The Pastor-Theologian in His Study

For the pastor who, at most, preaches three times each week, the temptation is simply to coast week in and week out with little thought given to other theological issues outside of his sermon. After all, there are people to visit, meetings with the staff, and landmines that erupt on a moment’s notice that requires the pastor’s attention. Plus there are weeks when sermon preparation is all he can muster simply due from the demands of the week.

This temptation forces the pastor to serve as nothing more than a delivery man to his congregation. Sure he gets the passage diagrammed, commentaries read, sermon outline finished, and the manuscript typed, but the ideas are others and his sermon, rather than shaped by the text, has been shaped by commentaries.[1] The pastor has not properly formulated any original idea but rather is the middle-man between the congregation and the “theologians.” Hiestand and Wilson noticed this trend and write that many,

don’t expect pastors to be theologians, certainly not scholars, at least not of a professional variety. Intellectually speaking, we expect pastors to function, at best, as intellectual middle management, passive conveyors of insights from theologians to laity. A little quote from Augustine here, a brief allusion to Bonhoeffer there. That’s all.[2]

This is, sadly, the case. Most congregations expect the pastor to be primarily a counselor or serve as a business man who has ideas to increase attendance and giving. I don’t think, as Hiestand and Wilson comment later on, this is necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. After all, the pastor’s responsibility is to communicate the Word of God in effective ways to his congregation through words. We must simplify theological issues so that others may understand.[3] But if this is all the pastor in doing, I believe he suffers.

I think it’s important for the pastor to be a dispenser of original thoughts. We only need to do a cursory of the evangelical history of the church to see pastor-theologians such as Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, John Owen, Charles Spurgeon, and Martin Luther and see this is the case. But these men, as all pastor-theologians, were dependent upon others that preceded them and, for the most part, stood upon the shoulders of other theological giants. Yet, they in their own way produced originality in their writings and sermons which are still in use today

What I mean is the pastor should not produce original thoughts outside of the realms of church history.[4] In other words, the pastor-theologian will never produce something that has not been discussed prior to his proclamation of the truth. If in his study he gleams something “new” from the text which no one else has never discovered, I would suggest he is most likely (if not certainly) in error and misunderstands the text. I believe originality does not necessarily constitute newness but rather the pastor-theologians own way of proclaiming this truth. To this I would add the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones,

People do not want to listen to a string of quotations of what other people have thought and said. They have come to listen to you; you are the man of God, you have been called to the ministry, you have been ordained; and they want to hear this great truth as it comes through you, through the whole of your being.[5]

So then the pastor, as many others before him, stand upon the shoulders of the theological giants who preceded him. By consulting their works in his study and preparation for a sermon, he does not necessarily produce anything new but rather takes their thoughts and theological commentary and, by the mercy of God, proclaims it not as a list of quotes but in a different fashion of summarization and application. Thus the pastor never really produces anything original but his thought process and proclamation of it is original.

However, in order for the pastor to proclaim the doctrine at hand, he must first understand it himself. We have all heard, I’m sure, sermons that are lacking in a satisfactory explanation of the text or, hopefully not as frequent, no explanation of the text at all. This is why I am a firm believer that the pastor who seeks to be a theologian must have some sort of theological training, preferably a Ph.D if it is possible for he and his family. This is not a requirement, of course, more of a preference.

I will, Lord willing, flesh out what I mean by this in the next post.

[1] This, I believe, is another conversation worth pursuing. What role should commentaries play in sermon preparation? When should the pastor consult them? Personally I like to refer to them after I have a working sermon outline completed since, at that time, I already have my own thoughts on paper. This way I benefit from both my own work and am able to view other arguments or see areas I might have missed.

[2] Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 11.

[3] On this point, I refer the reader to the excellent work by Martyn Lloyd-Jones Preaching and Preachers (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1971).

[4] Thanks to Jason G. Duesing for helping me clarify this section.

[5] Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 222.