Who should set the theological agenda for the church, pastors or professional academic theologians?
Hiestand notes that for centuries the job of determining what the church believes and clarifying the theological nature of those beliefs always rested with pastors. Think Augustine, Luther, Calvin, not to mention most of the church fathers between Augustine and Luther who were clearly pastors of congregations.
However, since the nineteenth century, that task has typically fallen to the professional academic theologian whether in a seminary or university. Think Karl Barth and Paul Tillich. Good theologians perhaps, but not really pastors.
And that’s affected the church’s theology. Hiestand points out the obvious: Pastors ask different questions than professors. And the church longs for different answers than the academe provides.
And this dissonance creates a rift between the church and the academe, between pastors and their theologians. And this rift may well explain some of the theological malaise in which the church finds itself.
That’s the essence of his argument, at least. And I find myself inclined to agree.
Deep down it’s always bothered me that we’ve got people determining the theology of the church who have no real accountability to the church.
By that, I don’t mean that people ought to get punished or disciplined if they don’t give the answers we prefer. Rather, I mean they don’t have to face the laity or the clergy on a regular basis for whom this theology has supposedly been done. They don’t have to answer the hard questions we in the church might ask.
What’s more, since they never really had the church in mind to start with, but only their academic peers, their theology often becomes irrelevant to the church. To such a degree that once we’ve read it in seminary, we quickly discard and forget it thereafter.
Could this be why there is such theological confusion in the church? Are we suffering from a theological amnesia that is the result of an academe-driven theology?
Of course, that raises the other side of the question. Why have pastors given up the task? Why aren’t pastors still formulating the theology that answers the needs of the modern church? To make that more personal, since mostly pastors read this blog, why aren’t you and I doing that theological work?
I know, there are pastors who are doing this to some degree. But, mostly we are not. Mostly we have ceded that ground to the professors at seminary. After all, they are the “experts.”
However, what would happen if we stopped ceding that ground? What if, on the one hand, we demand that professors be responsible to the church for the things they write? And what if, on the other, our best pastors set about the hard work of becoming a modern Augustine, Luther, or Calvin (dare we even say Wesley)?
How would the church be different? Would it be better? Your thoughts?