with one that you said later that I think shows what you’re after. Forty six says pastor theologians minister God’s word of reconciliation and renewal in Christ through counseling and personal visitation, as well as through teaching and preaching. We’ve got this combination of content that’s being communicated and worldview that’s being communicated, but there also is an incarnation feature – incarnational feature and a relating feature that’s very important to making sure that this is a balanced package that we’re talking about.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yeah, I think – thank you for linking those two theses. There’s always a danger of thinking that the ministry of the word is just talk and that just talk is all pastors have to do, but I think that would be wrong. I’m interested in a whole person witness and if we have just talk without the work and the actions, the embodied action next to it, that’s a formula for hypocrisy and we don’t want to go there. It’s just too easy to speak the truth and not to walk it. The witness is to be in word and deed, just as God makes Himself known in word and deed. We have to keep these together.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I love Luke 4 because we get Jesus up and preaching and declaring His task and His mission in the synagogue. And in the very next scene in Capernaum shows him actually exemplifying what it is that he’s just preached about. We get this word and deed ministry side by side. We see Him releasing the captives and bringing the liberation and showing the care and concern of God. That He’s declared in the synagogue just before. That juxtaposition is saying of course Jesus emphasized the fact that He wasn’t interested in hearers of the word of God only, but those who were doers as well. James climbs on his back and does the same thing and says the same thing. This is a very, very important theme. Millennials push back against the church, to a certain degree, because they say you all talk a good game, but I’m not sure I see what you all are talking about with the consistency that I would like to see and I think there’s something to be said for that challenge to the church to be what it talks about.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yes, I would agree and in other books I have worked on, I’ve tried to attack this very problem by suggesting that doctrine is a kind of theatrical direction. That yes, it states the truth, but it also directs the church to live out the truth. And without that lived witness, the words alone will seem rather hollow and yes, millennials and others will call us out for being inauthentic.
Darrell Bock
Yes, and without the – actually without the demonstration of the reality, it’s not only hollow, it ends up being counterproductive as a result because people look at it and go well, you’re really very little different than what I see around me elsewhere. Why should I be drawn to this?
Kevin Vanhoozer
No, we have to embody our words. I’ve been struck by a comment that Jacques Derrida made, post modern philosopher, not a Christian, and he was referring to forgiveness. And every time he used the word forgiveness, he qualified it and said if such a thing exists. And my feeling is if he had only been in a church where forgiveness was happening, he wouldn’t have to make that qualification.
Darrell Bock
Yes, and where it’s a touchstone for the grace that is – that generates the love and the transformation that we talk about and the sinning of the spirit that enables it to happen. Number 18, at some point in the early church, bishops were not only pastors of local churches, but also overseers of broader regions in large pastor theologians – now you’re not thinking about someone who needs to go on a diet here – responsible for representing the unity of the church, defending the true faith, and opposing error. Here you’re talking about a discernment ability that exists in the public square. Have I got that one on point?
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yes, I think the concern there is where we’re looking at the history of what’s been done in the past and again, our argument is the separation of pastor and theologian happened at a particular place in history due to various social pressures. In particular, in the nineteenth century, Schleiermacher redesigned the theological curriculum into these separate departments and made it a professional training program. And that was part of the divide, but even earlier, theology started being taught in universities and so it became a scholastic enterprise. There’s a history to how these two things came apart, but in the bishop, the office of the bishop in the early church, many of our – of those bishops were both churchmen and writing theologians. I’m thinking particularly of someone like Augustin. His – and you could tell the difference in his works. The quality is there. The intellectual brilliance is there, but it’s set to work on problems that he was encountering, many of them at least, in his church.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, this is a major responsibility and it means that pastors are focused on the word on the one hand, but they also have to be, to some degree, sensitive to what’s going on around them on the other. And so it can be a real challenge.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yeah, today, for example, pastors have to be able to handle issues that are demanding and we haven’t had to face these issues before. For example, are there only two genders? What’s the biblical position on that? This is a Title IX matter. You see the government is weighing in and so in this respect, a pastor has to pronounce theologically about a matter of public interest in the sense of not just the people in the church, but people in general society.
Darrell Bock
And they have to weight that kind of a conversation at three levels. There’s what’s going on in society around them. There’s what the Bible has to say about it and then there’s the pastoral relational issue of all right, now how do I step into this kind of a debate and discussion, and do it in a way that on the one hand represents the perspective of God and yet at the same time, holds out a hand of invitation about what the gospel is all about at the same time? That’s not an easy calling.
Kevin Vanhoozer
It isn’t an easy calling and understanding takes time, and we don’t really want knee jerk reactions to some of these issues. I think pastors need to not become experts on gender, but you might want to read a couple of representative essays on the other side, just so that you’re representing the views fairly. This is one reason I regret the demise of books and culture. I don’t expect pastors to go and read sociology journals in the library, but something like books and culture, giving reviews of books that are making waves in the broader academy in society, that was a nice shorthand, a nice practical way of staying up to date on some of the issues and getting a Christian perspective on them at the same time.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, one of the things we’re considering doing in the center is actually sending to pastors who are on our list these kinds of works with precis about what they’re about as a way of stimulating their reading. Because out of all the plethora of information that’s out there, finding the stuff that’s really – can be among the most valuable things to take your time to consider is a challenge and to help people locate where those discussions are does people a service.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Perhaps I can put a plug in for – that might interest youth pastors. I subscribe to an online newsletter called The Culture Translator, which is for parents of millennials and younger. And basically it picks three things every week that are happening in the youth culture and then explains it to parents.
Darrell Bock
That’s a great suggestion. We’ll definitely post that when we post this podcast so that people can reference it. Thank you for that. Okay, the next one’s number 26 and it’s – it dovetails pretty nicely with what we’ve just said. The pastor theologian, far from being a specialist, is rather a – I love this phrase – holy jack of all existential trades – that’s quite a phrase – charged with communicating Christ to everyone, everywhere, at all times.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yes, so I can explain those phrases. The last one comes from Vincent or Lérins, his definition of orthodoxy. And what I’m trying to get out there is that in all situations of life, there is something for Christians to say and do that will help bear distinctive witness. And existential trades – because the pastor is often involved in life and death issues. And if they’re not life and death, then they’re meaning versus meaningless issues, anxiety, just a lot of existential crises that pastors have to deal with. And into those crises, the pastor’s task, vocation is to speak and embody this word of hope and faith and love that is connected with what God is doing in Christ. And that’s the great privilege that we can make a difference by ministering the gospel to real life situations.
Darrell Bock
Okay, now 32 is of a similar ilk. Pastor theologians are public intellectuals because they address the big questions and the big picture through the filter and framework of the biblical story of God’s work of redemption, that culminates with Jesus’s resurrection.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yeah, so I’ve sat through a lot of sermons in my life and I just so often regret the missed opportunity. Here’s a chance to help a group of people come to a better understanding of God’s word and the world we live in, and people need help. There are a lot of images and ideas that hold people captive and not all of them come from scripture, and I think pastors should be helping their congregations to read the Bible, to see how it all fits together, but also to read the world we live in. It’s a confusing place often and especially with all the fake news going about. Not that the pastor is to become a journalist, but in a sense, we’re to become a commentator. How do things look when we see them through scripture? What are we to make of what’s happening?
Darrell Bock
Yes, and another way to do this is noted in 34. Pastor theologians endeavor to increase biblical literacy in their congregations, particularly by giving attention to biblical theology and the challenge of perceiving the unity of the biblical story of the Christ in the diversity of biblical books, persons, and events. This is the ability – not only do you have the challenge of reading culture and being discerning about that, but also making sense out of the multiplicity of ways the story is told within the scripture.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yes, so in the book, I talk about canon sense. It’s the biblical equivalent to what we might call common sense, and I think biblical literacy, one way to gauge it, is whether or not people have this canon sense. Do they know where in the overall story a particular passage fits and what to do with it because of its location? And then can we locate ourselves where we are now in the 21st century in the biblical storyline? Where are we? Where do we see ourselves? And the ability to see one’s self in biblical categories is something I think the reformers had in spades and I think that’s because they were biblically literate.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and then the – another tension that you have in the midst of that is understanding the different angles that scripture sometimes handles the same topic on and being able to sort that. I love faith and work is the classic example of this, to a certain degree. The way Paul deals with it in Romans, the way James deals with it in James 2, asking really different questions, different timeframes, which then impacts the answer that you give.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yeah, I think what we’re seeing, what you’ve just pointed out there in scripture, is pastoral theology. Theology that is very sensitive to particular situations. I find as a theologian, much of my work is trying to preserve tensions and that tension, there’s two things that may seem contrary, but depending on the situation I’m in, I may need to say one thing rather than the other. For example, if I’m a situation where people are anxious about whether they’re Christians, I’ll wanna talk about grace and perseverance. But if I’m talking about – where if I’m in a situation where people are complacent, I’ll wanna talk about grace and the necessity of good works to see the fruit. These aren’t opposite truths, but I think there are different pastoral situations. The truth has to be brought to be bear according to the situation we’re in.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I actually think one of the challenges of biblical literacy is the idea of getting the context right, the context of the passage and the context in which you are addressing and getting some congruence between those two things.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Yes, one of the best pastors that I have been able to sit under did that brilliantly. He might have taken five to seven, maybe ten minutes to set up the context rightly and then go back to the text, and then in expositing the text, our own context is just illumined. It was like throwing the windows open on it. It was brilliant.
Darrell Bock
We’re coming to the end of our time here and we got almost through my list. I only have two that we didn’t make, so that’s not too bad. Kevin, give us a final word here as you try to encourage both pastors and people in the church about what they should look from their theological leader.
Kevin Vanhoozer
I think the final word has to be the great privilege it is to be a representative of this gospel. We’re to speak it, act it out, share it with others, and it’s good news. I’ve been impressed with how CNN is always talking about breaking news. They’re trying to make us on the edge of our seat, but the pastor comes in and we have the biggest breaking news story ever. God has broken in our world and this is the reality of the situation and we should never back down when reality is the issue. Reality is ultimately on the Christian side because it’s God’s creation.
Darrell Bock
Thank you, Kevin, very much for helping us think about the public theologian and we thank you for joining us on The Table and look forward to seeing you again soon.
Kevin Vanhoozer
Thank you for allowing me to come.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Kevin VanHoozer
Kevin Jon Vanhoozer is an American theologian and Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.
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Theology
Nov 7, 2017
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The Church in the Nicene Creed In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Michael Svigel discuss the Nicene Creed, focusing on historical Christian teaching about the nature of the Church.