In the current issue of Westminster Theological Journal (WTJ 70.2 , 355-369), Gerald F. Hiestand, Pastor of Adult Ministries at Harvest Bible Chapel, Rolling Meadows, IL, and President of The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology, contributes an article entitled, “Pastor Scholar to Professor Scholar: Exploring the Theological Disconnect Between the Academy and the Local Church.” As he writes, “this article will briefly recount the shift in social location for North American theologians from the local church to the academy, and suggest ways in which this shift has impacted evangelical theology,” and “my goal here is to explore a more fundamental sort of disconnect—a theological one—between academic scholarship and the theological (not ministerial) needs of local church ministry. In other words, my goal here is not to critique the focus of seminary training, but rather the focus of seminary theology” (358).
I would encourage pastor, professor, and layperson to read the article and pass it throughout the leadership of one’s local church and evangelical academy. (The article is not available online at this time. However, the current issue of WTJ is great in its entirety, so I would recommend purchasing the print copy.) I would also suggest that Hiestand’s work is complementary to, rather than in contrast to, Mark Noll’s Between Faith and Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America, 2nd ed. (Regent, 2004).
I will not spoil the entire article. However, let me provide a sampling from the article, portions of Hiestand’s conclusions, and a few of my own thoughts.
Sampling from Article
On page 368, Hiestand writes,
Yet the current generation of parish minister—on the whole—lacks the theological giftedness to take up the task of theological formulation. By and large, our theologians do not reside in our churches; they have been sent almost exclusively to our academies. Consequently, the pastoral community is largely devoid of individual who feel a calling toward theological formulation. Pastors are expected to know theology (and this less and less), but are not generally expected to write theology. (Even the term “pastor-scholar” lacks the punch it once had. For many in our day, the term does not conjure images of Augustine, Edwards, and Calvin, but rather of a local church pastor who reads widely in theology.) It is unreasonable, therefore, to insist that the current generation of clergy assume a responsibility for which it is not collectively gifted.
Yet if history has shown the wisdom and viability of once again reuniting the calling of the pastor with the task of the theologian, how are we to effect the needed paradigm shift?”
Hiestand offers three preliminary conclusions which I abbreviate below:
1 Both the church and the academy need to recognize the “inherent limitations of academic theology” for meeting all of the various theological needs that arise in the context of local church ministry (368).
2 “We” – seemingly meaning the church and the academy – have to find ways to create a “network for pastor-scholars” (368).
3 Individual local churches with a sensitivity toward the worth and significance of the pastor-scholar to the kingdom must make theological reflection an effective part of the pastor’s role (369).
I was encouraged by Hiestand’s article. I hope the next two decades of local church ministry, speedily assisted by the web and internet-based technology available in the information and digital ages, will witness a gradual shift back to an ecclesial theology. In fact, signs of the winds of change are abounding:
The Gospel Coalition has built into its fabric the training of a younger generation of future pastors to be pastor-theologians who put the Gospel at the center of all things in life and ministry.
9Marks ministries – a ministry that exists for supporting the work of building healthy churches (i.e., “reforming” churches, as in the ministry’s previous name, “The Center for Church Reform”) – is generated out of a church that exemplifies doing and developing theology from the church rather than the academy. They are training laity and seminarians to focus on Biblical theology from and for the local church.
The Simeon Trust, The Bethlehem Institute, and BILD International offer church-based programs that keep students within the context of the local church as they develop theory and method in preaching, theology, and Christian practice.
Sean Michael Lucas and others have called attention to the need for a proper perspective on PhD studies (and thus academic theology) as relates to the ministry of the local church and the work of seminary graduates. In personal discussions, I have heard seminary presidents Al Mohler and Paige Patterson express their passions for training men for pastoral ministry local church at their schools, as opposed to schools that seem to be making a general pool of evangelical scholars for society at large.
Recent systematics like Akin’s A Theology for the Church and Kelly’s Systematic Theology have the local church in focus. This seems to be a trend for coming theological works.
Enjoy Dr. Hiestand’s work. May we be encouraged by the Lord’s grace toward us in giving us reminders that theology for the church must be done from both the pulpit and the lectern.