Kevin Vanhoozer’s 55 Theses on Pastors as Public Theologians


Kevin Vanhoozer:

Why does the church need pastor-theologians? What are pastor-theologians for? Our answer, in brief, is that pastor-theologians are gifts from the risen Christ, helps in building Christ’s church, especially by leading people to confess, comprehend, celebrate, communicate, commend to others, and conform themselves to what is in Christ.

As suits a vision statement, in particular a book about reclaiming a vision, we conclude by summarizing our main theses, chapter by chapter. We believe these theses have implications for what ought to be happening today in churches and seminaries alike.

  1. The church is in danger of exchanging its birthright for a mess of secular pottage in the place where one might least expect it: the pastorate (from the introduction).
  2. Pastors, together with the churches they serve, are too often held captive by pictures of leadership (e.g., managers, therapists) drawn from contemporary culture rather than Scripture.
  3. The location of theology in the academy, together with the disciplinary separation between biblical studies and doctrinal theology, serves neither pastors nor the church.
  4. Pastors must exercise special vigilance in their ministries, taking care not to make the pulpit into a bully pulpit or to magnify their own names instead of, or even alongside, God’s.
  5. Pastors are theologians whose vocation is to seek, speak, and show understanding
    of what God is doing in Christ for the sake of the world, and to lead others to do the same.
  6. 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.
  7. Pastors are not unique in building others up into Christ (all Christians share this privilege and responsibility) but rather in being put into the position of overseeing this building project.
  8. The pastor-theologian is an organic intellectual in the body of Christ, a person with evangelical intelligence who is wise unto salvation.
  9. As an organic intellectual, the pastor-theologian articulates the faith, hope, and love of the believing community on the community’s behalf and for its upbuilding.
  10. The pastor-theologian is a particular kind of generalist: one who specializes in viewing all of life from the perspective of what God was doing, is doing, and will do in Jesus Christ.
  11. The pastor-theologian’s office is not a recent innovation but has its ancestry in the leadership offices of ancient Israel: prophet, priest, and king (from chap. 1).
  12. The office of pastor-theologian was commissioned by Jesus, continues Jesus’s ministry as good shepherd of the new covenant community, and participates in Jesus’s threefold messianic office of prophet, priest, and king.
  13. Pastor-theologians, like priests, represent God to human beings (especially regarding requirements for holiness, by directing the people to God’s gracious provision in Christ Jesus for their ongoing sin) and human beings to God (especially by offering sacrifices of praise or thanksgiving and prayers of intercession).
  14. Pastor-theologians, like prophets, exercise a ministry of truth-telling, primarily (but not exclusively) with words, communicating a God’s-eye point of view, especially concerning the truth that is in Christ Jesus.
  15. Pastor-theologians, like the good kings of ancient Israel, personify God’s cruciform wisdom and righteousness through humble obedience to God’s Word, thereby modeling what citizenship in heaven looks like on earth.
  16. Pastors from previous eras of church history uniformly understood their vocation in theological terms, and most of the best theologians in the history of the church were also pastors (from chap. 2).
  17. Pastor-theologians in the early church used the ancient Rule of Faith to provide the parameters for understanding the theological realities that are part and parcel of the gospel, and to identify the God of Israel with the Father of Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things with the Redeemer of the church.
  18. At some point in the early church, bishops were not only pastors of local churches but also overseers of broader regions—“enlarged” pastor-theologians—responsible for representing the unity of the church, defending the true faith, and opposing error.
  19. Pastor-theologians in the Protestant Reformation were viewed primarily as ministers of God’s Word, whose discourse was thus more authoritative than any other earthly word.
  20. Pastor-theologians in the Puritan tradition excelled in using right instruction for the purpose of transforming hearts and lives, deploying the doctrine of God for the sake of godliness.
  21. Jonathan Edwards saw the pastorate as a “divine business,” a participation in Christ’s work of representing God to human beings (especially in preaching) and human beings to God (especially in prayer).
  22. Nineteenth-century revivalists like Charles Finney were more concerned with moving the will to repentance and faith through fervent public speaking than with correct doctrine, effectively demoting theology in favor of “results.”
  23. Nineteenth-century theologians faced academic scrutiny from scientists and philosophers and turned their attention to the project of regaining intellectual respectability, thus distancing themselves from the concerns of pastors in the church.
  24. 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 (i.e., results).
  25. The 1940s saw the beginnings of an evangelical remnant that sought to recover the historic vision of the pastorate as a theological office.
  26. The pastor-theologian, far from being a specialist, is rather a holy jack-of-all-existential-trades, charged with communicating Christ to everyone, everywhere, at all times (from chap. 3).
  27. The pastor-theologian deals with death and dying, and the anxiety of being-toward-death in general, by administering a mood-altering dose of reality—the good news of the gospel—and by personally embodying, in contextually sensitive ways, the joyful mood of being-toward-resurrection.
  28. Pastor-theologians embody an “evangelical mood”—an indicative declaration (“He is risen! He is Lord!”) and a concomitant way of being that is attuned to the world as already but not yet made new in Jesus Christ.
  29. The distinctive task of the pastor-theologian is to say, on the basis of the Scriptures, what was, is, and will be “in Christ.”
  30. Pastor-theologians who set forth in speech what is in Christ are ultimately engaged in a ministry of reality, that is, in administering the truth of what is: the truth about God, humankind, and the relationship between them.
  31. To minister what is in Christ is to minister understanding, a grasp of how the parts—the persons, events, and things that comprise the gospel—relate to the whole, namely, their summation in Jesus Christ.
  32. 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.
  33. Pastor-theologians devote themselves to the privilege of studying, interpreting, and ministering understanding of God’s Word to others; for Scripture alone is the divinely authorized account of what God is doing in Christ to reconcile humanity and renew creation.
  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.
  35. Pastor-theologians endeavor to increase cultural literacy in their congregations, knowing that culture is ultimately a means of spiritual formation that programs values and practices, beliefs and behaviors.
  36. As public theologians who work with people to build them up into Christ, pastors would do well to read fiction with a view to understanding different kinds of people.
  37. Pastor-theologians speak in the imperative as well as the indicative, exhorting their congregations not only to say but also to conform to the new eschatological reality that is available to us in Christ through Christ’s Spirit.
  38. Seminaries exist to foster biblical and theological literacy for the sake of understanding and living out what is in Christ.
  39. Seminaries exist not to reinforce but rather to transcend the typical compartmentalization of “biblical,” “systematic,” and “practical” theology for the sake of interdisciplinary pastoral-theological wisdom.
  40. Seminaries exist to foster a particular kind of generalist: one who understands all things in light of what is in Christ, keeps company with Christ, acts out the eschatological reality of being raised with Christ, and helps others to do the same.
  41. The practices of the pastor-theologian are rooted in the pastor’s own union with Christ and involve communicating what is in Christ (from chap. 4).
  42. The Great Pastoral Commission is Christ’s charge to pastors to be public theologians who work with people on God’s behalf, workers who feed Christ’s sheep and build God’s house.
  43. Jesus is the master builder who will build his church on the rock of confessors and confessions, though pastor-theologians play a special (i.e., set-apart) role in serving as authorized representatives of Jesus, charged with preserving the integrity of the church’s confessions.
  44. The pastor-theologian is a builder of God’s house, a mason who works with living stones, joining them together with the cornerstone (Jesus Christ) in order to form a dwelling place on earth for God: a temple made of people.
  45. As artisans in the house of God, pastor-theologians oversee a work not merely of urban but also of cosmic renewal as they, in the church’s reconciling practices, anticipate the reconciliation of all things.
  46. Pastor-theologians minister God’s word of reconciliation and renewal in Christ through counseling and personal visitation as well as through teaching and preaching.
  47. The sermon is a crucial instrument in the pastor-theologian’s arsenal of grace and truth, fostering biblical literacy, biblical-theological competence, and a holistic appreciation for the excellency of Jesus Christ.
  48. Sermons also serve as excellent means of fostering the congregation’s ability to interpret culture, recognize cultural hegemony, and understand the way particular cultural texts and trends either contribute to or hinder the realization of God’s rule on earth.
  49. The sermon is one of the pastor-theologian’s principal means of waking people up to the redemptive reality of what God is doing in Christ beneath, behind, alongside, and above the surface of sociocultural appearances.
  50. Because indoctrination of one kind or another is inevitable, pastor-theologians must explicitly reclaim the role of catechist as set out in the Pastoral Epistles, teaching doctrine for the sake of enabling people better to understand and conform to reality, and thus to get real.
  51. Pastor-theologians administer sound doctrine to the body of Christ for the sake of its health, flourishing, and growing up into maturity in Christ.
  52. Pastor-theologians lead the gathered assembly, celebrating what is in Christ and using the time spent together to build up the congregation in faith, hope, and love so that disciples can worship both in and outside the corporate gathering by offering their bodies as living sacrifices throughout the week.
  53. Pastors perform a quintessential public theological act in leading the congregation in prayer, itself a ministry of reality that acknowledges what sinners are before God and what saints are before God in Christ Jesus.
  54. Pastors preside over the quintessential public theological act of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, itself a ministry of the eschatological reality that, because of their common union with Christ in faith through the Spirit, believers enjoy as communion with the living God and with one another, despite penultimate differences of race, class, and gender.
  55. Pastor-theologians function as apologists, defending the wisdom of the cross and the truth of the gospel, when they facilitate lived corporate demonstrations of faith’s endurance and of the love, forgiveness, and communion that is in Christ.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Conclusion: Fifty-Five Summary Theses on the Pastor as Public Theologian” in Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 183-88. Used by permission.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s