Thursday, July 21, 2005

Why Theologians Should Not Be Pastors

I've always assumed that theologians who have spent time pastoring a local church are better equipped than those who have not. They're more practical. More down to earth. They are in touch with the "real" world.

In the past few months, however, my position has been changing. I'm currently of the belief that theologians do not need to pastor...I might even go so far as to say that theologians should not pastor.

I've heard it argued that theologians should spend time pastoring because it keeps her from staying in the "ivy tower" and forces her to present her findings in a way that connects with the common layperson...

I don't want my theologian to tell me what "works." I want my theologian to tell me what is true. I don't want my theologian concerned with what makes sense. I want my theologian to tell me what is right. I don't want the lure of what is "easily applicable" to outweigh truth.

Bashing on the theologian/pastor is certainly not my intention. I appreciate the sensitivity and wisdom that can be gleaned from time spent in the local church. But I want my theologian to speak of various doctrines in blunt honesty without being hampered by questions of rationality and relatablity.

Just gimme the theology straight.


Mark said...

I like your perspective on this. Great thoughts. If you don't want Theologians to be Pastors... Would you want a Pastor to be a theologian?
Is the Pastors role to transalate between Theologian and "everyday people?"
Who are the Theologians being Theologians for?

You and John rock.

Amanda said...

Nice job turning this around. As a pastor I want to be theological in my thinking, but I need to admit my own bias to will something to be right simply because it works or makes sense.

I often run sermons by John. Occassionally he will say something along the lines of, "Well you can say that, Mandy, but here are the implications if you do..."

I am sometimes blinded by "the perfect illustration" that I am unable to see its full ramifications.

Perhaps I am the only pastor tainted with the temptation to do something simply because "it works."

I like the thought of pastors being translators between the theologian and "everyday people" (as you put it), but perhaps that's because I'm a pastor...I suppose I should ask a few theolgians...

John Drury said...

Good question, Mark: Who are the Theologians being Theologians for?

I think Mandy is looking for a way that theologians can be "for the church" without having to cut any corners on the truth of their convictions for the sake of "practicality." I sure wouldn't want a physiology prof at med school to teach future doctors anything other than the truth about the human body. Of course, the med school analogy only works if we can really say something true about God. It seems to me that oftentimes (though certainly not always) the call to be "pastoral" and "practical" actually disguises a belief that true knowledge of God is unattainable, and so we should resort to the kind of theological language that "works" and makes people "feel good." I think this may be what is behind Mandy's call for "straight theology". It has nothing to do with ivory towers. It has everything to do with telling the truth.

Certainly both scholars and pastors can tell the truth about God, just in different ways and in different contexts. But their roles are parallel and thus thier relationship is not one of translation but conversation. Bottom line: they both just do their best to tell the truth.

Todd Edmondson said...

Hey Amanda,
First time poster, long time fan. I might just be saying this because I've just spent a week with the fine folks of the Ekklesia Project, a collective of pastors, scholars, and laity that might be the most exciting thing I've ever been a part of, (next to that band I was in with John--the name slips my mind). But as for me and my house, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with drawing the distinction in such clear terms. If theology isn't lived out and practiced (not in a viva la revolution liberationist way, but in a Church as the body of Christ way), then, in the words of Sly and the Family Stone, "What is it good for? Huh? Absolutely nothing. Say it again!" Say it again, indeed. Given this wisdom, the model of Pastor-theologian is one that seems not only prudent, but even Biblical to me (Maybe Paul got his PhD. at the feet of Gamaliel, but his best theology was done in a prison cell). This is not to knock the field of scholarship. It's important, and even necessary to a degree that I'm appreciating more all the time, and there may come a time when I wish to be engaged in it again. But it was refreshing, this week, to be around scholars (99.9% of them Dukies, of course), who had not just a healthy respect, but a consuming passion for the good of the Church, not in a condescending way, but because they think that's where the action is. Again, this is me coming off of the theological equivalent of a contact buzz, but it made me truly excited about the ministry, and the capacities to not just tell the truth, but to live it out among a group of people who aren't just concerned with what makes them feel good, but with what God wants to do in this world.
I'm out.

The Cubicle Reverend said...

As much as I am against being in the Ivory Tower, I think it is necessary to have these uber-intellectuals around to study things that the average person can't or won't study. Pastoring is a different kind of animal than a theologian. While pastors do need to have a certain level of intellectualism they are more needed in day to day activities in the life of the church and their congregation while theologians are more necessary for the intellectual integrity of the body.

denise said...

Well, Amanda, maybe we can say that the best case scenario is that all pastors should be married to theologians. This is win-win, don't you think?

Todd Edmondson said...

One more question about the pastor/theologian divide: If I, as a pastor, can't be counted upon to tell the truth to my congregation (i.e. present to them, in a faithful way, the tough parts of Scripture), why would you expect me to be capable of taking what I learn from a theologian and telling the truth about that? In other words, if I'm not a faithful middle man, then it doesn't matter what the product is. I'm still going to fail for the same reasons. It seems to me better to submit myself to the rigorous discipline of actually doing theology, right alongside of my reading other people's theology, so that I might grow in faithfulness and understanding.
That's all.

The Cubicle Reverend said...

Don't confuse truth with intellectualism. Sometimes truth is something simple and apparent. Which we all manage to over look at times.

The Cubicle Reverend said...

The role of the pastor and theologian are quite different. Pastors help christians in their daily lives. Theologians help with appologetics and digging through the muck (and sometimes creating more)

Amanda said...

TODD SAID: If I, as a pastor, can't be counted upon to tell the truth to my congregation (i.e. present to them, in a faithful way, the tough parts of Scripture), why would you expect me to be capable of taking what I learn from a theologian and telling the truth about that?

That's good, Todd--that's a big hole in my suggestion. It may be that I am taking my own struggle and making it broader than it really is. A few days ago I was having a touchy theological conversation with a someone that that I was really trying to connect with. I was overwhelmed by the temptation I felt to water down my convictions in order to solidify a relationship.

I wrote this post in hopes that a theologian would not be in a position to succumb to the temptation of finding common ground as opposed to finding truth

But after reading your comments, I'm realizing that I'm probably not having enough faith in my fellow theologian...or perhaps I should say the God in my fellow theologian.

Thanks for your comments.