I have a theory about why God seems to use pastor/theologians in the ways in which He does in the world. I have come to believe that God blesses the labors of pastor/theologians who give themselves to him and the work of the church in a way that He often does not do so with other believers actively engaged in helpful para-church ministries.
Last May, while I was in Durham, England to speak at the Jonathan Edwards for the Church Conference, I had the privilege of spending some time with Doug Sweeney–Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought and Director, Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity school in Deerfield, IL. Doug also happens to be an elder in his church. In the course of one of our conversations we discussed the high calling of the pastorate. Doug noted the fact that he would often ask new classes of students to list off their top 10 theological heroes from church history–those men by whom they had been most influenced. He then remarked that, almost without fail, every one of the theologians that the students put down on paper were pastors first and then theologians. He went on to explain the great need we have for pastor/theologians today.
It is something of a late 19th to 21st Century novelty for theologians to serve in theological academies without being in the pastorate–or, at least, without having served many years in the pastorate. Even so, God still seems to give pastor/theologians the most vocal and prophetic voices in the world. Consider the fact that John Piper, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur et al are all pastors, first and foremost, who have given themselves to the work of shepherding a congregation throughout the entirety of their ministries. God’s sovereign providence in raising up one and not another aside, I believe that there are several reasons why God uses pastor/theologians in special ways. Here are my five theoretical observations:
1. God has promised to bless His work in the church in order to show His wisdom to the Angels and to the world. Paul says as much in Ephesians 3:10, where he writes, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” In his oustanding series of sermons titled, “The Wisdom of God, Displayed in the Way of Salvation,” Jonathan Edwards noted:
In the foregoing verse the apostle, after speaking of revealing this wisdom of God to man, “And to make all men see, what is the fellowship of this mystery,” etc. speaks of this mystery as a thing from the beginning kept hid till now, “The mystery, which from the beginning of the world had been hid in God — that now,” etc. In this verse he mentions another end, viz. that he may, at the same time, make the angels also see God’s wisdom in his glorious scheme of redemption. — “Now at this time,” implies that it was before a mystery kept hid from them in comparison of what it is now. And here is room enough for the angels to discover more and more to all eternity of the wisdom of God in this work.
Observe the medium by which the angels come by this knowledge, viz. the church — “That now unto principalities — might be known by the church,” — i.e. by the things they see done in the church, or towards the church. and by what they see concerning the church. So has it pleased the sovereign God, that the angels should have the most glorious discoveries of divine wisdom by his doings towards his church, a sort of beings much inferior to themselves. It has pleased God to put this honor upon us.
As much as God does often bless the work of para-church ministries that are seeking to bring Him glory in specific ways, He has not promised to show His manifold wisdom to the principalities and powers (i.e. Angels, demons and earthly political powers), as He has said He would do in His church.
2. God has promised to give His ministers supernatural gifts in preaching and teaching. He has promised a special degree of supernatural wisdom and knowledge, together with an ability to preach and teach in powerful and culture shattering ways. Jesus told his commissioned disciples (i.e. pastors), “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luke 21:15). Jesus gave his ministerial band special promises to be with them until the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20). He told them that, “when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak.” In no other calling, has the living God given such special promises to his ministers. Consider how this worked out in the days of the Apostles. When Peter and John were teaching and preaching to all men publicly, we read of the rulers, elders, scribes and High Priest, “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). This accounts for how the preaching of the Gospel is said to have “turned the world upside down.” The Holy Spirit has invested all of His power and wisdom in the preaching of Christ.
3. Pastor/theologians who preach week in and week out are constantly submerging themselves in the exegetical truths of Scripture. Because of this they are saturating their minds and hearts with the Scriptures. In this way, they, like Apollos, become men who are mighty in the Scriptures. They become better theologians. They are generally ready to exegete cultural and social issues through a more deeply informed Scripture-focused lens than many who are not submerging themselves in Scripture and church history to such a degree.
4. Pastors are exposed to a greater array of people in the church. This is not often true of others serving in Christian ministries outside the church. Minsters are in contact with people who have a variety of needs that are often to see in such diversity in the seminary and/or para-church ministry. This helps them think through the application of Scripture to the diversity of situations in the world. They are called to carry the burdens (the many and diverse burdens) of the flock. This often gives them a more far reaching understanding of the way in which the Word works in the world.
5. Pastors are called to care for the souls of the people entrusted to their care. Surely men in the academy have to comfort afflicted families of their students, see broken marriages, etc. However, a different relationship exists between pastor and people. Pastors are called to shepherd the flock in such a way that they will be able to give an account of their souls to God. This changes everything. Additionally, the are called to go after wandering sheep. Teachers in academies and those who serve in para-church ministries are not called to do this.
Perhaps my theory is incorrect; but, I suspect that it is not. More reasons could (should?) certainly be added to this list. The purpose of this post is to call pastors to see the importance of committing themselves to the church of God, first and foremost–as men who shepherd His flock on a weekly basis; and then, having given themselves to this glorious work, give themselves to theological writing, training and ministry for the well-being of the broader church. We need more pastor/theologians. We need a higher view of the promises of God to bless the spread of the Gospel through the church. We need a higher appreciation for why pastor/theologians are so important in this fallen world. May God raise up a generation of new pastor/theologians who will be used by Him to turn the world upside down.
Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor As Public Theologian