The Pastor Is a Theologian–Like Harold Ockenga and Jonathan Edwards

I just published an academic article on the pastor-theologian for the Journal of Biblical Studies. It’s entitled “Light from the Third Great Awakening: Harold Ockenga and the Call to Future Pastor-Theologians.” In the article, I argue that what took place in the neo-evangelical era under Harold Ockenga, Billy Graham, and Carl Henry was actually the “Third Great Awakening.” This is a big claim, and it will take further academic work to substantiate it, but I believe it to be true. (If you want to read still more about Ockenga and his peers, check out Awakening the Evangelical Mind.)

In the article, I draw a straight line from Ockenga’s leadership of the movement as a pastor-theologian to the increased doctrinal strength of the church in the postwar era. In other words, I believe that the pastor-theologian is the key to the advancement of the kingdom. This entails, though, that the pastor-theologian must love sound doctrine. Sound doctrine, culminating in Christ crucified, risen, and reigning, is the engine of the church (2 Timothy 1:13). Here’s a quick swatch of my argument in my journal article:

If a pastor is not committed to sound doctrine, he not only has a God problem, for he will answer to the Lord of heaven and earth for his trifling messages. He also has a content problem, for there simply are not enough testimonies, sociological insights, and sports anecdotes by which to sustain a forty-year pastorate (at least not a compelling one). By contrast, the historic model of the pastor-theologian eschews innovation and topical spelunking for the systematic exposition of the Bible. From my own vantage point, it has been fascinating to watch who endures in the ministry and who does not. There are many factors in play, but it is noteworthy to see John MacArthur, for example, last for over fifty years in the pulpit, while so many neophytes have come and gone in that time. Indeed, one of the best strategies for countering soft words and false teaching seems to be simply this: waiting the wolves out. Over the years, a heart straying from biblical wisdom—or never truly interested in it—tends to stray not merely from the text, but from the faith itself. By contrast, those who treasure the loving-kindness of the Lord, and count it better than life, have a Spirit-powered habit of endurance.

Read the whole thing.

On a similar theme, I have just published an article on pastors as theologians for the magazine of Midwestern Seminary. Finally, to really bring the horse into the stable, I’ve recently released a book (with Doug Sweeney) on the pastor-theologian supreme: Jonathan Edwards. Do check that out if you haven’t.

If this trifecta of material can’t entice you to consider the pastor-theologian model, well, don’t blame me and my overworked keyboard. I’m excited this very week to go on the road with Midwestern, For the Church, and seminary president Jason Allen. Dr. Allen and I will be speaking on these themes in Little Rock tomorrow (May 8) and in Springfield, Missouri (May 9). If you’re in the area, please join us. (And don’t be surprised if you see me at Black Sheep–best burger and milkshake in America. Yes: America. Don’t doubt it ’til you’ve tried it.)

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