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John Calvin's St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva

John Calvin’s St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva

After seven or so years of theological training (from undergrad and now midway through seminary), one question often posed to me goes something like this: “So, Ivan, what ministry do you sense the Lord calling you to? What’s next after you graduate?” By now I probably sound like a broken record when I explain how I’m torn between the pastorate and teaching, of how I would love to be a pastor in a local church but how I would also love to teach in an academic setting.

On my bad days such thinking causes me to carry an existential angst, anxious about the future and uncertain about what lies ahead. On my better days I’m reminded of God’s sovereign leading and I acknowle that either way I must be an unashamed workman and an example of Christ-like virtue (cf. 1 Tim. 4:12; 2 Tim. 2:15; Tit. 2:6-8). I have to constantly remind myself that I am not my own; and while it is good to have goals in life, at the end of the day, I am called to be faithful today, to delight in the Lord and serve where the Lord has placed me.

In that swirl of thinking, then, I’m grateful for organizations like the Center for Pastor Theologians (formerly the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology) whose stated mission is “to assisting pastor-theologians in producing biblical and theological scholarship for the ecclesial renewal of theology and the theological renewal of the church.” Its board president, Gerald Hiestand, who serves as a pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, has written an excellent, stimulating, and encouraging essay in the March edition of The Expository Times.

Hiestand, Gerald. “A Taxonomy of the Pastor-Theologian: Why PhD Students Should Consider the Pastorate as the Context for Their Theological Scholarship.” The Expository Times 124, no. 6 (March 2013): 261–271.

Although I am not (yet?) a PhD student, Hiestand could well have described me:

Many PhD students feel pulled between the life of the mind and the life of the church. They love study, writing, reflection, and theological scholarship. They have the desire and gifting to serve as theologians to the wider evangelical community. But at the same time they have a heart and calling for pastoral ministry in the local church. Sadly, our current context compels such individuals to choose between these two callings. Yet this need not be—history has proven otherwise” (271).

Hiestand observes there are two basic understandings of ‘pastor-theologian,’ that of (1) pastor-theologian as local theologian and (2) pastor-theologian as popular theologianHe observes the legitimacy and necessity of both, but in the course of his essay he argues for the addition of a third understanding: (3) the pastor-theologian as ecclesial theologian (264). “While the local theologian and the popular theologian occupy a vital place in the life of the church,” he writes, “they represent only two legs of a three-legged stool. Central to my critique of both models is that they lack a theological writing ministry as essential to their identity” (267). For Hiestand, 

The ecclesial theologian is, first and foremost, a theologian who writes robust, biblical, ecclesially centered, theological reflection to other theologians. It includes, but pushes beyond, the local theologian and popular theologian models, prosecuting a theological agenda consistent with the theological needs of the church” (268).

This is not something new, but rather a model best embodied by men such as Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards. So, for Hiestand, “[t]he ecclesial theologian represents a return to the days when pastors wrote theology that was richly theological, deeply biblical, historically informed, culturally aware, prophetic, and intelligent” (268).

“The ecclesial theologian then, is a pastor who writes ecclesial theology—theology that is self-consciously Christian (avoiding the scourge of methodological agnosticism) and whose agenda is driven by the questions that emerge from the grind and angst of the ecclesial context. What’s more, the ecclesial theologian writes his theology to other theologians, drawing upon the wealth of resources found in the most enduring works of the church, and in conversation with the most relevant contemporary dialog partners—both within and outside of the church” (270).

This model serves double duty in addressing the theological anemia of the church and the ecclesial anemia of theology (271); it seeks to keep in tension the building up the universal church while at the same time serving the particular needs of local congregations in their own situatedness. 

In a year or so, Lord willing, I will graduate with my Master of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As that day approaches I will have to decide whether to continue on with further studies or go straight, if possible, into a pastoral position. From here until then I’m not certain what will happen, but I’m grateful for this thought-provoking essay by a fellow brother in the pastoral trenches. 

In conclusion,

“We are in need of theologians who once again don the clerical mantle—who work explicitly and openly within the framework of historic, Nicene orthodoxy; who work and write as those who bear the weight of souls upon their shoulders; who write—above all—as pastors. Such writing has been the lifeblood of the church, and has constituted her highest theological discourse” (271).


Read the full essay here [only for subscribers]. Students of Southern Seminary can access it through our database. Or, just pass by the James P. Boyce Centennial Library and read it in print format.

For more information on the The Center for Pastor Theologians (CPT), check out this video.

Hiestand, Gerald. “A Taxonomy of the Pastor-Theologian: Why PhD Students Should Consider the Pastorate as the Context for Their Theological Scholarship.” The Expository Times 124, no. 6 (March 2013): 261–271.