Pastor Theologian“Both academic theologians and pastors work with the assumption that those with exceptional intellectual gifting ought to pursue a career in the academy, while those with pastoral gifting ought to pursue a calling in the church. This assumption must be dragged into the street and bludgeoned to death.” (124, emphasis mine)

So end Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson in their new book The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Zondervan, 2015). Both men are pastors at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, IL. Both men are well educated: Hiestand is a PhD candidate, University of Kent, Canterbury and Wilson earned his PhD from the University of Cambridge. Both have authored books. Finally, both men have co-founded the Center for Pastor Theologians which is “an organization dedicated to assisting pastors in the study and written production of biblical and theological scholarship, for the ecclesial renewal of theology and the theological renewal of the church.” (10) If you can see what makes these men what they are then you can see that Heistand and Wilson both embody what this book is about.

These young authors winsomely, and yet pointedly, argue that there is a divide between the academy and the church that they want to see torn down to the ground. Yes, the ivory towers of academia still exist. This divide sees the handling of theological leadership in the hands of the academy and that of practical matters in the hands of the pastorate (16). To borrow from Plantinga, this is not how things ought to be and it is not how things always were.

For centuries the pastorate was one of the most respected and sought after fields of study by the intellectuals of society. Intellectual and theological scholars like Augustine, Basil, Edwards, Luther, Calvin, and Bavinck all “worked in ecclesial contexts and carried shepherding responsibilities for congregations and parishes.” (23) This was the norm. The pastor was a theologian and theologians were pastors. They were one in the same. The academy, as we know it, was not born yet. Rather, it existed, in a way that it does not now, to serve the church and the pastor.

How Did We Get Here?

What happened that birthed this great divide? The separate contexts of North America and Europe both changed the landscape of the pastor theologian, thus dividing the pastor theologians dual duties of theological and spiritual provider to the church. This resulted in the pastorate, by in large, keeping its role as spiritual adviser, while the job of theological leader was shipped out to the new academy.

In Europe this divide was caused by the scientific discoveries of men like Galileo and Newton. Their scientific discoveries brought upon the church “devastating and sustained critiques by the French philosophies such as Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Denis Diderot.” (43) Gradually, the universities, which once served the church, eventually became tools of the state. In the hands of liberal German scholarship, people’s trust in the Bible died in the academy.

The situation in North America had similar results. Within the context of the American Revolution, which produced “the urbanization and secularization of American culture”,  and the aftermath of the Second Great Awakening, which saw the growth of “a myriad of Christian sects and denominations”, “the pastor theologian in North America had been replaced by the professor theologian.” (49) The authority and revere of the office of the pastorate was questioned and it crumbled under the weight of cultural doubt.

In both continents, the place of intellectual prestige moved from the pastor to the secular university. The great divide between the church and the academy was born, took root, and has been in place ever since. The pastor, as the authors say, has now become a “broker” of theology to the church. As right as it is for a pastor to preach and teach theology to the church, “The identity of pastors as brokers does not involve pastors actually constructing theology themselves.” (61) When the academy is not a ministry of the church then it no longer serves the churches needs. Reflecting on their own theological education in the academy the authors write:

The foci of theology in the academy often did not address the very real and pressing theological needs of our congregations. How many scholarly and theological works have you seen on premarital sexual boundaries? Or on parenting? Or on doubt, idolatry, discipleship, or marriage?…..The way theologians and scholars are taught to do theology in the academy runs counter to the needs of pastoral ministry. (70, emphasis mine)

It is this divide that the authors want to see torn down and the role of pastor and theologian to be wedded together again; for the betterment of the academy and the health of the Church.

How Do We Leave Here?

It is easy to critique a situation like this but it can he harder to run against the grain of how the church and academia have related for so long and offer an attainable vision for change. How can the place of theological education and direction of the church be brought back to the church? How do we get from the pastor as a “broker” of theology to a pastor as “constructor” and director of theology? How do we get the church to serve the church when it comes to its theology?

While recognizing that every pastor is a local theologian (one who constructs theology for their local church) and some are popular theologians (one who constructs theology beyond their local church to other Christians), the authors hone in on the ecclesial theologian. This theologian constructs theology for pastors and theologians.

An ecclesial theologian is a theologian who bears shepherding responsibilities for a congregation and who is thus situated in the native social location that theology is chiefly called to serve; and the ecclesial theologian is a pastor who writes theological scholarship in conversation with other theologians, with an eye to the needs of ecclesial community. (85)

No doubt, getting the church to move back to its historical roots in this regard will not be easy. But, as these young pastor theologians argue, it is necessary for the future of the church.

So what practical steps can be implemented in charting this new course for the ecclesial theologian? The course to recovery Hiestand and Wilson chart out is primarily rooted in the ecclesial community itself. These theologians must be in local churches themselves attending to pastoral responsibilities. They must preach and teach theology as to the laity and not the academy. They must see themselves as serving the church and not the academy. Because the pastor is by necessity a generalist, they must broaden their continued educational interests beyond the scope of their educational background. Further, once an ecclesial theologian steps from the academy into a local church they must develop daily habits within their schedule and the life of their church in order to foster a church culture that will enable them to grow as an ecclesial theologian. All of these things are covered in chapters seven and eight.


“There was a day when there was no gap between the academy and the church precisely because there was no academy. And when the academy emerged in the twelfth century, it functioned as a formal extension of the church’s mission.” (125) The academy is here, and it is here to stay. But for the health and future of the church it must return to its servant role to the church – the body of Christ.

The Pastor Theologian is an impassioned call for the church to reclaim its role as the voice for and constructor of the faith once delivered to the saints. This is a road that will be hard to travel but hopefully more and more pastors will begin to walk it. Hopefully the church will support those who seek to walk it. It will only be for its own benefit. This is a book that everyone in the academy and church leadership needs to read. Even if you as a pastor do not become an ecclesial theologian, you can play a part in supporting those who do. The beginning of the end of the divide has come.

I received this book for free from Zondervan for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”