Last week I went to a conference in Chicago for the Center for Pastor Theologians. The basic vision of this group is to bring about theological renewal for the church and by the church through the "pastor theologian." Some of the greatest thinkers in the history of the church have been pastors: Augustine, Gregory the Great, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Bonhoeffer, etc. A pastor theologian is uniquely positioned to fill the gap that exists in the modern world between the academic sphere and the life of the church.
The problem is many today look to scholars or professional theologians for leadership and not to their local pastor. There is a vast amount of research that is done by these professionals, much of it good, but it is inaccessible or of little benefit to the church. On the other hand, Christian bookstores are filled with much devotional literature that is superficial and theologically suspect. There are few works that serve the church with deep reflection on scripture and the gospel that gives rise to greater worship. Historically examples include works like Augustine's Confessions or Bonhoeffer's Life Together.
There were numerous highlights from the conference. Gerald Heistand articulated different kinds of pastoral theologians. Peter Leithart taught how a pastoral theologian can fill the gap while illustrating it with Revelation 14 (an amazing feet). Jamie Smith spoke on the pastor theologian as "political theologian" (political in the sense of the life of the people). Kevin Vanhoozer spoke on how the pastor theologian ministers the reality of being in Christ to the people and what that means. Lastly, Todd Wilson spoke on the role of suffering as being one of the primary places God shapes the theology of the pastor for the good of the church. What was clear throughout is the importance of the sermon and the life of the church to form and shape one's theology. There was a push against the idea that the best place to do theology is in the library divorced from real life. Yet, at the same time serious academic study does equip a pastor for greater clarity of thought and rigorous research skills. There was a lot of encouragement that more of the church's best minds should seek pastoral ministry rather than the academy.
The benefit for me was the encouragement to continue to be serious about theology and at the same time to keep it grounded and accessible to people. Each speaker stressed to not underestimate people's appetite for challenging works of Christian theology or the ability for people to think theologically. It was also helpful to see how some maintain the worshipful nature of deep Christian reflection without getting bogged down in endless technical debates and speculation. It is possible to be both deep and appeal broadly.
I was very encouraged by the conference and was thankful for the opportunity to go. It gave me further clarity for my own passions and calling and what it may look like for me to strive to be a pastor who is a local theologian for the glory of God and in service to the church.
You can learn more about the conference at their website: http://www.pastortheologians.com/