The Rebirth of the Pastor-Theologian

In ages past, the pastor of a congregation could be seen to be the most educated and knowledge person in a community. People would come to him for advice on a number of issues from basic questions of the faith, child rearing, business issues and other things. The pastor was not just someone who met felt needs but was someone who communicated the awesome truth of the Word of God. While he did not have all the answers, he was knowledgable in the Word and in the systematic understanding of that Word. In my particular context I think of Particular Baptist pastor-theologians like Andrew Fuller, John Gill, Abraham Booth, Hercules Collins, William Kiffin, Benjamin Keach, Hanserd Knollys, and C. H. Spurgeon.

Then something terrible happened. People decided it was not the role of the pastor any longer to be the pastor-theologian. On doors it read “Office” instead of “Study.” Pastors became execustives and long range visionaries. They became warm fuzzy people whose goal it was to meet the felt needs of people. You would find them reading People magazine to be “in touch” with culture more than they would be reading Augustine to get in touch with theology. What happened?

David Wells of course documents much of the fall of the pastor-theologian in his incredible book, No Place for Truth. In this, and the three follow-ups to that book, Wells historically traced the fall of the pastor-theologian and the Evangelical church at large and offered up helpful ways to bring back a Word centered and Trinitarian ministry.

While we have a long way to go, I am encouraged at seeing something of the rebirth of the pastor-theologian. Seminaries are recognizing that what is needed is not CEO’s or counselors (although aspects of those models are helpful to the pastor) but instead a Word saturated preacher of the Word of God who will shephered and guide his people into knowledge of Christ. Books are being written to encourage a Word centered ministry. Conferences like Together for the Gospel and Shepherds Conference and the Desiring God conference are all being focused on training up a new generation of pastor-theologians. What then is a pastor-theologian? In my mind, this is someone who:

1. Has a deep and profound personal life with God (i.e. through personal study and prayer)

2. Studies the Word intently and seeks to apply it in such a way to his hearers that it transforms.

3. They be students of all areas of knowledge as all truth is God’s truth. They are not simply students of the Word but students of history, music, art, science, sociology, etc.

4. They are compassionate people who are lover’s of men’s souls, both saved and unsaved.

5. Seek to transform the culture they live in through living a transformed life and seeking to transform the lives of those around them.

6. They are normal parts of society. They are not cloistered away from the world but seek to be familiar with politics and other such areas. They have a committed view of the Christian’s role in society.

7. They strive to pursue holiness and serve as a model for others.

8. They mentor the future generation of church leaders. They are not glory hogs but seek to defer to the gifts of others and train up men and women to be leaders in the church. They work to put themselves out of a job.

These are just some of my thoughts on what it takes to be a biblical pastor-theologian. We are living in an age of refocus of priorities. We are seeing men everywhere take seriously their callnig to be a minister of the Gospel and seek to better themselves so they can better those in their charge. They are not some marketer or church growth guru, but they have a commitment to the Word of God and teaching it and preaching it boldly and with great conviction to their people. That is a pastor-theologian. Praise God for their rebirth and pray for the continued growth of men around the world striving to be a godly pastor-theologian.

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