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Which Type of Pastor Theologian Are You: Local, Popular, or Ecclesial?

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The Pastor-Theologian by Gerald Hiestand and Todd WilsonIn their new book Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson have identified one of the more important crises of our day: the divorce of the theologian and the pastor. The result is theological and ecclesial anemia.

Their book offers an ancient antidote. It resurrects a vision for the ministerial vocation that’s theologically engaged yet pastoral in essence: the Pastor Theologian.

What is a pastor theologian, you ask? Every pastor is their congregation’s primary theologian. And all pastors are called to provide theological leadership. Yet there are “those within pastoral community who have unique theological interests and gifting.” (80)

These are whom Hiestand and Wilson have in mind. They engage with theology for the sake of their local church. They also construct and disseminate it for the sake of the broader church.

Which Type of Pastor Theologian Are You: Local, Popular, or Ecclesial?

There are three kinds of pastor theologians: local, popular, and ecclesial. Which type are you? Which do you aspire to be, by God’s grace and gifting?

Pastor Theologian as Local Theologian
Most envision the pastor theologian as this first model, a theologian to a particular congregation. Such a theologian “is a theologically astute pastor who ably services the theological needs of a local church.” (81)

Local theologians offer:

  • a theologically rich preaching ministry
  • theologically thick pastoral care and counseling
  • theologically informed organizational leadership

Hiestand and Wilson note such a theologian’s primary scope of responsibility is their own congregation: “The local theologian is neither burdened with nor called to theological leadership to the wider Christian community.” (82) Also, it is the sermon, rather than written scholarship, “that serves as the primary canvas for the local theologian’s theological art.” (82)

Healthy theology is integral to healthy churches. Such theological health is tied to the theological integrity of its shepherds. Local theologians understand this and “embrace his role as the necessary and inevitable theologian of his congregation.”

Pastor Theologian as Popular Theologian
Like a local theologian, a popular theologian services a local congregation, but has a broader influence. Unlike local theologians, popular ones write theology for the broader church. They help pastors and laity alike better understand important relevant theological issues:

[They] unpack the complexities of Nicene Trinitarianism, Chalcedonies Christology, the Reformed confessions, atonement theories, and the like in ways that are accessible to the average pastor and person in the pew. Commentaries written in this genre tend to be devotional and focused on application. Theological works tend to be introductory. (84)

Particularly important is how they address issues often unaddressed by academic theologians, like parenting, finances, and leadership.

Such a theologian requires a special skill. Not everyone is able “to bring profound truth to bear on the lives of average people in ways that affect true and lasting change.” (84) Yet such is the role of a popular theologian, who “embraces this role as translator, for the good of God’s people.” (84)

Pastor Theologian as Ecclesial Theologian
These first two model are needed, yet they don’t exhaust the full range of possibilities. Given the church’s theological-ecclesial anemia, Hiestand and Wilson advocate resurrecting the model exemplified by Irenaeus, Augustine, and Calvin: the ecclesial theologian.

Their vision “represents a return to the day when pastors wrote theology that was richly theological, deeply biblical, historically informed, culturally aware, explicitly pastoral, and prophetic.” (86)

John Calvin serves as their exemplar. He changed the world “because he wrote as a robust, theologically informed, intelligent, prophetic pastor who understood what it was to have the weight of souls upon his shoulders.” (86)

Such a theologian is first a pastor, and only then a theologian. They are marked by eight characteristics:

  • They inhabit the ecclesial social location
  • The social location shapes their theological method
  • They aim for clarity over subtlety
  • The preacher’s burden marks their scholarship
  • Drawing from the historic church is a primary characteristic
  • Their work is broadly theological and cross-guilded
  • They work in partnership with academic theologians
  • Introspection guides their theological enterprise

Unfortunately the kind of guild that would foster such a theologian has long since vanished. Or rather it has “transformed itself from an ecclesial guild to an academic guild.” (86–87)

Hiestand and Wilson aren’t interested in ecclesial theologians who simply write academic theology. Rather, they envision a realm of theological discourse that’s “as intellectually robust as academic theology but focused on questions that are explicitly ecclesial.” (87)

The academy needs this realm as much as the church does.


“It is only by reuniting the office of pastor with the history duty of the theologian that evangelicalism can begin to address the theological anemia of the church and the ecclesial anemia of theology.” (101)

This overview of Hiestand’s and Wilson’s practical vocational resource merely skims the surface! Grab a copy of The Pastor Theologian yourself. Organize a book discussion with some fellow pastors. Catch a vision for the ancient remedy to our modern church crisis.

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