Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Pastor as Theologian Model for Challenging the Postmodernism: A Proposal

Postmodernism now becomes our narrative. Like it or not, we have already lived within that such of situation. But how do we define the term postmodernism itself? Unfortunately, it’s hard to find the best definition of the term’s meaning because probably that reflects the term itself. When the term is able to be defined, then the term is not becoming “postmodernism” anymore. Yet, we are still able to capture the core characteristic of postmodernism.

In this regard, a theologian Stanley Grenz assumes that postmodernism is characterized by deconstructionistic approach. The deconstructionist believes that there is no one meaning in a text since meaning emerges only as the interpreter or the reader enters into dialogue with the text. And because the meaning of the text is dependent to the reader, the meaning could be varied.[1] Though actually this theory is derived from literary theory, however, the postmodern philosopher then applied the theory to read the reality in the world. They also insist that every reality in this world is read differently be each reader. Thus, Grenz concludes: “This means that there is no one meaning of the world, no transcendent center to reality as a whole.”[2]

If this so, then it will affect the people to think of the truth itself. They will think that there is no one grand truth, but many truths or little truths. Truth becomes so plural that nobody can assume that he/she has discovered the objective or grand truth. In this regard, Grenz rightly said that, “The central hallmark of postmodern cultural expression is pluralism.”

However, this kind of thought is not just influential in academic life, but also in our cultural life. There are several aspects in our culture that may represent the postmodernism impact:[3] (1) Postmodern architecture. Postmodern architecture emerged in response to certain tendencies in modernist architecture. Instead of the modern ideal of univalence, postmodernist celebrate “multivalence”. The works explores and displays incompatibilities of style, form, and texture; (2) Postmodern art. In the postmodern art, we will see that they seek to challenge the modernist focus on the stylistic integrity of the individual work and undermine what they see as the modernist “cult” of the individual artist. They seek ways to deny the singleness of artistic works; (3) Postmodern fiction. To this aspect, Grenz observes that postmodern literary works focus on contingency and temporality, implicitly denying the modern ideal of a universal truth. Postmodern fiction also heightens the focus on temporality in order to dislodge the reader from his/her attempt to view the world from a vantage point outside.

Several aspects that I mentioned above are just examples to show how postmodernism has been so close to our life and it’s almost impossible to run away from that kind of situation. And what we should bear in mind is that the postmodernism gives particular challenge to the Christianity also. The obvious challenge is while modernism assumed the Christianity as a non-scientific religion, postmodernism now assumes the Christianity as one of many options of religion since the truth in the Christianity is believed as little truth among many truths. If this happen continuously and systemically, then what Roland Chia is worried about will be occurred, namely, the displacement of God.[4]

If we are a pastor, then the question is how we should deal with today’s challenge, so-called postmodernism. There are at least three possibilities of response to this issue: (1) the pastor may escape from this challenge by teaching the congregation that there is no truth in postmodernism at all or even never taught about postmodernism at all. The problem of doing this is that the pastor will produce a naïve thought and faith, and also create an alien community in the midst of postmodern communities; (2) the pastor may absorb all of the postmodernism philosophy uncritically. This is problematic also. As the church is called to be a light and salt, then this response may not be a wise action. The church is called to influence the culture, not vice versa. Thus, to let the church be influenced by the culture will only make the church loses its distinctiveness of her calling; (3) the pastor may discern critically the positive and negative things in postmodernism in order to observe the opportunity to influence the culture by the existence of the church. The church is called to “live in the world, but not of the world.” Here the pastor plays an important role to maintain the tension between “live in the world” and “not of the world”. I think that the third response would be the wisest response to the postmodern phenomenon.

Yet, how does the pastor may discern critically the postmodernism? I propose the model of pastor as theologian to answer the related question. However, by proposing the model, I do not mean that this model is the only one suited model since there are so many models that we should pay attention as well (e.g. pastor as servant, pastor as priest, etc.). Yet, at least, by proposing the model, I intend to highlight the necessity of the model in this postmodern world. Now let’s turn to the deeper question: How do we understand the model? This question will bring us to the next sequence of explanation.

Pastor as Theologian Model: A Biblical Perspective
When the term “pastor as theologian” is raised, there might be some people still presumes a general understanding of what “pastor” and “a theologian” is. For some people, the term “pastor” is understood as a minister that related to all ecclesiastical ministries, such as leading worship service, doing mission, and so on; for other people, the term is almost identical with other non-Christian professional status, such as lawyer, physicians, bankers, and so on.
Meanwhile the term “theologian” is understood as a minister who thinks of high-level and abstract theology. For other, the term is related to a minister who knows a great deal about Christian history, or biblical theology, or philosophical theology. And generally, people think that theologians are suitable in the academic arena, instead of the church.

We may now see that the phenomenon problem above is rooted in the sharp distinction between the task of pastor and theologian. The pastor’s task is assumed to be people and practical oriented, whereas the theologian’s task is assumed to be theoretical and idea-oriented.[5] If this happen continuously, then we can imagine what will the result be in the Christianity. In this regard, Tom Ascol accurately states that, “These tendencies [problem of sharp distinction] have had a spiraling degenerative effect. Theology has become increasingly esoteric and church life has become increasingly a-theological.”[6]

Now how should we then understand the term “pastor as theologian” itself? To this question, I will explain the term from biblical perspective. If we want to understand better on the term, then we should look back at pastor’s calling concept. Perhaps the analogy of the shepherd[7] can be used to enlighten us to understand pastor’s calling. At the biblical epoch, the shepherd was a natural figure to choose for a people whose roots lay in nomadic life and whose greatest leaders, Moses (Is. 63:11) and David (Ps. 78:70-72), had been shepherds. In regard to this analogy, Oden gives us list of what Shepherd does with the sheep:[8]
· The intimacy of the shepherd’s knowledge of the flock. He holds them in his arms.
· The way the shepherd calls each one by its own nature.
· The shepherd does not, like the thief or robber, climb in the pen by some unusual means, but enters properly by the gate, being fully authorized to do so.
· The flock listens to the shepherd’s voice. They distinguish it from all other voices.
· The shepherd leads them out of the protected area into pastures known to be most fitting—feeding them, leading them “out and back in.”
· The shepherd characteristically is “out ahead” of them, not only guiding them, but looking out, by way of anticipation, for their welfare.
· Trusting the shepherd, the sheep are wary of an unproven stranger who might try to lead them abruptly away from the one they have learned to trust, through a history of fidelity. Or in my own words, the shepherd must be trustworthy.
· Jesus is recalled as the incomparably good shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep.
· The good shepherd is contrasted with the hireling or temporary worker who, having little at stake, may be prone to run away when danger approaches.
· All members of the flock of which Jesus is the shepherd are one, united by listening to his voice.

Now how do we relate the analogy to the pastor’s calling? Among many hints that spread out from the analogy, we want to see that there is one calling that pastor should not escape from it, namely, guide the congregation and anticipate everything for their spiritual welfare, including doctrinal welfare.[9] From this, we may arrive to the postulation that every pastor is called to be a church theologian. Such kind of calling was also underlined by apostle Paul reflected in his massive writings, such as:[10]
· He will be a good minister of Jesus Christ if he teaches his brethren to see through ascetic Gnosticism and he himself continues to carefully feed on good doctrine (1Tim. 4:6)
· He is to give careful attention to doctrine (1Tim. 4:13)
· He is continuously to take heed to himself and the doctrine, with the assurance that by doing so he will save both himself and his hearers (1Tim. 4:16).
· He must be so doctrinally grounded that he can refute false teaching by sound doctrine (Tit. 1:9)

However, one may ask in what level or capacity the pastor should be a church theologian. I would suggest that there are two levels of being a theologian in the church. The first level is learning fundamental theology. I insist that all pastors must know the basic doctrines that will lead the congregation to know God essentially. Here are several examples of basic doctrines: doctrine of the Trinity, prolegomenon (introduction to theology), Christology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, etc.

Ironically, there are still some pastors from particular denominations who don’t really pay attention to this level of studying theology. Perhaps they think that the criteria of being a pastor is whether he/she has ability to preach dynamically such as revivalist, or whether he/she has completed short courses in the church. Even, some of them think that the pastors should not learn theology because they believe that God will teach them directly. We may see that they are seemingly to be afraid of intellectual matters, including learning doctrines. Thus, Daniel Koh Kah Soon correctly observes that, “There are still sizable anti-intellectual pockets of Christians—even within established denominations—who are caught in a time warp, engaged in an old battle, reciting mindlessly worn-out mantras and throwing labels at their theological opponents, as if that is all to the Christian faith.”[11]

However, we should think that there are several pitfalls if pastors do not want to learn theology in the first level, such as: (1) they tend to preach on practical or moral topics which can make a superficial Christian, (2) they are easily to teach erroneous doctrines, (3) and the worst pitfall is that they can lead themselves and the congregation to be heretics. Therefore, to avoid these pitfalls, the pastor should not escape from learning fundamental theology.

The second level that easily to be forgotten is learning theology in order to anticipate the dangerous things to come for the spiritual welfare of the church. What I mean by this is that the pastors must also learn theology for reading, mapping, and criticizing both the current situation and the things to come in outside the church. There are at least two advantages in accomplishing this level: (1) the congregation will be alert to what’s going on outside the church. We must realize that Christians live in the world that has many systems of thought around them. Generally, they are transferred through the media, such as literature, television program, songs, and so forth. Ironically, there are not many Christians who can think critically on what they hear and see. They are easily receptive to the systems of thought. We may now imagine that if they watch film that visualize about sadistic killing almost everyday, then they probably will see that such kind of killing is enjoyable. There is possibility that sadism would not be something that they should fight against for because sadism has already been a part of their lives. This dangerous phenomenon should be a deep concern for the pastors. The pastors should not only concern on inside the church, but also outside the church. They must help the congregation to be alert to the particular issues from outside. Therefore, it’s important for pastors to learn theology in this second level to help the congregation to think critically to the systems of thought outside the church.

(2) Yet, the congregation will not only learn how to be alert to the systems of thought but also how to be sensitive to their local context. What we should bear in mind is that Christianity is not just an individual matter, but also a social matter. Some pastors think that the congregation needs to hear about how to grow up their relationship with God, how to overcome sins, how to be faithful, how to obey God, and so on. It seems that the pastors tend to concern about the individual matter. Yet, they forget that the church is also called to be a salt and light which means that the existence of the church must have an impact to the local or social context. They are not called to be an exclusive community. By learning theology in this level, the pastors will seek the chance to impact the social context. And this, of course, will teach the congregation how to be sensitive to the social issue.

To conclude this part, I affirm that pastor should not be too practical that he/she may not learn the two levels of learning theology, yet the pastor should not have to be an academic theologian that learns more about abstract and theoretical ideas. Therefore, the pastors need to learn about theology that related to the church’s needs and calling because they are simply a church theologian.

Exploring the Pastor as Theologian Model in the Church History
This model that I proposed actually is not a new model. In the church history, we will find that there are many pastors that applied this model, such as Martin Bucer, Jonathan Edwards, and so forth. However, because of limitation, I will explore briefly two eminent church theologians in the church history; they are Augustine and John Calvin.

Augustine: A Par Excellence Church Theologian
Augustine was born in 354 at Tagaste. He was born into an aspiring lower middle-class family, which sacrificed in order to give him good education that might lead him into a good position in the Roman society. After completing his education, Augustine then became a teacher of rhetoric and deeply involved in philosophical and Manichaean teaching before his conversion. He was also known as a public orator in Milan.

It was at Milan that Augustine met Ambrose; and, it was through Ambrose’s learned preaching that Augustine then had been converted. After that, in 396 he became the bishop at Hippo. Quoting F. van der Meer’s writings, Tidball displays Augustine’s preaching at the day of his consecration which reflects the model I propose:
To rebuke those who stir up strife, to comfort those of little courage, to take the part of the weak; to refute opponents, to be on guard against traps, to teach the ignorant, to shake the indolent awake, to discourage those who want to buy and sell, to put the presumptuous in their place, to mollify the quarrelsome, to help the poor, to liberate the oppressed, to encouraged the good, to suffer the evil and to love all men.[12]

The application of the pastor as theologian model was not just seen in his preaching, but also in his doing. Trevor Rowe notifies that Augustine was a man who is able to offer an understanding of Christian faith derived from the Bible, the Church’s teaching, and also his own experience.[13] In his life, he also wrote a massive well-known writings, The City of God, which sought to integrate between theology and the church. Tidball comments that, “His prolific writing arose out of pastoral needs whether it was the need to reclaim heretics, to convince skeptics or to encourage wavering believers.[14]

Moreover, we also must know that for much of his life Augustine was engaged in controversy against the Manichaeans, Pelagians, and Donatist, Arians, and pagans. These opponents did not raise their challenges in sequence, but they presented a combination of challenges and distractions throughout his episcopacy.[15] Tidball, again, comments that, “Even though his disputes were often polemical, his motivation was always pastoral.”[16]

From the life of Augustine, we may know that he was a church theologian since he applied the pastor as theologian model in his epoch. He was doing theology in and for the church. We can see this obviously from how he struggled with heretics. As a bishop, he has struggled to guard the flocks for their spiritual welfare by his teachings and writings. Moreover, what we should remember is that his excellence theological writings were come out not from the academic life, but from the church. Therefore, I would rather call him, not as a par excellence theologian, but a par excellence church theologian.

John Calvin: A Reformed Church Theologian
John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509 in Noyon, north-east of Paris. Educated at the scholasticism-dominated University of Paris, he subsequently moved to the more humanist school at University of Orléans. Then, in 1532, he achieved his doctorate degree in law at Orléans. According to Alister McGrath, Calvin underwent a conversion experience in his mid-twenties, which led him to be more associated with the reformed movements. Then in 1538 he settled in Geneva as a pastor until his death in 1564.[17]

The model of pastor as theologian in Calvin’s life could be seen in several ways: (1) it’s through his preaching. He saw himself as the architect who reconstructs the church through the use of the Word. He structured fundamental articles of faith that the congregation should hold fast to (such as the doctrine of the Trinity);[18] (2) it’s through the liturgical Sunday worship. Calvin expressed his theology in the context of liturgical worship in the Form of Prayers. Through his order of worship, he helped the congregation genuinely honor and reverence God;[19] (3) it’s through his writings. Among many writings, probably his Institutes of the Christian Religion was the most famous and influential book. His writing has been influencing many theologians, such as Karl Barth. But what we should bear in mind that Calvin’s Institutes was not produced in the academic life, but in the church life. Thus, John H. Leith accurately comments that, “The Institutes represent the effort to state the message of the Bible in a coherent and orderly way in the language of ordinary discourse. Calvin writes as a churchman concerned with organization, preaching, worship, and pastoral care;”[20] (4) it’s through his concern to social-political life. Not only did he concern on the church matter, but also he became involved in political and civil affairs. He desired to change the state and church into a Christian commonwealth. Through this idea, Calvin struggled to remove all boundaries among the citizens since Christ had broken the boundary itself. To put into practice, each individual should find their “sense of worth” and be seen as worthy by others no matter their class.[21]

After exploring his life briefly, we may see now that Calvin applied the model of pastor as theologian at his time. Though he did many pastoral ministries (e.g. visitation), yet he didn’t become too practical or theological. Otherwise, he became a pastor who can give both the pastoral and theological ministry. Thus, since he became a part of the reformation era, then I identify him as a reformed church theologian.

Challenging the Postmodernism: The Application of the Model
After exploring the biblical perspective and looking at how the two early eminent church theologians applied the model, now let’s turn to the application of the model into the postmodernism situation. As I mentioned before that the wisest response to the challenge is to discern critically the challenge. By using the model, the pastor is able to appreciate the positive things and to avoid the negative or dangerous things in the challenge itself. To clarify what I mean, I will present several practical examples in applying the model in this contemporary challenge.

First example, the pastor may think how to read the Bible postmodernly. Postmodernism is severely suspicious to the monologue approach. They think that this approach is identical with colonialism. By using the model of pastor as theologian, he/she will dare to change the modern reading approach to the postmodern by using inductive Bible study. Yet, he/she still maintains the real message from the passage reading. Second, the pastor may rethink the best suited worship liturgy. Postmodernism has automatically produced pluralism. By using the model, the pastor may know that in some extents pluralism could be adopted in the liturgy, without dropping the main thrust of the biblical worship itself. Here the pastor may create the blended worship liturgy critically. Third, the pastor may preach postmodernly. Since postmodernism believes that the identity of people was developed by their own story, they become more attentive to the narrative approach, instead of propositionalistic approach. Thus, if the pastor uses the model, he/she will dare to preach in a story-telling manner, without running from the core message.

From the examples above, I want to demonstrate that only the pastor who uses the model that I proposed can do in such manners. Without the model, the pastor may be too sceptical to everything in postmodernism or may be absorbed postmodernism uncritically—even he/she will become pure postmodernist. However, if the pastor uses the model, then he/she will seek and use the strength in postmodernism, while he/she is able to avoid the dangers in that challenge. Yet above all, what we should keep in mind is that every pastor is called to be a church theologian.

Ascol, Tom. “The Pastor as Theologian,” [ FJ43/editorial_fr.html].

Baumann, John K. “John Calvin as Pastor,” [ Speel_Festschrift/baumann.htm].

Chia, Roland. “All that is Solid Melts into Air: Some Reflections on Postmodernism, the Church, and Theology,” Trinity Theological Journal 6 (1997), 5-14.

Connor, Steven, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

De Jonge, James J. “Calvin the Liturgist: How ‘Calvinist’ is your Church’s Liturgy?” [].

Grenz, Stanley. A Primer on Postmodernism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Knowles, Andrew and Pachomios Penkett, Augustine and His World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004.

Leith, John H. Introduction to the Reformed Tradition. rev. ed. Atlanta: John Knox, 1981.

McGrath, Alister. Christian Theology: An Introduction, 2nd. ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

McMahon, C. Matthew. “Calvin as Theologian, Pastor, and Social Reformer,” [].

Oden, Thomas. Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry. San Fransisco: Harper, 1983.

Outler, Albert C. “The Pastor as Theologian,” in The Pastor as Theologian, ed. Earl E. Shelp and Ronald H. Sunderland. New York: Pilgrim, 1988.

Rowe, Trevor. St. Augustine: Pastoral Theologian. London: Epworth, 1974.

Soon, Daniel Koh Kah. “Why Bother with Theology,” bulletin Trumpet (October 2006).

Tidball, Derek J. Skilful Shepherds: Explorations in Pastoral Theology. Leicester: Apollos, 1997.

[1] See Stanley Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 6.
[2] Ibid.
[3] The several aspects that I present is a summary of Grenz’s A Primer on Postmodernism, p. 22-30. For further studies on this issue, please see Steven Connor, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
[4] See the writing of Roland Chia, “All that is Solid Melts into Air: Some Reflections on Postmodernism, the Church, and Theology,” Trinity Theological Journal 6 (1997), 5-14.
[5] See Albert C. Outler, “The Pastor as Theologian,” in The Pastor as Theologian, ed. Earl E. Shelp and Ronald H. Sunderland (New York: Pilgrim, 1988), 11-12.
[6] Tom Ascol, “The Pastor as Theologian,” [].
[7] For Thomas C. Oden, even the analogy of the sheperd is pivotal and still understandable to ordinary modern people. See Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry (San Fransisco: Harper, 1983), 51-53; cf. Derek J. Tidball, Skilful Shepherds: Explorations in Pastoral Theology (Leicester: Apollos, 1997), 45-48.
[8] For the following list that I mention is quoted from Oden, Pastoral Theology, 51-52.
[9] It’s derived from the point above which says that the shepherd characteristically is “out ahead” of them, not only guiding them, but looking out, by way of anticipation, for their welfare.
[10] See Ascol, “The Pastor as Theologian”.
[11] Daniel Koh Kah Soon, “Why Bother with Theology,” bulletin Trumpet (October 2006), 5.
[12] Tidball, Skilful Shepherds, 164-165.
[13] Trevor Rowe, St. Augustine: Pastoral Theologian (London: Epworth, 1974), 3.
[14] Skilful Shepherds, 169.
[15] Andrew Knowles and Pachomios Penkett, Augustine and His World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 105.
[16] Skilful Shepherds, 166.
[17] Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (2nd. ed.; Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 69.
[18] See John K. Baumann, “John Calvin as Pastor,” [ Speel_Festschrift/baumann.htm].
[19] See James J. De Jonge, “Calvin the Liturgist: How ‘Calvinist’ is your Church’s Liturgy?” [].
[20] John H. Leith, Introduction to the Reformed Tradition (rev. ed.; Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), 127.
[21] See C. Matthew McMahon, “Calvin as Theologian, Pastor, and Social Reformer,” [].

1 comment:

Student of the Church Fathers said...

My dear Friend,

It’s interesting to read your account on the ministering in postmodern context, in which you pick theologian model for pastors. In other words, I may conclude that to be God’s servant within a church is to be a pastor-scholar. I’m in full agreement with you.

I’m also delighted that you take St. Augustine and John Calvin as the real models. Yes, your conception of the pastor-scholar becomes real as you notice them.

But let me take you to some consideration about the word “postmodern” itself. You avoid defining the term, recognising that the definition would accordingly diminish the character of postmodernity. Ontologically, postmodernity doesn’t exist at all. To quote J. K. A. Smith, he cried in one article, “My fellow postmoderns, there is no postmodern.” Times are passing as I come to the conclusion that to be in postmodernity means to be seized by modernitIES. There are clashes of worldviews and/or lifeviews.

Ministering in such a condition is not easy. We come to era which personal interests are in focus. So, how and where would we (the pastor-theologians) stand? If we are to minister in a church, we are to face the this-or-that choices. Here I would raise agreement that we have to be firm in our biblical-theological principle.

Yet I have to question on your suggestion that pastors may read the Bible postmodernly, to develop liturgy postmodernly (with blended style) and to preach postmodernly, since there is no one monologue approach to them all. How would we challenge the postmodern if we take these postmodernly? I hope and believe, my Friend, that all these have to be come up when your future idea is to be a pastor-theologian in a real church ministry.

May God bless you, your academic study and your family. NS