Highlights from The Pastor as Public Theologian – by Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan

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My top 10 favorite quotes and highlights from this phenomenal book are the following:

1.On the Reality of our Modern Evangelical Crisis: 

  • “Too many pastors have exchanged their vocational birthright for a bowl of lentil stew (Gen. 25:29-34; Heb. 12:16): management skills, strategic plans, ‘leadership’ courses, therapeutic techniques, and so forth.” (Page 1)

2. On the Definition of “Intellectual”:

  • “The kind of intellectual we have in mind is a particular kind of generalist who knows how to relate big truths to real people.” (23)
  • “The organic intellectual does not speak down to people: ‘The mode of being of the new intellectual can no longer consist in eloquence, which is an exterior and momentary mover of feelings and passions but in active participation in practical life, as constructor, organizer, ‘permanent persuader,’ and not just a simple orator.'” (Page 24)

3. On the Purposes of our Work: 

  • “Pastor-theologians are handy to have around because they know how to look at things from the perspective of the drama of redemption and to incorporate people, and moments, into Christ and his story…cultivating the image of God in each and every person, to build persons up into mature adulthood (Eph. 4:13).” (Page 104)
  • “The theologian is a minister of reality.” (Page 109)
  • “To know what is in Christ takes much more than adding a few items to one’s storehouse of knowledge…Pastors are called not to practice academic theology but to minister theological understanding, helping people to interpret the Scriptures, their cultures, and their own lives in relation to God’s great work of redemption summed up in Christ.” (Page 112)
  • “It is not enough to know facts about the Bible. What is needed is canon sense: the ability to interpret particular passages of Scripture in light of the whole Bible.” (Page 114)
  • “Theology has a higher aim than mere self-preservation. The ultimate end of theology, as with all things human, is the glory of God.” (Page 139)
  • “According to Scripture, the primary purpose of the regular Sunday service is not what we commonly call ‘worship.’ What, then, is the purpose of local church gatherings? I have already suggested that the right answer is celebrating what is in Christ, but we can be more specific: the church gathers to be built up in Christ.” (Page 167)

4. On the Definitions of “Church”:

  • “In sum: The people of God are the public place where what is in Christ is remembered, celebrated, explored and exhibited.” (Page 21)
  • “The local church is an earthly embassy of Christ’s heavenly rule.” (Page 107)
  • “The church is an eschatological embassy, ‘an institution that represents one nation [I.e. the kingdom of God] inside another nation.” (Page 141)
  • “The church is a triune building project, centered in and on the person and work of Jesus Christ…it is where God has transformed a divided humanity into a united people.” (Page 150)
  • The Church is where we are to receive “a regular diet of the gospel; mature Christians who model faithful Christian living; a safe place to ask challenging questions; and the cultivation of a winsome, merciful posture to outsiders who are hostile to Christianity.” (Page 180)

5. On the Joys of Teaching: 

  • “The joy of teaching lies not in one’s own enthusiasm for the students, or even for the subject matter, but rather for the privilege of introducing the one to the other.” (Page 22)
  • “The pastor-theologian is an advocate for the community of God’s people.” (Page 24)
  • “The pastor-theologian communicates this knowledge not to swell people’s heads but to transform their hearts.” (Page 26)
  • “The pastor is called, even required, to wake the people to see what is ‘occuring at present,’ to make sense of their existence in their own particular context.” (Page 75)
  • Sermons are to be “like diamonds, Clear as well as Solid” (Page 85)
  • “Everything essentially Christian must have in its presentation a resemblance to the way a physician speaks at the sickbed…Pastor-theologians cure souls by administering, not mood altering drugs, but rather a mood-altering dose of reality: The good news that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that we too can be raised in Christ.” (Page 106)
  • “The pastor-theologian walks a fine line, reminding Christians of what God has already done yet also encouraging them to make their lives correspond to this reality. Being in Christ is both gift and task, privilege and responsibility. Exaggerate the gift, and you risk antinomian complacency; exaggerate the responsibility, and you risk legalistic anxiety…” (Page 121)
  • “The pastor-theologian does not have a unique professional or clinical skill but is rather the theological conscience of the church and thus understands everything in biblical-theological context and in relation to what God is doing in Jesus Christ.” (Page 128)

6. On Pastoral Preparation: 

  • “Pastoral formation occurs by means of contemplation or reverent attention, loving God with  the intellect and the will, a way of knowing acquired by constant immersion in Scripture to become participants in its ‘storied’ way of life.” (Page 74).

7. On the Reasons to Read: 

  • “The pastor is a public theologian who ministers understanding to the people of God in order to build them up in Christ. It therefore stands to reason that ‘pastors must ever grow in their knowledge and understanding of people.’ The best way to know people is to live among them, to share their sorrows, joys, challenges, and frustrations. People come in many shapes and sizes, however, and there is not enough time to become acquainted with every individual one meets  hence the importance of becoming acquainted with literature, the laboratory of the human condition. But why should we imaginatively enter into the stories that never happened and into experiences that we would not want to go through ourselves? C.S. Lewis puts it best when he speaks of the ‘enlargement of our being’: ‘In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.” (Page 118).

8. On the Danger of Christianity: 

  • “Worship is dangerous because, in waking us up to the way things are in Christ (i.e., God’s purpose for the world and for us), it threatens not only to overturn the tables of the money changers, but also to unsettle our cherished ideas and shatter our glittering self images. We can say the same thing about prayer: it is dangerous because it reorders reality, lifting the fog of our idolatrous illusions.” (Page 169).

9. On Some Reasons for Continuing to Pulpit-Preach: 

  • “Preaching is ‘the most public of pastoral acts.’ Glossophobia – the fear of speaking in public – regularly appears in opinion polls as the number one fear in America (the fear of death is the second greatest fear). How much more should pastor-theologians fear the prospect of speaking God’s word in public! Perhaps that’s why so many pastors do not even try, preferring rather to entertain, tell uplifting and funny stories, share their own experience, and offer vague moral and spiritual platitudes that are no more objectionable than the well-meaning sentiments of a Hallmark card.” (Page 156).
  • “The sermon, at its best, is the jewel in the crown of public theology.” (Page 158)
  • “Preaching fosters biblical literacy, biblical-theological competency, and canon sense.” (Page 157)
  • “Preaching fosters theological literacy, the ability to read (and, if necessary, critique) our world  our history, our culture – in the light of God’s presence and activity.” (Page 157)
  • “Preaching wakes up the local church, here and now, to the bracing reality of Jesus Christ, who is always and everywhere at hand yet beyond our grasp.” (Page 159)
  • “The sermon is the gospel’s Western Front, the cutting edge of the Word’s forward progress as it conquers new territory, one heart at a time.” (Page 159)
  • “Preaching draws the local church, here and now, into relationship with the bracing reality of Jesus Christ, directing disciples to adopt beliefs, values, and practices that correspond to what is in Christ in order to get real.” (Page 160)

10. On the Importance of Learning Ecclesiastical History for our Understanding of Today’s Ecclesiastical Landscape: 

  • See Chapter Two titled, “Of Scholars and Saints: A Brief History of the Pastorate.” This was my favorite chapter of the book. My jaw dropped as I read pages 86-88 on the topic of “The Modern Turn: Populism, Professionalism, and the Taming of the Pastorate”. Their description of “the taming of the pastorate” (Page 89) which happened during the Great Awakenings is shockingly contemporary. It was a stark reminder to me that much of what is passing for “relevant and exciting church experiences” these days is not new, but is simply a rehash of the past. Highly recommended reading for every pastor who thinks “they are on the edge” and are finding pleasure in their doing “highly inventive, new and exciting things.” This chapter will force you to, think again.

*Resources I will want to check out as a result of reading this book are the following: 

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