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The Pastor as Public Theologian

Reclaiming a Lost Vision

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Many pastors today see themselves primarily as counselors, leaders, and motivators. Yet this often comes at the expense of the fundamental reality of the pastorate as a theological office. The most important role is to be a theologian mediating God to the people. The church needs pastors who can contextualize the Word of God to help their congregations think theologically about all aspects of their lives, such as work, end-of-life decisions, political involvement, and entertainment.

Drawing on the depiction of pastors in the Bible, key figures from church history, and Christian theology, this brief and accessible book offers a clarion call for pastors to serve as public theologians in their congregations and communities. The church needs pastors to read the world in light of Scripture and to direct their congregations in ways of wisdom, shalom, and human flourishing. The Pastor as Public Theologian calls for a paradigm shift in the very idea of what a pastor is and does, setting forth a positive alternative picture.

In addition to pastors, this book will be invaluable to seminary students training to be pastors and to their professors. It includes pastoral reflections on the theological task from twelve working pastors.


Owen Strachan and Kevin J. Vanhoozer
Introduction: Pastors, Theologians, and Other Public Figures
Kevin J. Vanhoozer
• Problem: A Lost Vision
• Proposal: The Pastor-Theologian as Peculiar Public Figure
• Prospect: The Ministry of What Is "in Christ"
Pastoral Perspectives
Gerald Hiestand--Six Practical Steps toward Being a
Josh Moody--Seven Ways to Theologize as a Pastor
Part 1: Biblical Theology and Historical Theology
1. Of Prophets, Priests, and Kings: A Brief Biblical Theology of the Pastorate
Owen Strachan
• The Ministry of the Old Covenant in the Old Testament
• Participating in Jesus's Ministry of the New Covenant: The New Testament
• Conclusion: The Pastorate as Theological Office
Pastoral Perspectives
Melvin Tinker--The Pastor as Public Theologian
Todd Wilson--Human Origins: A Test Case for
Jim Samra--A Practical Theology of Technology
2. Of Scholars and Saints: A Brief History of the Pastorate
Owen Strachan
• The Early Church
• The Medieval Period: Scholasticism and Monasticism
• The Reformational Awakening: Protestant Pastors
• Theological Shepherds: The Puritans and the Practicality of Truth
• Agents of "Divine Business": The Edwardseans and Pastoral Dominion
• The Modern Turn: Populism, Professionalism, and the Taming
of the Pastorate
• Glimmers of Hope: Harold Ockenga and Neoevangelical Boldness
• Conclusion: Toward What Pastorate?
Pastoral Perspectives
Wesley G. Pastor--How the Theology of Saving Faith Has Affected My Congregation
Kevin DeYoung--A Place for Truth
Part 2: Systematic Theology and Practical Theology
3. In the Evangelical Mood: The Purpose of the Pastor-Theologian
Kevin J. Vanhoozer
• The Many Moods of Theology: Between Death and Resurrection
• A Ministry of Reality: Theology in the Indicative Mood
• A Ministry of Understanding: The Diakonia of God's Word
• A Ministry of (New) Life: Theology in the Imperative Mood
• The Goods of Theology: What Are Seminaries For?
Pastoral Perspectives
David Gibson--On Death
Bill Kynes--Preaching the Doctrine of the Gospel as Truth,
Goodness, and Beauty
Cornelius Plantinga Jr.--Reading for Preaching
4. Artisans in the House of God: The Practices of the Pastor-Theologian
Kevin J. Vanhoozer
• The Great Pastoral Commission: "Make Disciples"; "Build God's House"
• Evangelist: Presenting What Is in Christ
• Catechist: Teaching What Is in Christ
• Liturgist: Celebrating What Is in Christ
• Apologist: Demonstrating What Is in Christ
Pastoral Perspectives
Guy A. Davies--The Drama of Preaching
Jason B. Hood--The Pastor-Theologian as Pulpit Apologist
Conclusion: Fifty-Five Summary Theses on the Pastor as Public Theologian
Kevin J. Vanhoozer


"This is a timely, more than timely--urgent--book. Kevin Vanhoozer, one of our leading theologians, protests the 'putting asunder' of theology by American pastors. A 'great chasm' has opened up as pastors, more often than not, abandon their vocations as theologians in their congregations for careers in which the secular culture calls all the shots. It was not always this way. Vanhoozer and Strachan skillfully fashion insight and discernment to bring us back to what the church ordained us to do."

†Eugene H. Peterson, professor emeritus of spiritual theology, Regent College, Vancouver; pastor emeritus, Christ Our King Presbyterian, Bel Air, Maryland

"Preachers today must present biblical truth to people who are more and more resistant to it. The skillful preacher must understand something of the history of ideas and the baseline cultural narratives of our day in order even to be comprehensible to them. Not only that, but preachers in our cities must often speak to people from several diverse world cultures all at once. I've come to the conclusion that ministers need more robust theological education and training than they did when I came into the ministry forty years ago. This book is an important, ringing call for working pastors and preachers to exercise a higher level of theologically informed leadership in our churches."

Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City

"There's not much wrong with the practice of pastoral ministry that can't be cured by a good dose of theological refurbishment. This book gives strong impetus for construing the work of the pastor as authorized, energized, and sanctified by the pastor's theological commitments. A spirited, Spirit-filled book."

William Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry, Duke Divinity School; retired bishop, United Methodist Church

"For years I have told students that they were too smart for the academy, that they should stretch themselves with the harder intellectual work of the parish. And here I thought I was being original. Vanhoozer and Strachan show the original and eschatological unity of two things that modernity has tried to pull apart--the vital parish and the learned pastor. Suddenly the job seems harder and more blessed than ever."

Jason Byassee, Butler Chair in Homiletics and Biblical Hermeneutics, Vancouver School of Theology

The Authors

  1. Kevin J. Vanhoozer

    Kevin J. Vanhoozer

    Kevin J. Vanhoozer (PhD, University of Cambridge), one of the world's top theologians, is research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He previously taught at Wheaton College and the University of...

    Continue reading about Kevin J. Vanhoozer

  2. Owen Strachan

    Owen Strachan

    Owen Strachan (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is associate professor of Christian theology and director of the Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He is the coauthor of The Essential...

    Continue reading about Owen Strachan


Top Ministry Book of 2015, The Gospel Coalition (TGC Editors' Picks)

"One can only cheer . . . the hope of an increase in the number of Protestant Evangelical pastors as public theologians. This is a book that can be helpful in the discussion of how that could happen among theologically think churches disposed to regard the pastor-theologian as more a luxury than a boon."

S. M. Hutchens,


"This book serves as an engaging and creative introduction to the art and use of theology in the practice of ministry. Especially interesting are the brief essays at the end of each chapter written by practitioners who offer examples of the use of theology for ministry in the daily and weekly work of the pastor. . . . The Pastor as Public Theologian makes a contribution to reflection on the pastor as theologian. It will be especially helpful for those who see the church as an organ of religious consumerism or as a contemporary community, without attending to its historical roots. It is an encouraging resource and establishes common ground for further reflection with 'other' Christian cousins in this age of ecclesial fragmentation and religious tribalism."

Chris Currie,


"This book is among the best available on the nature of the pastorate due to the unique way in which it pulls from historical resources to form a fresh vision of pastoring today. . . . Each chapter concludes with reflections from current pastors on how they practice being a pastor-theologian in their local contexts. These testimonies are a real highlight. . . . Perhaps the greatest achievement of this work is its constructive but prophetic tone. More than most books I have read, this one stems the tide of pragmatism within the church and offers a theologically robust vision of pastoring. . . . I have only the strongest sentiments of support for this work. It will interest pastors, professors, and theology students on both sides of the Atlantic. . . . This is an excellent work that is sure to generate discussion about the role of the pastor for years to come."

Benjamin G. White,

Reviews in Religion and Theology

"[This volume] provide[s] guidance for pastors and churches who seek to have a theologically richer life. . . . Throughout The Pastor as Public Theologian, brief essays by practitioners highlight the way a mor9 theologically oriented pastorate contributes to local congregations in opening up the community to a life of study and reflection. . . . [This work is] full of fresh insight and anecdotal evidence of the vocation that the authors desire to see reclaimed. The authors are clearly invested in the task of reestablishing a place for the pastor theologian, not only in the local church but also in the overall theological enterprise that includes theological training programs. . . . As [a contribution] to the retrieval of a vision for the pastor theologian, [this volume is] most welcome."

Lyndon Shakespeare,

Anglican Theological Review

"Vanhoozer, Strachan, and a team of seasoned practitioners provide a sweeping rebuttal to the contemporary approach of pastoral ministry. . . . Students preparing for ministry should incorporate this book into their theological training. The authors present a compelling case rooted in various theological disciplines. Regardless of which contributor one reads, a consistent love for the church exists throughout this work, and students need to learn from this approach. The correctives listed advance needed conversations without being pushy or insensitive. Students in preparation for ministry can save themselves a lot of heartache by following the direction the book offers for ministry vision. . . . Throughout this work, Vanhoozer, Strachan, and their team of twelve contributors have helped shape a necessary conversation within the academy and church. . . . My prayer is that current and future pastors will use this work and others as a way to bolster the pastoral office to its theological position."

Justin L. McLendon,

Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies

"This book provides a timely vision for the pastorate. The Pastor as Public Theologian is associated with a broader movement, which appears to be gaining steam. . . . In a day when the Western church has drifted toward theological anemia and many of her leaders have failed to faithfully respond to the complexities of culture, The Pastor as Public Theologian and this broader movement is offering a rich and needed vision for the pastorate."

Josh Chatraw,


"This book is enriched by twelve shorter articles called 'Pastoral Perspectives.' They all illustrate the gist of the book by elucidating how the vision promoted in this book works itself out in a local church. . . . The Pastor as Public Theologian is very accurate in its analysis of the modern pastorate and, in the opinion of this pastor, very helpful in drafting a way of recovery. . . . This book is primarily aimed at and recommended to pastors, elders, seminary students, and academic theologians for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, church members (especially ones involved in reviewing pastor candidates in congregational churches, but others as well) need to read this book in order to understand what they should (and should not) expect of their present and future pastors."

Miroslav Balint-Feudvarski,


"In this important book, a manifesto of sorts, the authors issue a clarion call for pastors to be what they're called to be. Amidst the dizzying array of pastoral models currently on offer--most of the recent vintage and doomed to a shelf-life of months--this book is like a dose of smelling salts that will awaken, rouse, and clarify the self-understanding of the pastor and a vital aspect of our calling. Inspiring, convicting and ennobling."

Jeff Purswell,

Sovereign Grace Churches (named one of the most Significant Books for Pastors in 2015)

"The authors articulate well the anxieties and idolatries of the age and offer the embodied gospel in the life and word of the preacher as an essential response. Likewise, the authors offer compelling biblical metaphors that vividly tap the imagination of ministerial practice. Those practices--from preaching to prayer and from counseling to communion services--serve well to illuminate and invite the minister to the meaningful and life-altering work of being a public theologian. . . . I recommend the book to ministers and to students who wish to ask anew or for the first time how the work of ministry matters. Both groups will find much to engage and much to practice. For persons who teach in seminaries and graduate schools . . . this book might be helpful to read to see how fellow academic theologians are reflecting on the primary theological acts of preaching, ministry, and engaging the church in the context of the world."

Carson E. Reed,

Restoration Quarterly

"Throughout the volume there are short testimonies and exhortations from pastors who are doing theology in the local church context. These interludes give support for the arguments of the volume. They affirm the possibility of doing theology from the local church and describe how it can be done. . . . The need for the revival of the pastor-theologian role is great. Vanhoozer and Strachan have done the Church a service by presenting a reasonable vision for integrating practical ministry with the life of the mind and its significance in the present age. This is a volume that should be read by seminary faculty and administrators and used to shape their curriculum. It should find its way into the hands of many students at seminaries and Bible colleges. Additionally, lay leaders in churches should read and consider the vision presented in this book so they can advocate for the provision of the necessary resources for their local pastor to fulfill both a practical and intellectual role within the congregation. Finally, it should be read by pastors as a call to do the hard work of thinking theologically in order to equip the saints for the good works prepared in advance for them by God."

Andrew J. Spencer,

Books at a Glance

"The Pastor as Public Theologian would be a helpful companion to the contemporary pastor with minimal theological education. It presents a convincing case that the pastorate is not all praxis. This can serve as a push for the kind of theological, public ministry that the church desperately needs. The Pastor as Public Theologian would also be a helpful resource for churches--especially elders, deacons, and church leaders--to better understand the role of the pastor and adjust expectations and job descriptions accordingly. Lastly, The Pastor as Public Theologian can cast a vision for higher education institutions to send their best and brightest to the church as the ideal context for carrying out a lifetime of intellectual, theological, practical, public ministry."

Mark R. Kelley,

Mid-America Journal of Theology

"Because of the mixture of theological interpretation and practical guidance, this book is extremely useful and will help shape evangelical theological culture in the future. . . . The Pastor as Public Theologian is well-written, succinct, and clear. It presents the vision of the pastor-theologian in the present context, but grounds the vision in Scripture and the historical witness of the Church. This is a volume that will have a place in future discussions among pastors and should be examined by seminary professors and administrators as they shape their curricula."

Andrew J. Spencer,

Ethics & Culture blog