Why We Need More Doctorates in the Pastorate!

Why We Need More Doctorates in the Pastorate! March 21, 2013

In the latest issue of ExpT there is a very good article by Gerald Hiestand on A Taxonomy of the Pastor-Theologian: Why PhD Students Should Consider the Pastorate as the Context for Their Theological Scholarship. The blurb reads:

The bifurcation of theological scholarship from pastoral ministry has led to a twofold problem in contemporary church/academy relations: the theological anemia of the church, and the ecclesial anemia of theology. This essay explores these twin problems and suggests that the way forward in bridging the gap between academy and church is to reunite the pastoral vocation with the vocation of the theologian. Toward this end, the essay offers a taxonomy of three contemporary models of the pastor-theologian, examining the strengths and limitations of each. Ultimately, the paper calls for a resurrection of an all but extinct, yet historically rooted model of the pastorate—the pastor as ecclesial theologian, and challenges the emerging generations of theologians to consider the pastorate as a viable context for their future theological scholarship.

According to Hiestand (who is part of the SAET) there is a great heritage of pastor-theologians including Irenaeus, Athanasius, Basil, Augustine, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Wesely etc. He laments that the pastor-theologian is no longer the norm. When theology moved out from the church to the academy, the result was that “the theological water level within the pastoral community … fell considerably.” But not only that, the church became theologically anemic and theology itself became ecclesially anemic.  Hiestand argues that we need more capable theologian-types in our churches. “More theologians in our pulpits will deepen the theological integrity of our churches, while at the same time add an ecclesial voice to evangelical theology.”  He maintains that the theological integrity of the gospel in the Christian community will never rise above the level of her pastors and ecclesial theologians are best situated to produce ecclesially sensible, field-tested, theological work that deepens the faith and depth of the church.

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  • Terry

    I read this a couple of weeks ago and was going to post on it, but it’s got swamped under other stuff. I’m not so convinced by the various distinctions he makes, but the need for vicars, pastors, etc., to be theologically astute and actively contributing to the church catholic strikes me as very appropriate.

  • Overall, I do appreciate the point Hiestand makes. However… I do not share the assumptions that (1) scholarship is limited to formal academic training and especially (2) that pastoral work is exclusive to the congregational context. There are many faithful reflective practitioners not constrained by universities, seminaries, denominations and congregations.

    • Agreed! What is now regarded as “scholarship” is of fairly recent origin!


  • I would very much agree with him. In contrast with poster Cameron West above, I do not believe that there is much serious theology coming from anywhere but the university, but it is remaining there. There are a million pop-theology books with deep-looking book covers and fancy titles, but no matter how many of those you read, you’re still not a theologian, and you’re not well-read. There are good people out there leading churches, but that’s not the same as good theologians.

    I would also argue for rigorous philosophical training of pastors. Without also having reasoning capacity, a bunch of facts about the Bible and Christianity will remain as such. Perhaps this is the reason that theology has stayed in the academy: we’ve grown really good at theology through historical criticism, but we’re not good at figuring out what it means for our churches and our lives.

  • Charles Twombly

    Jaroslav Pelikan said that the early theologians were bishops, the Medieval theologians were monks, and the modern theologians are professors. (Actually, the early theologians were generally both monks and bishops, but never mind. The trajectory is clear.)

  • The title of this article completely misses the point of the article – pastors going to get doctorate’s is very different from theologian’s working in the local church. When I first saw the article title on my friend’s facebook page, I felt my diaphragm spasm and small bits of food coming up my throat…”What a horrible idea” I thought as I struggled to keep it all down. Two others fortunately had a less visceral reaction, and commented that a study had shown that the greater a pastor’s education the LESS church growth, and another pointed out Jesus’ proclivity for choosing Phd’s to work on his team.

    BUT, when I came here and read the article, I actually loved it! Why? Because theologian’s absolutely need to get out of the academy and onto the streets – no brainer, of course. But theologian’s are a different pen of sheep than pastor’s. To say the little fella’s in the pastoral pen should go add to their already difficult burden another huge academic education pack is beyond absurd, when everyone know’s they would each to a one benefit at least 37 times more by simply getting a part time job at the local Starbuck’s. On the other hand those cute little sucklings in the theology pen would immensely benefit by trotting over to the local congregation and trying to cram some of their precious little brain concepts into real world size boxes…over a few decades…and see how it all adds up. Two totally different pens of animals with totally different lives and needs…article about one pen, title about another.

  • Ian Thomason

    I’m not convinced that this is the only, nor necessarily the best, solution. First, I’m not personally acquainted with very many pastors who hold research doctoral degrees, and there’s likely a plethora of very valid reason for this. Second, the Church as Body of Christ should comprise many members, each of whom brings with them a gift, or gifts. So Doctors of Philosophy/Theology should be exercising their teaching ministries in partnership (i.e.κοινωνία) with those who exercise more pastoral ministries.

  • aclott

    I see a very real need for the church to invest time and traing for the pastors. I however, believe that a DMin or PHDin theological studies is not nessacary for all pastors. The idea that one is cient because they lack a professional graduate degree is a fallacy. If the denominations would provide training for those who are not scholastic a happy medium could be reached. I have an undergrad degree in Ministey; someday I might go back for an MDiv but at 51 I’m nit sure its feasible. I would however, take full advantage of denominational training.

  • Originality

    There are a lot of assumption here. I do not find these sort of ‘pastors’, academics, the social cleavage between ‘ministry’ and ‘congregation’ in the New Testament. Peter argues that all the older men need to be both pastors (shepherds) and overseers (not bishops) (1Peter5:1-4) Then Luke shows how Paul said the very same thing to the elders of the Ephesian church when they met him at Miletus. (See Acts20:17ff) He warned them that he had ‘decalred unto (them), “the whole council fo God” and that they were, as overseers, to “feed the church of God (that is feed as shepherds) which He purchased with His Own Blood.” Since these were elders of the church at Ephesus then Paul was not referring them as Bishops as they are known in the denominations today. Indeed in the New Testament and in Clement of Rome there are only these elders who shepherd and who oversee. There is no episcopy as an office. This grew up later. and then became institutionalised as men like Diotrephes became ambitious for preeminence and for power. We have the system today when in fact there is no such leadership system in the churches in the New Testament. One might add that elders were older men who were married (or widowed, perhaps) withe the support of their wives. Older woman were exhorted to be “teachers of good things” in Paul’s letter to Titus (2:3). The attitude and response of the Bereans is held up by Luke as the ideal for a church to behave with all searching “the scriptures daily whether those things (as taught by Paul) were so.” (Acts 17:11)
    So what has academia to offer? Nothing! We can ourselves read, can we not? And if we are willing to God’s will then he will see to it that we know (and understand) (Jn.7:17)
    Of course one may disagree and argue that these people in the first century would have largely been ex Jews or proselytes so therefore well educated. I wouod reply that if they could do it with an education then I can do it and anyone else can do it without any formal education, Since anyway schooling is largely doing what Kuhn wrote about in how Science operates. It keep students and graduates safely within the assumptions and prejudices which are the paradigms set by the academic world. Nor room for original thinking there in my humble opinion.

  • I read this article after having my dissertation approved at Fordham University. I have been a Methodist pastor for 17 years and went through a PhD program part time. I have decided to continue in pastoral ministry. The theology that has arguably had the most impact on global Christianity is the kind that has its roots in a church setting. The list above illustrates that very well. There is another side to this. It is not just about theologians writing sermons. There is a need in the church for deeper theological discourse regarding issues that have run quickly ahead of our pastors (and I speak as one!) The complexities of genetic research, technology, geopolitics, and even the environment are mostly treated in a shallow way. The primary reason for this is our clergy simply cannot keep up with the implications of the kinds of advances being made across the board. The church needs the kind of discourse that can help it process issues in Biblical and theological ways. Theologians need the church to remind them that Christian community involves accountability, faithfulness, and humility in service to Christ. These two belong together. In a pigeon-hole world, it isn’t easy.

  • I agree with Jeff that a Pastor with a PhD is not the same creature as a Theologian with a PhD who chooses to become a Pastor. We need to get that one right for a start! However, it just so happens that I fall into the category of the latter. I have just completed a PhD in theology and consider my calling in life to be a theologian, however I believe at this stage that is best served in the context of the pastorate. I won’t lie, it is a tough gig; ” In the morning you are re engaging with the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Geog Gadamer; in the afternoon you are helping a poor person find food, or organize a bible study for youth group kids. Then you try to explain to your surfer friends that theology is not like geology–that’s fun.

    However when you read the theology of Jonathon Edwards, you understand the pay-off. You don’t get insights into divine truth like that by presenting a paper in a University Lecture theatre. Theologian is not a job, its a calling. Once you know who you are, you then need the humility to be open to where God wants you to exercise that calling. You won’t receive the accolades of your “academy” counterparts, and may have to wait till you are dead before your work is appreciated! In the end, its all about being obedient to God’s calling in your life and let him get the glory.