Gerald Hiestand – Co-Founder and Director
Gerald has served on the SAET board since 2006, and was hired as part-time Director in the fall of 2008. Gerald has degrees from Moody Bible Institute and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is pursuing a PhD in Classical Studies from the University of Kent, Canterbury. He has been in pastoral ministry since 1999, and serves currently as the Senior Associate Pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park. Gerald has written a number of scholarly articles (Trinity Journal, Westminster Journal, Evangelical Quarterly, Expository Times) and has a research interest in historical soteriology and ecclesial theology. His articles “Ecclesial Theology and Academic Theology: Why We Need More of the Former” (Reformation 21), and “The Pastor as Wider Theologian” (First Things), provide a concise overviews of the SAET’s theological vision. Gerald is also the author of Raising Purity: Helping Parents Understand the Bible’s Perspective on Sex, Dating, and Relationships (Iustificare Press, 2009), and along with Jay Thomas, Sex, Dating and Relationships: A Fresh Approach (Crossway, 2012). Gerald and his wife, Jill, have three children.
First and most importantly, what is the SAET?
We here in North America live in a context where pastors are seldom encouraged to make robust theological contributions to the broader Church. That duty has been left to our academic theologians. Consequently, contemporary orthodox/evangelical theology often lacks a distinctly ecclesial voice. So the SAET is an organization dedicated to assisting pastor-theologians in producing biblical and theological scholarship for the renewal of orthodox theology, for the renewal of the Church. Unlike other pastor-theologian programs, our goal is not primarily to get more theology into the churches, but to get more of the church into theology. Our pastors are committed to writing and scholarship not primarily as a means of enhancing their own local parish ministry, but more broadly, as a means of pushing evangelical theology in an ecclesial direction. The SAET hopes to accomplish this primarily through our SAET Fellowship, but also then in broader ways, as the Lord enables.
You serve currently in the pastorate and have also spent time in graduate school. What is it about your own personal experience with these two venues that has caused you to see a need for the SAET?
Transitioning from the pastorate to graduate school revealed to me a disconnect that exists between the academy and the local church. I don’t want to exaggerate this disconnect, nor suggest that evangelical schools such as Trinity, which has been very helpful to me, are not doing useful theology, but it has become apparent to me that the questions driving the academy are not entirely congruous with the questions coming out of local church ministry. There seems to be an increasing belief among the laity—and even significant portions of the pastoral community—that deep and critical theological speculation is largely a waste of time. I don’t believe this, but we have to ask ourselves why it is that popular evangelicalism is finding less and less patience for the theology that our theologians are producing. And though there are certainly a number of factors involved, those of us who feel a sense of calling in this area can’t simply pass the blame. If the people in the pews are finding our theology largely irrelevant, we need to be open to the possibility that perhaps it is.
Allister McGrath, in his chapter of the recently published The Futures of Evangelicalism addresses this concern, and he and others in the academy have discussed the issue for quite some time. It’s not a new concern. Wayne Grudem touched upon this subject as well in a past presidential address at ETS.
As you note, the disconnect between the academy and the local church has been discussed at length by theologians. In your opinion, what is giving rise to this disconnect?
Pastors and professors, in many respects, live in two different worlds. There is an increasing awareness among theologians regarding the significance of social location and its relationship to theological formation. The personal context of the theologian gives birth to the questions that he or she seeks to answer. Professors have their ears tuned first to the questions of the academy. Pastors have their ears tuned to the questions of the local church. This is perhaps too sharp of a distinction, and I’m not suggesting there isn’t a crossover, but I think that both groups would acknowledge the uniqueness and diversity of these two roles. Failure to give appropriate weight to the distinctions of these two roles is, I believe, at the root of this disconnect. The evangelical academy reserves much of its theological energy for responding to its liberal and secular counterpart. Consequently, there is a heavily apologetic tone to much of contemporary evangelical theology. One need only read the best of our commentaries to see the reality of this; as much time is spent responding to secular scholarship as it is to the text itself. This is a necessary and important component of evangelical theology, but it isn’t typically the world that most pastors have to operate in. Commentary sets such as The Word Biblical Commentary, which is rightly touted as one of the finest examples of evangelical scholarship, are great for professors, but they are not particularly useful for pastors—not because they are too complex—but because they don’t address pastoral concerns as a primary focus. So we’re reserving the best of our theologians for academic concerns, and not giving adequate attention to pastoral concerns. This was one of Grudem’s main points in his lecture.
In light of this disconnect, you have stated that many of the next generation of theologians should be comprised of local church pastors. What makes you believe that pastors can and should fill this vacuum?
First, our current attempts at solving this problem haven’t been effective. As far as I am aware, attempts at addressing this concern have been spearheaded primarily by the academy. But often times it seems that such attempts ultimately end up being little more than admonitions to academic theologians to simply try harder. This is where I think previous attempts have fallen short. We need to quit asking our academic theologians to do double duty. As the past has shown, in most cases, it is simply asking too much for most academic theologians to be adequately informed and sensitive to the distinct and varied theological questions of pastoral ministry. We need theologians who live and move in that environment. This is why the primary aim of the SAET is to return theological formation to the local church. Our heart is to see a new kind of theologian, which historically speaking really isn’t new at all, who finds a context in local church ministry, rather than the academy. We need theologians who ask and answer academic questions. But we also need theologians who ask and answer primarily pastoral questions. And I don’t see where we are going to find these theologians unless we look to the pastorate. Even McGrath, though not connecting all of the dots in the way I’m doing here, acknowledges that the next generation of evangelicalism’s most important thinkers may not reside in the academy. I think he’s right.
Like Jonathan Edwards, for example.
Exactly. In North American evangelical history Edwards stands unparalleled as a theologian. And the fact that he was a pastor should not be minimized. It was the questions that he encountered during his pastoral ministry that drove his great intellect. His work on the freedom of the will and his ability to reshape Calvinistic thought in a way that helped spark the Great Awakening, related to his role of pastor as much as theologian. And it should not be lost on us that some of the greatest theologians of church history were heavily involved in local church ministry as well. The theological legacy of theologians such as Edwards, Barth, Augustine and Calvin, show the wisdom of uniting the role of pastor with the task of theologian. The same observation can be made in reference to Luther and Wesley, who though not pastors per se, were heavily involved in ministry to the laity—far more than the typical contemporary academic theologian (and even some pastors). And the interesting thing about these theologians is that we still find their work to have pietistic value. We read them devotionally and their thought still informs us about the Christian mission, how we should live, how we should love God and love others. In fact, much of their apologetic work—Augustine against the Dotanists and Manichees for instance—though still useful, is not appropriated nearly as much as their distinctly pietistic thought. These theologians have endured, not on the basis of their apologetic work, which was largely germane to their particular time, but on the basis of their pastoral work, which in many respects is timeless.
You frequently reference the legacy of Edwards. What about Edwards do you find so compelling in this regard?
In my mind, the relationship between the academy and the local church in Edwards’ day serves as a great paradigm. Doug Sweeney, resident Edwards scholar at TEDS, was one of the first to get me thinking in this direction. Doug has argued that theology can and should be done primarily in the local church. In eighteenth-century New England, unlike the present day, it was local church pastors such as Edwards who functioned as the primary theologians of evangelical thought. In many cases, the tutors of the colleges were young men who had not yet arrived theologically, and were themselves preparing for the higher calling of pastoral ministry, which, for a variety of reasons particular to that culture, was seen as the top of the theological pyramid. Consequently, the primary theology of evangelicalism was pastoral theology. The theology being taught in the academy was sourced largely in the local church. So the flow of theology went from the pastorate to the academy. It is easy to see how this paradigm would ensure that the theology being taught to future pastors would be highly relevant and in tune with the needs of pastoral ministry. But today, the theological river runs in reverse. The church no longer produces theology for the academy; the academy produces theology for the church. This just seems backwards. It was the Edwardsian legacy that started me thinking about ways to reverse this flow once again.
Some, though perhaps sympathetic to your concerns, will undoubtedly suggest that such a paradigm shift is simply not feasible in the contemporary context. Obviously you don’t agree, so how do you envision this shift occurring?
It certainly won’t be easy or quick. I was discussing this idea with the chair of the theology department of a prominent theological institution and, though agreeing with my assessment of the need, was not overly optimistic about the possibility of reversing the current paradigm. So I know it won’t be easy. There needs to be an intentional, concerted effort on the part of like-minded pastors and professors to encourage the next generation of theologians to rethink the context of their calling and consider the real possibility of pursuing their giftedness in the local church. The next generation of theologians will do theology, but in what context? We will always need academic theologians, but I believe that many of our future theologians should be found in the local church. I am not suggesting that every pastor must become a theologian, only that the many of our future theologians should be pastors, or at least like Wesley and Luther, spend as much time ministering to the laity as they do to their peers. And there needs to be a framework, or structure to support this shift. The role of the SAET is to provide this structure, to be a forum, or gathering place, for this type of project. I realize that the SAET is not the sole answer to this issue, or perhaps even the best, but I hope that we can begin to help both those inside and outside of the academy to think about the ways in which we can work toward this goal.
How do you see the SAET relating to the Academy?
We are very much concerned that the SAET not be viewed as an “anti-academy” project. The SAET is not bringing a new critique to the evangelical academy—just a new solution. For something like the SAET to work, it is desperately in need of sensitive academic theologians, historians and bible scholars to come along side us as partners and mentors. I have benefited greatly, and continue to benefit, from my academic training. The academy, though driven by its own distinct academic concerns, is filled with godly men and women who have a heart for the church and long to see her flourish. The SAET wants to stand in continuity with this passion. The goal of the SAET is not to replace the academic theologian, but to come alongside the academic theologian and fill a theological void that is present in the church. It is my hope and prayer that both the academic theologian and the coming pastoral theologian can find a way to work together in unity toward the advancement and mission of the church.