Review: The Pastor Theologian


I am involved with a reading group at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Our most recent assignment had been to read Hiestand and Wilson’s, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision. I was then to discuss this with another member of the group, and write a 400-500 page response. Below is part of that response, for anyone interested:

…Both of us enjoy learning, studying in our free time, and thinking theologically and so this book was an appropriate one for us to discuss together.

We both felt like this book was written to a very niche audience. Ben noticed that almost all the endorsements in the beginning of the book were from Professors, not Pastors. Having read the book, we weren’t too surprised at that. We did not feel like the book could be generally handed out to most of the people (or even Pastors) that we know. We were left wondering, “is this vision even attainable?” The authors included “steps” for how to attain the status of “pastor theologian” but with the first one as, “Get a Ph.D.” we thought it a bit idealistic – and not sensitive to the realities of most peoples’ lives [A book better suited to this task is Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan’s, The Pastor as Public Theologian, (to see my previous response to that book) especially pages 23-24 on their definition of an “intellectual.”].

For example, how intellectually capable is the average reader to pursue a Ph.D.? Or how much time and finances are available? What is the atmosphere and activity level of the church at the moment which would affect both the Pastor and the congregants? All of these questions relate to issues of discernment and properly applying wisdom – but insight into these matters were conspicuously absent in the book.

As well, these critiques about the book haven’t yet included a conversation that could be had about the changes in society which affect the changing perceptions of what a Pastor is – some people being skeptical of education vs. the value of experience. All in all, the book seemed a bit “tunnel-vision-y” and not quite connected to the actual, real world as far as Ben and I experience it.

However, we both appreciated some of the practical tips such as, “call your office a study” and “make time for a study sabbatical.” Good reminders of the importance of studying and continual learning. To these sentiments, both Ben and I responded with a resounding, “Amen!” If only now we could figure out how to actually do it J Ah, there’s the rub and the difficulty of balancing life amidst all these other important priorities!

Lastly, the authors do well in reminding the Pastor-Theologian of some of our primary responsibilities and priorities as the theological leader and articulator in the church. So, even when life is busy, we should continue to value solid, deep, Biblical thinking and theological reflection – and we should make time for it as much as possible. I think a book that would pair well with this one (and is preferable to it) is William Still’s now-classic, The Work of the Pastor.

P.S.: Just saw the same authors in 2016 came out with a recent summary from their most recent conference on this topic. Not sure I would buy it based on their initial work, but perhaps there are some redeeming qualities in the new book? Involving contributions from people such as Vanhoozer, KA Smith and Leithart couldn’t hurt… but I’m like, “dude, where are the Pastoral contributions?” If this book is meant for academics, then I get all the professorial additions – but supposedly this book is for the Pastor – interesting how I haven’t heard too many Pastors raving about it as of yet. Am I missing something here?


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