Owen Strachan of Boyce College has written a helpful article for The Gospel Coalition titled “The (Welcome) Rise of the Pastor-Theologian: A Friendly Response to Donald Miller.” His article is a response to a recent blog post by Donald Miller titled “Should the Church be Led by Teachers and Scholars?” Owen has a passion for this topic; he is currently working on a dissertation that focuses on Harold John Ockenga’s ministry as a leading evangelical pastor-theologian during the mid-twentieth century.
This is an important conversation, not only in broader evangelical circles, but within the Southern Baptist family as well. Though we Baptists have been blessed with some outstanding university and seminary scholars during our four centuries of history, many of our signal theologians were pastors. Thomas Grantham, author of the first systematic theology from a Baptist perspective, was a General Baptist pastor and later “messenger” (at-large evangelist/church-planter). John Gill, the first Particular Baptist systematician, was a longtime London pastor. John Bunyan, Benjamin Keach, Andrew Fuller, Charles Spurgeon, Robert Hall Jr., and John Clifford are other examples of British pastors who were also creative theologians.
In America, we find much the same case, whether with Isaac Backus and Morgan Edwards in the North or R. B. C. Howell, Patrick Hues Mell, and J. M. Pendleton in the South (among numerous others). In twentieth-century Southern Baptist circles, Herschel Hobbs and W. A. Criswell were notable pastor-theologians. Contemporary examples of Baptist pastor-theologians include John Piper, Tom Ascol, Andy Davis, and Mark Dever, while a number of younger Baptist pastors such as David Platt, Matt Chandler, J. D. Greear, Bart Barber, Byron McWilliams, and Paul Brewster are also promising pastor-theologians. I know there are many others I could have named, and no doubt many more will be added to this list in the coming years as more and more pastors write helpful theological books and articles.
Even many of our most significant “vocational” theologians had considerable local church experience as a pastor or frequent interim pastor, including Francis Wayland, John L. Dagg, James P. Boyce, A. H. Strong, E. Y. Mullins, and Millard Erickson. This is also true of contemporary Baptist theologians, many of whom have been pastors, are currently pastors, or frequently serve in interim pastoral ministries. (I’d include a list of names, but it would literally include virtually every vocational theologian who teaches in one of our six seminaries or other schools such as Mid-America and Luther Rice.)
I’m currently editing a collection of essays tentatively titled Gospel-Driven Ministry: Good News for the Local Church, which I hope will be published in 2012. All of the contributors (except for me) are younger pastors and church planters who serve Southern Baptist congregations. My concluding chapter is titled “A Call for Pastor-Theologians and Theologians Who Are Pastors”–it is my desire to flesh out some of the ideas in this post to a much greater degree in that chapter.