Todd Wilson

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Book Review: “Becoming a Pastor Theologian” edited by Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand

bpt-wilson-hiestandBecoming a Pastor Theologian edited by Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand is a collection of essays centered around the idea that the minister ought also to be engaged with theology. The essays included cover topics centered around “The Identities of the Pastor Theologian,” “The Pastor Theologian in Historical Perspective,” and “The Pastor Theologian and the Bible.”

Highlights include for part 1 Peter Leithart’s essay on integrating theology into the church; for part 2 an essay on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and for part 3 essays on apologetics and “The Female Ecclesial Theologian.” Each of these (and most of the others) has many directly applicable insights. That is the strength of the book: whether an essay is about a specific person (eg. Bonhoeffer) or a broader topic (eg. exegesis), the focus is on putting tools in the reader’s hands as far as applying insights into the job of a pastor theologian.

The text is about 200 pages, and there are 15 essays and an introduction squeezed in, meaning each chapter averages about 12.5 pages. Though this is a decent length for a journal article, it leaves each essay feeling a bit abrupt, particularly given the constant commitment to the central theme. Itself not a bad thing–indeed, commitment to the central theme of “pastor theologian” is a good thing–this means that each author spends at least some time outlining what is meant by pastor theologian, which becomes unnecessary after the introduction. Moreover, a few of the essays do have very little applicable ideas found therein.

Another difficulty is that there is a limited scope as far as ecclesiology is concerned. Indeed, the only mention of “megachurch” is found in a rather stereotypical contrast between a megachurch and the “small local church” as if one is inherently better than the other. Yet it is difficult, biblically, to see how such a potshot could be justified. It’s a minor thing, but I think worth mentioning. Moreover, the chapter on exegesis suffers from a frankly naive view of Scripture. The author asserts that the historical critical approach to the Bible entails “the loss of connection between the doctrines of the church and the text of Scripture, primarily because Scripture is expected… to be grounded historically in its ancient context. This excludes… eternal theological truths” (143, emphasis added). Not only is this demonstrably false, for one could very easily understand a text in an ancient historical context while still saying that it could have an eternal theological truth, but it also shows an astonishing lack of concern for understanding what the text actually means. Though this view is perhaps moderated a bit later in the same essay, the assertion that grounding the meaning of the Bible in its historical context somehow necessitates undermining theology is alarming.

The essay on “The Female Ecclesial Theologian” was good, though I think it could have gone even farther in noting the contributions can make and have made in this field. However, I appreciated the argument that by excluding women’s voices, we have been losing out on the richness and fullness of Christian theology. The author, Laurie L. Norris closes by stating, “May we worthily bear God’s image together in service to the church.” Amen.

Overall, Becoming a Pastor Theologian has a number of valuable insights, but the quality of the essays is uneven. It’s worth the read for those interested in the topic, but it must be done with a critical eye.

The Good

+Diversity of topics
+Strong adherence to central theme
+Much to apply

The Bad

-Uneven quality of essays
-Small space to each topic
-Surprisingly limited scope of ecclesiology

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 


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