Ecclesial Theologian Posts
October 16, 2012 by Jason Hood
Edmund Hill, in the Translator’s Note for Augustine’s Teaching Christianity:
That it was written for a particular occasion, to meet a particular pastoral need, I think we may take for granted. Augustine was far too busy a bishop to write books “in the air.”
Teaching Christianity is Hill’s accurate and helpful translation of De Doctrina Christiana.0 Comments
February 14, 2012 by Jason Hood
A friend posted this on FB; it juxtaposes Matthew’s previous post rather nicely and reminds me of more serious points for self-reflection.
Just yesterday, trying to understand the rising fascination with Barth, I wondered whether we have a need to believe that a theologian really could be a rock star rather than an awkward servant. It’s not just Barth, of course; some have a “rock star” perception of Calvin, even though his life reveals him to be anything but.
Perhaps we want to believe that it’s possible to be celebrated on the cover of Time or appear on The Daily Show. Or that we’ll be the next great, young, well-known British preacher. (Let the reader understand.)
The reality of course is very different. We bear the scent not of celebrity, but of “the refuse of the world” (1 Cor 4:13). But if our work has any value, we also become the fragrance of life and death and the knowledge of God himself (2 Cor 2:14-17).3 Comments
October 19, 2011 by Gerald Hiestand
Adding to this post…
7. Work with Others Who Know What You’re Working On0 Comments
I’m connected with a small handful of pastors who know what projects I’m working on, and vice versa. One friend is editing a six volume series on Anglican catechesis, another is doing work on the Kingdom of God, another is doing biblical theology work on the final judgement, and another is looking at the relationship between and Adam and Christ. As we come across relevant articles, passages of scripture, books, etc., that impact the various things we are each researching, we’ll send each other texts, e-mails, links, or scan documents to each other. In a similar vein, Matthew, Jason and I connect once a month for a Skype meeting, further enabling our capacity to support each other in our respective work. I’ve found this enormously helpful, both in motivating me to keep moving, but also in providing valuable avenues of research that I might otherwise not have stumbled upon. So let me encourage you to find a few people with whom to partner; not only will you get further, faster. But you’ll likely find your own theological project enriched by the projects of your peers.
September 5, 2011 by Gerald Hiestand
Here at the SAET we are firm believers in reading primary works. So in the interest of ad fontes, we’ve put together a list of what we believed to be the most important theological works in the history of the church. (A special thanks to Matthew Mason for giving us a solid first draft.) No doubt some will quibble about what we’ve left off, or what we’ve included. But we’ve worked hard to be catholic, in the most generous sense of that term, and we hope you’ll find the list helpful in guiding your studies.
A couple of quick comments that will help orient you to this list: 1) The list was put together by North American, Reformed-leaning, evangelical Protestants. 2) We’ve avoided the temptation to succumb to any kind of theological affirmative action. The point was not to put together a list that gives equal representation to the various sectors of the community of faith (e.g., women, minorities, charismatics, etc.), but rather to put together a list of the most influential works in church history. 3) In keeping with the preceding point, the items on this list — with the exception of Schleiermacher — represent trinitarian, orthodox theology, and thus are not only historically important, but pastorally enriching as well.
The Seven Epistles of Ignatius
(All texts in Michael Holmes, 3rd ed.)
The Apostles Creed
The Nicene Creed (325 AD)
The Niceno-Constanopolitan Creed (381 AD)
Definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451)
The “Athanasian” Creed
Irenaeus, Against Heresies (Adversus Haereses) Books 3-5
Athanasius, On the Incarnation (De Incarnatione)
Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Oration
Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Orations (esp. Second Oration)
Basil, On the Spirit
Augustine, The City of God (esp. books 11-22)
Augustine, On the Trinity (De Trinitate)
Augustine, The Spirit and the Letter
Augustine, On the Grace of Christ and Original Sin
St. Benedict, The Benedictine Rule (ed. Timothy Frye)
Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God (Harper Collins, 2005)
Anselm, Why Did God Become Man? (Cur Deus Homo)
Peter Lombard, The Sentences (esp. “On Predestination and Grace,” and “On Use vs. Enjoyment”)
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (esp. First Part, qq. 1-49, First Part of the Second Part, qq. 1-5, 90-114, Second Part of the Second Part, qq.1-46, and Third Part, qq. 1-59)
Reformation and Post-Reformation
Confessions and Councils
Lutheran Book of Concord
39 Articles of the Church of England
Second Helvetic Confession
Canons of Dort
The Westminster Confession
The Westminster Shorter Catechism
The Book of Common Prayer (1662 version)
Council of Trent (esp. sessions 5 and 6 on original sin and justification)
Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian
Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church
Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will
Martin Luther, Galatians Commentary, 1519 and 1535 editions
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
John Calvin, Selections from his Biblical Commentaries
Zacharius Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism
Jonathan Edwards, On the Religious Affections
Jonathan Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World
Friederich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (4 vols.)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. (esp. vols. II.1, II.2, IV.1, IV.2)
Councils and Catechisms14 Comments
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Vatican II (esp. Dei Verbum, Gaudium et Spes, and Lumen Gentium)
July 2, 2011 by Gerald Hiestand
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting the SAET, it’s this: being an ecclesial theologian requires swimimg upstream. Of course, being a “local” pastor-theologian is difficult enough, especially in the atheological miasma of contemporary evangelicalism. But pressing beyond this to the calling of the ecclesial theologian takes extra thoughtfulness and intentionality. We here at the SAET don’t have it all figured out. But since transitioning to my current pastoral position (where I now work alongside SAET co-founder Todd Wilson), I’ve got an increasing sense about some of the moves one can make that help facilitate the eccesial theologian vision. So in a roughly descending order of importance, here are at least six things I’ve found helpful.
1. Staff to the vision. I don’t recommend making staffing changes solely with a view to the ecclesial theologian vision, but if you oversee hiring at your church and are in need of new ministry staff, let me strongly encourage you to look for ministry partners who share your sense of calling to theological scholarship. There aren’t (yet) many of us, of course. But if you can find a like-minded ministry partner who is serious about writing theological scholarship you will have overcome perhaps the most significant hurdle of the ecclesial theologian: isolation. The positive vocational peer-pressure and theological ferment found in the day to day relational exchange of the academy is absent in the local church context. This is a significant disability to the ecclesial theologian. Most of us don’t operate in a working environment where we can pop our head into the room next door and talk about how Thomas Aquinas’ prioritization of the intellect in conversion causes him to arrive at a different ordo solutis than Calvin and the implications this has for the doctrine of total depravity. For example. But now I do. And the difference it has made is huge. Building a staff that not only values theology, but is actually engaged in writing theology, will do more than anything else to put wind in your sail.
2. Get networked. Not all of us are in a position to hire a fellow ecclesial theologian to our ministry staff. Perhaps your church is too small, or perhaps you don’t oversee the hiring process. Regardless, the next most important thing is to get involved in a network of like-minded pastors. Whether formal like the SAET, or informal, having a network of peers who are engaged in theological scholarship is crucial to sustaining your theological calling. Use Skype, connect at ETS, start a blog, whatever. But find a group of pastors who are committed to publishing theology, and who regularly ask you what projects you are working on. Beyond the positive peer-pressure, a robust network is also helpful in making headway with publishers.
3. Make your study time a priority in your weekly schedule. The expectations and demands of your congregation will almost certainly push you away from study and writing. So if you’re going to get after it, you are going to have to make it a priority in your schedule. I’ve found that setting aside my mornings works best for me. This year I’m reading Augustine on Mondays, Thomas on Tuesdays, Barth on Wednesdays, and contemporary theology/scholarship on Thursdays. I turn my phone off, don’t open my e-mail and don’t schedule any appointments (if at all possible) until noon. Of course, sometimes I have to pull up from studying — funerals, emergencies, etc., press in occasionally. But for the most part I’ve found that I can get nearly all of my administrative stuff done if I push it into the afternoons. (Typically, if you give yourself eight hours to do your administrative stuff, it will take eight hours. If you given yourself four, it will take four). Of course, this only works when you are in control of your schedule. Most pastors are, but some of you serve in a church where you are at the mercy of others. Even so, there are probably times in the week that are usually open. Schedule your study time around those times. And one more point here — don’t just study for your next sermon or teaching assignment. Quite apart from striving toward the calling of the ecclesial theologian, too many pastors are merely one step ahead of the theological train. The lifeblood of the pastor — whether your local congregation realizes it or not — is a steady intake of rich theology, prayer and bible reading. Stop feeling guilty about prayerfully reading Calvin’s Institutes, or Anthanasius’ On the Incarnation or Augustine’s De Trinitate. Theological study isn’t something a pastor fits into his schedule when he’s completed his pastoral duties, rather theological study is the pastor’s duty. For the good of your congregation — for the good of your preaching and teaching and counseling and capacity to offer pastoral care — it is vital that you not neglect to feed yourself.
4. Get buy-in from the leadership of your church. If you’re doing your job right, the leadership of your church should eventually come to value the time you spend in your study. After all, they more than anyone else should be reaping the benefits of all your theological labor. But depending on the history of your church, theological engagement (at least the level of engagement necessary for being an ecclesial theologian) might be seen as a distraction from your pastoral duties. Go slow here. Theology has been separated from the church for long enough that it is no longer self-evident to most congregations that sustained theological engagement by their pastors is a good thing. This will need to be demonstrated, not simply argued. In any case, it’s important that you help your church leadership see that your pursuit of theological scholarship is not ancillary to your calling as a pastor, but rather a vital part of it.
5. Don’t ever forget that theology exists for the church — your church first and foremost! If the people in your congregation don’t feel valued as your first priority, then you are being a poor ecclesial theologian. Your congregants should feel like your study time is about them, not simply your next writing project. If they start to begrudge you your study time (e.g., “he spends all his time in holed up in his office”), you will need to take a hard look at yourself and your priorities. Because it is very likely that your study time isn’t really as much about God and his kingdom as you think it is. Theology serves the church, not the other way around. Love for God and his people should drive us to our books. If love for God and our congregations isn’t the fuel that powers our study, what are we really studying for?
6. Stop calling the place where you work an “office” and start calling it your “study”. Never, under pain of excommunication from the ecclesial theologian club, refer to your study as an office. If this is the first time you’ve heard this rule, you get three free passes. After that, you’re out. Semantics matter. If you call your study an office, the people in your church will have a certain set of expectations regarding your function as a pastor. The room with all your books, the room where you read the Scriptures and pray — that room is your study. Starting referring to it as such and your people will come to expect that studying is part of your calling.
Any other suggestions?16 Comments
June 10, 2011 by Jason Hood
(For part one click here.)
KV spoke of the importance of direct and indirect communication (Kierkegaard’s distinction): story, parable, proverb, and action are vital (and sometimes overlooked) tools for getting a message across. This prompts KV to ask if forms or genres of Scripture have authority, and if so, how? If they are not authoritative, we could simply download true facts abstracted from the Bible and be done with the tricky forms! (I also have in my notes the question, “Is Paul’s life canonical?” i.e., 1 Cor 4:8-17, but I cannot remember if that’s KV’s idea or my own reflection.)
The goal of theology is to form people of wisdom, not least so that theology and the life lived are not divorced. He gave the example of Philemon, where Paul foregoes command in order to facilitate a “fitting act that refreshes the heart,” as Vanhoozer interpreted it; or “prepared spontaneity,” in Paul Tripp’s wonderful phrase, brought out by Matthew Mason in his response paper. First Theology is about the gospel, but in a broad sense, larger than sin-defined needs–that’s milk, the beginning, but not the end.
Kevin’s recommendations included Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God; he urged us to pursue a trinitarian gospel-centeredness, so that our gospel accounts for and celebrates “Not just God for us, but God with us and in us.” This is just one example of KV’s consistent effort to overcome theory-praxis distinction, a theme that arose repeatedly inDrama and in our discussion. KV asks what it means to be biblical, and he very forcefully insists that it is not enough to have the right propositions in hand…we must follow those facts, “walk in the way,” exercising (and acting in) judgment: we are actors, not just spectators.
The theologian also has the task of cultivating not just the intellect, but intellectual virtues, and habits of the mind linked to those virtues. Humility, not hubris; honesty, justice, patience; an intellectual pursuit that is “less about me.” A high view of our own thoughts over time makes us closed-minded and pastorally disastrous. (JH note: How do we balance this with the pastor-theologian as “public intellectual” and “Big Picture Specialist”?!? I’d recommend John Dickson’s new book, Humilitas.)1 Comment
June 9, 2011 by Jason Hood
Or did SAET do Vanhoozer? I’m not sure, but Vanhoozer was present while we all did Ecclesial Theology. The Second Fellowship of the SAET met this week in Chicago. It was everything one would want: encouraging, challenging, course-correcting, vision-casting.
Kevin Vanhoozer was our special guest; Doug Sweeney, our regular Second Fellowship advisor, was also in attendance, and both brought the wisdom for us. Several of us gave papers that attempted to make Pumpkin Pie out of The Great Pumpkin, Vanhoozer’s Drama of Doctrine. KV interacted with our responses and spent time reflecting with us on what needs to happen in the theological-pastoral enterprise in which we are all engaged. A few soundbites faithfully (I hope) paraphrased:
“Theology is the study of reality. A theologian is a minister of reality.” Part of the theologian’s task is to challenge and cast down idolatrous counter-realities.
The task of the theologian is that of “public intellectual,” not necessarily in the global, CNN sense, but in the local sense. In a segmented world, pastor-theologians are the ones who can help make sense of the world as a whole. Local attempts to provide an answer to truly challenging questions, i.e., “What is a human being?” and thus make sense of the world cannot in fact do so.
The attempt to answer such questions can be made within the solar systems of economics, social media, medicine and science, politics, journalistic media, etc., and we can learn from such attempts. But wherever the attempt is made reductionism mars the end result. Theology alone gets to say, from a cosmic perspective, “God and reality are more than economics,” and theologians alone are the “Big Picture Specialists.”
“Theology and Christianity is not about getting God into my life, but about me getting into the life and story of God, who is restoring all things and renewing his image.“6 Comments
October 13, 2010 by Jason Hood
An interview with David Dark (2005) supports the point I made in a previous post about the important discernment role of pastor-theologians, and the need to place would-be “Christian” books and their ecclesial impact on the scales. This is as big a problem in the modern church as it was in the ancient church, and throughout church history.
You note that most Christians are unable to determine whether something is morally edifying unless the movie, album or book immediately defines itself as such. As a result, the Christian culture has allowed marketing teams to define that which is Christian and to distinguish those things which are not Christian or ‘secular.’ . . . You also state, “I’m personally convinced that such market-driven theology will be viewed historically, with at least as much embarrassment as, say, the medieval sale of indulgences.” What might you say to those who would disagree with this conclusion? To those who have grown up in the context of “Christian Culture,” how can they develop a more discerning view of contemporary culture?
I’d say that the Catholic Church eventually repented over the indulgences, but there’s no sign of a similar moment of clarity in corporations who want their profits (at any cost) from their so-called “Christian” companies. The market will call “Christian” whatever sells as “Christian” and well-meaning church people inherit the heresy. The market we will always have with us (this side of the coming kingdom), but discerning the spirits and sorting out our allegiances from consumerism and America and whatever we’ve gotten fooled over is a fulltime, communal occupation. Studying history, praying, and talking these things through is really all we can do. But it’s what the church has always had to do.
I’d only add that it is not only a communal occupation; someone has to take the lead in discernment, historical perspective, and prayer. I vote for pastor-theologians.0 Comments
October 12, 2010 by Jason Hood
I’ve really enjoyed teaching through Revelation with my buddy Robbyn Abedi. I’ve really enjoyed reading three books (in addition to commentary dabbling), by very different writers whose perspectives result in very different insights: a scholar-exegete-theologian (Richard Bauckham, Theology of the Book of Revelation), a worship leader, musician and pastor (Michael Card and Scotty Smith, Unveiled Hope), and a contemplative-pastor type (Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder). It’s been a great exercise, and a fantastic reminder that those with different gifts have much to give one another–surely one lesson we’re trying to learn at SAET, by focusing on what it means to be in the church doing theology.
For one sample of Peterson’s pastoral angle: the first century churches in Asia were not a bunch of weaklings. On the outside, especially by the standards of their culture, they may have looked like it. But should we see these Christians as harried, harassed? Eugene says no:
“These men and women from the moment of their baptism in the name of the Trinity, knew their lives as miracles of resurrection. The people who gathered each Lord’s Day to sing their Lord’s praises and receive his life were the most robust in the Roman empire.
They were immersed in splendors. They brimmed with life. Even when their zeal cooled, as it sometimes did, and their taut loyalties went a little slack, as sometimes happened, there was far more going on in their lives than in the Babylon-seduced lives of their contemporaries. And they knew it. When they forgot, St. John reminded them.
We must never forget that the pictures of wildly celebrative praise in heaven and catastrophic woes wreaked on earth…that all this stuff was made out of their daily traffic in scripture, baptism, and eucharist. In this heaven-penetrated, hell-threatened environment they lived their daily lives. Nothing . . . could equal it for depth of meaning and drama of inciden
There could not have been many dull moments in those lives, nor need there be in ours. When dull moment did come, they were recognized as the work of the devil and were chased by the apocalypse-informed imagination at worship.” (Reversed Thunder, 70-71)
June 24, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
Elsewhere I’ve argued that the social locations of the academy and the church represent two distinct (and often diverging) fields of theological discourse. In as much as most of our theologians and scholars are situated in the academy, orthodox theology has become, in many instances, detached from the church and her concerns. While there remains some overlap between the academy and the church (particularly when one includes the seminary as a sub-set of the academic world), overall, these two social locations represent diverging theological/scholarly agendas.
The point above regarding diverging social locations is aptly illustrated by a recent exchange between SBL and a disgruntled former member, Ronald S. Hendel. Hendel accuses SBL of becoming too cozy with faith perspectives. The response from SBL is revealing:
“Although SBL invites vigorous discussion of all relevant topics, proselytizing activity is neither welcome nor permitted in SBL-sponsored events and publications and is inconsistent with the SBL’s core values: accountability, inclusiveness, collaboration, leadership in biblical scholarship, collegiality, productivity, commitment, responsiveness to change, communication, scholarly integrity, efficiency, and tolerance. Consequently, any instances of proselytizing activity should be reported to SBL staff. Further, we are unaware of any RBL reviews that even “hint” that anyone is “going to hell.” If any SBL member can point us to such a review, we will immediately remove the review and disavow its sentiments.”
Clearly the rules of engagement governing SBL do not lend themselves to the sort of theological task historically prosecuted by the church’s most influential theologians. The church’s task is, explicitly, a proselytizing one. Indeed, a significant bulk of the church’s reflection is driven by, and born out of, the duty of proselyting.
I’m glad believing, orthodox scholars like Michael Bird and others are present and moving in the SBL environment. The Christian community needs a voice there; we have both things to learn and to teach. But given the stated aims of SBL, it should be clear that the agenda of SBL — reflective of the wider academic context – represents an entirely different sort of agenda than what must once again come to constitute the core of orthodox, theological reflection. We are in need of a rebirth of the ecclesial theologian — the kind of theologian whose primary vocation is pastoral, and whose intellectual center and theological agenda is constituted by the church.0 Comments