- The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan
Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan lament the dichotomy between pastor and theologian, church and academy that has been prevalent among most church members and scholars in North America. They strongly contest that such a dichotomy has resulted in “an ugly ditch” (2) between theoretical and practical theological disciplines. After showcasing this problem in the introduction, Strachan retraces biblical understandings of the pastor in conjunction with roles of priest, king, and prophet in the Bible. He attempts to tap into the traditions and continues in reviewing how the church—from the early, through the medieval, to the modern era—has understood the identity and the role of [End Page 161] the pastor. Vanhoozer then seeks to mend the dichotomy by exploring the meanings of ministry in chapters 3 and 4. He clearly shows how arbitrary and unhelpful the compartmentalized theological disciplines are in providing wisdom that is required for fostering life-giving pastoral leadership. Vanhoozer characterizes pastors as artisans who perform their roles as evangelist, counsellor, catechist, liturgist, and apologist, as he examines biblical meanings that are associated with these roles. As a practical theologian who has written biblical commentaries and engaged in (systematic) theological research and writing, I welcome their call for ending “theological apartheid” (127).
It is laudable that the authors collaborated on this work out of a student–teacher relationship. They intentionally included the voices of pastors (albeit all are men) in order to offer concrete evidence of the pastor as public theologian lived out. The authors, along with these voices, have offered wisdom that today’s church and academy must heed in reclaiming the role of the pastor as public theologian. In a world that is becoming secularized, the role of the pastor as interpreter of the Word and the world has become more critical than ever. Since this ministering can be fulfilled only by connecting, in reading the Word and reading the world, the pastor must be in the public, as a part of her or his teaching office.
While the book successfully provides food for thought for pastors and those who train pastors, the book is not without flaws. To be honest, the book is problematic. It is unfortunate that Vanhoozer and Strachan consistently refer to the pastor as “he.” In an era where more women are entering ministry than men, and more churches are served by women than men in most mainline Protestant denominations, the reader questions whether they have misdiagnosed the current reality, certainly misreading the signs of the times. Are they speaking only to the churches that disallow women to be ordained? One may even wonder if they are aware that their use of masculine language (in naming God and the pastor) reinforces the privileging of male leadership and the dismissal of women’s roles in the church. While they contend that the “pastor is no more (or less) righteous than the people” (51), warning of the abuse of power (144), the reader questions if they indirectly imply that men are more righteous (if not more eligible) than women in carrying out the pastorate. Such a question is warranted because there are very few references to women scholars and theologians in the entire book. Their failure to include feminist and critical theological scholarship on the topic of the pastor makes their argument of pastor as public theologian less credible. Their strong diagnosis of Enlightenment dualistic ills between theory and practice and between church and academy have been investigated by feminist movements. Yet their failure to recognize and embrace feminist scholarship places their work in danger of being sexist, however unintentional it may be.
The other problem in this book is its confrontational attitude toward culture that belongs to the world as negative. Is the gospel against that culture? Here again there is a bias: when they refer to the Bible, it is totally appreciated, but when they refer to...