Ecclesial Theology and the Pastor-Theologian

Excerpts from another important article by Gerald Hiestand called "Ecclesial Theology and Academic Theology: Why We Need More of the Former:"

"The pastor-theologian has been replaced by the professor-theologian."

"Consequently, believing academic theologians now live and move in a theological environment dominated by agendas and presuppositions that are consciously contra orthodox Christianity. To be sure, the deconstructive aspects of enlightenment and post-enlightenment thought demanded an appropriate response from those in the orthodox fold. But one wonders if orthodox theology as a whole has become too preoccupied defending against, and responding to, an agenda that is not directly related to the mission and glory of Christ. Orthodox theology, given its academic context, has taken on an apologetic bent not seen since the first centuries of the early church."

"From where I sit, academic theology is theology written to the wider academic community, set within an academic context, and driven by academic concerns and presuppositions. Ecclesial theology, on the other hand, is theological reflection written to the believing community, for the good of the church catholic, and born out of pastoral/ecclesial concerns."

"Perhaps a compare and contrast will help flesh out this distinction in greater detail. Speaking in perhaps over-exaggerated terms, ecclesial theology differs from academic theology in the following ways:

-The depth of academic scholarship is often measured by its interaction with secondary literature. The depth of ecclesial scholarship is measured by its interaction with primary literature.

-Academic scholarship is written to the wider academic community, much of which lacks any commitment to historic orthodoxy. Ecclesial scholarship is written to the believing community, and builds upon and assumes--rather than defends - the basic commitments of historic orthodoxy.

-The success of academic scholarship is measured by its acceptance and influence in the academic community. The success of ecclesial scholarship is measured by its ability to renew the church.

-Academic scholarship is informative. Ecclesial scholarship is informative and prophetic (i.e., it makes moral assertions and calls the church to action).

-The power of academic theology arises out of the success of the academic-scholar as a scholar. The power of ecclesial theology arises--in large measure--out of the success of the pastor-theologian as a pastor. In other words, the influence of a pastor-theologian as a theologian is related to his success as a pastor.

-Academic scholarship tends to be guild-specific. Ecclesial theology is a cross-guild project, working within and attempting to construct a coherent theological system/worldview. It is explicitly theological.

-Related to the above, the academic-scholar functions more as a scholar (digging up new data) and less as a theologian (synthesizing that data in an ecclesial direction). In contrast, the ecclesial-theologian functions less as a scholar and more as a theologian."

"Ecclesial theology then, is rich, scriptural theology covering the entire Christian life; Christian living, ecclesiology, ministry, exposition of Scripture, church history, dogmatics, etc., --anything relevant to the mission and life of the church. And it addresses these issues not merely as an academic exercise--a raw quest for knowledge--but with the conscious and preeminent aim of building the church. It unapologetically purposes to advance the glory of Christ. "

"Luther's Galatians commentary comes to mind here. Luther's work is quite a bit different than your average modern commentary. But it's not different because it's "lighter" or "easier to read" or "pitched to a less informed audience." It's different in that it doesn't feel such a need to plumb the nearly endless depths of secondary literature (there wasn't as much), because it's not afraid to be explicitly theological and confessional, because it interacts with the great thinkers of the past who have helped shape orthodox thought, and--most significantly--because it prophetically calls the church to take action. Luther didn't change the world because he was a successful academician. He changed the world because he wrote as a robust, theologically informed, intelligent, prophetic Christian. "

"There is a need, I believe, to resurrect the pastor-theologian paradigm."

"Expounding God's Word and reflecting on the nature of the atonement, etc., needs to be brought back into the domain of the church."

"We need a return to the days when pastors wrote theology that was richly theological, deeply biblical, historically informed, culturally aware, prophetic, and intelligent--not so it would be accepted by the academy, but so it would renew the church. The ecclesial theologian has not gone entirely extinct but, it would seem, he has become an endangered species."

"Frankly, the sort of theology that will advance the cause of Christ will likely not find much favor in the wider academy, given its current rules of engagement. But that's fine--our goal isn't to win the favor of a secular academy; our goal is to renew the church."