Can I Drag That Into Church?

snow bootsThis last Sunday was the first time I ever went to church in the snow. Chicagoland had its first snowfall of the season on Friday night continuing into Saturday, immediately transforming the landscape, covering the last vestiges of autumn red, gold, and hints of green, into a dense carpet of white powder. For a California boy, it was all a bit magical. I’d never seen snow fall before–certainly not outside my window.

Of course, that also means I’ve never dealt with snow as a reality of life. Because it is a reality of life out here. So much so that you have to get special gear for it. Not only jackets, gloves, and boots, but gear for your car like ice-scrapers for your windows and shovels to move the all the snow the snow-plow pushed up against your car in the morning. And there’s not just one kind of snow, the lovely white powder. There’s also slush. And Ice hiding under the powder and slush. And the salt, that gets poured out to get rid of the powder and the slush and the ice.

Needless to say, it can get a bit messy, especially when you’re trying to walk indoors. No matter how hard you try, or how good your boots or doormat are, it’s difficult not to track your mess inside, without taking off your shoes altogether. And even then, if the snow has been kicked up on the legs of your pants, it’s just inevitable.

Which brings me to church.

Every week at church one of our pastors leads us through a time of corporate confession of sins and an assurance of pardon. This week my pastor Jason noticed the tentative way people were walking into church. “Are we allowed to come in like this on the clean wood floors? Is all the salt, slush, dirt, and powder too much of a mess for church this morning?”

He pointed out that’s the way all too many of us walk into church every week: “Am I allowed to come in like this? Is this mess okay in here? Can I come sit in the pews with all the slush, grime, and filth from my life? Is this sin too dirty to clean up? Is my mess going to stain the carpet? Do I have to make sure I’m gotten every single speck off before I walk through the door?”

The good news of the gospel is that God’s church is a place of welcome because the God of the Gospel is a hospitable God. Our forgiving Father does not require you to clean up your mess to come through the door. In fact, in the gospel, he has sent his Son out into the highways and byways to collect you from the cold and the slush you’ve been wearily trodding in. In baptism, he himself gives you a new set of clothes–his own garment of righteousness to clothe you. And he sits you down to be warmed by the gift of the fire of the Holy Spirit. Finally, in the Lord’s Supper, he feasts you on the bread of life and the cup of the new covenant.

So to answer the question, “Can I drag this dirt into church?” Yes! Of course, you can. That’s the only way anybody ever makes it through the door.

Soli Deo Gloria 

Pastor-Theologian? Pastor-Scholar? What’s the Difference?

pastor as theologianThere’s been plenty of buzz in the air lately around the idea of the “pastor-scholar” and how the job is or isn’t impossible. And how we used to have pastor-theologians, but no longer. Or how being a scholar must be possible for the pastor because pastors are theologians and theologians are scholars and…you see the problem. There’s a lot of talk around the issue, but some confusion as to just what everyone is talking about. In order to help aid the discussion along, I figured I’d canvas and categorize a few recent articles, books, and so forth, on the subject and note some distinctions and differences.

Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan: Vanhoozer and Strachan have recently put forward the idea of the pastor as public theologian, or organic intellectual. The argument, in a nutshell, is that pastors, before they are counselors, business managers, “strategic leaders”, or whatever else, are ministers of the Word, and therefore the theologians of the public of their local churches. Pastors are in the business of theology, ministering the reality of what is “in Christ” to their people. That said, they are not arguing for (or against) the idea of pastors being scholars writing academic works, teaching courses, and so forth. It’s just a different thing than what they’re talking about.

Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson: Wilson and Hiestand are arguing for the unique spot of the ecclesial theologian, who does occupy that weird, middle ground of being a local church pastor who simultaneously participates and even lead the conversation in both the academy and the church. Note, this isn’t just the Vanhoozer/Strachan localist model, nor is it the pastor as popularizer of theology model (think the pastor who writes pop-theology books). But someone like a Calvin or Augustine doing game-changing theology from the social location of the local church. They don’t say all pastors should be this kind of theologian, but certainly that some should, and that this unique role ought to be recovered in our churches. So, in this case, the pastor-theologian is a scholar.

Mark Jones: In a nutshell, Jones argued that being a scholar, doing original research and so forth, requires an enormous amount of work that occupies you full time. So does being a pastor. Ergo, no true pastor-scholars because there’s no possible way of doing a good job of both unless you water down the meaning of either pastoring or scholarship. That said, a pastor-theologian? Ya, sure. That can happen.

Andrew Wilson: My boy Wilson wrote something fairly similar to Jones, basically noting the extreme difficulty of the actual practice of being a full-time pastor and a scholar. It’s got some serious tensions in it, but he doesn’t rule it out–he says it’s “nearly” impossible. Note what he does not say: he does not say it is totally impossible, nor does he ever question the idea that a pastor could be a theologian in the sense that Vanhoozer and Strachan argue for, nor even Wilson and Hiestand.

There have been other pieces, as well, with variations on these themes. Let me note two or three points that should be made clear.

Not all advocates of the pastor-theologian are advocates of the pastor-scholar.

Not all critics of the pastor-scholar are opposed to the pastor-theologian.

Much tends to ride on what you make of the terms “pastor”, “scholar”, and “theologian.” The stricter you are about the requirements of time, footnotes, pastoral visits, and position in the academy, the less likely you are to find the prospect of the pastor-scholar to be feasible. What’s more, it’s not wise to conflate the terms “scholar” and “theologian” as some tend to do. Jeff Robinson had some helpful concluding thoughts in that direction over at the Gospel Coalition today.

Well, again, I hope this little bit of explication helps as I’m sure there are not a few people confused by the welter of recent publications on the issue. And if that doesn’t, I suppose it isn’t inappropriate to note that Mere Fidelity did have a podcast with both Kevin Vanhoozer and Gerald Hiestand on the subject. You can listen in here.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mere Fidelity: Truth Overruled (w/ Ryan T. Anderson)

Mere FidelityWith the Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage come a tide of social, legal, and political shifts in the American landscape. Ryan T. Anderson, alongside Robert George, is America’s chief, cheerful, public philosophical advocate for traditional marriage as well as religious freedom issues has written a book about what comes next, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious FreedomMatthew Lee Anderson, Alastair Roberts, and I had the privilege of having him on the show to talk through his book, Obergefell, Kim Davis, conscience, and other such lovely topics.

We hope you’ll enjoy the show and find it instructive, encouraging, and challenging.

Soli Deo Gloria

Best Dating Advice Roundtable w/ Wilkin and Grear (TGC Video)

At this last year’s The Gospel Coalition conference, I was asked to sit down with J.D. Grear and Jen Wilkin to talk best dating tips for singles. I basically sat there and gave the one piece of advice I have (which I’ve written up here) and tried not to look foolish next to Wilkin and Grear who had some very helpful advice.

Here’s the video.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mere Fidelity: The Pastor Theologian w/ Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer and Gerald Hiestand

I don't know what he's thinking right here, but it could probably serve as a Ph.D. thesis.

I don’t know what he’s thinking right here, but it could probably serve as a Ph.D. thesis.

This last week Alastair and I had the privilege of hosting Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer and Gerald Hiestand on Mere Fidelity to talk about the topic of pastor theologians. As it happens, they both have books out on the subject. Vanhoozer has co-authored The Pastor as Public Theologian with Owen Strachan, and Hiestand co-authored The Pastor Theologian. While the two projects are clearly related, they are distinct in a number of ways that made the conversation quite interesting–especially with Alastair mildly grilling Hiestand on his proposal. Plus Vanhoozer is being Vanhoozer–for free!–and that’s always worth your time.

By the way, for those of you pastor theologians out there, or seminarians drawn to the idea, I’d recommend buying both of the books. Beyond that, though, the Center for Pastor Theologians which Hiestand and Wilson cofounded is having a conference this fall in the greater Chicago area with a great line-up of speakers including Vanhoozer and James K.A. Smith. I plan on being there and I hope you’ll consider making it out.

Soli Deo Gloria

Vanhoozer: “What’s the Harm if Pastors Are Not Theologians?” (Video)

Over at the Center For Pastor Theologians, there’s a series of fun little videos up with Kevin Vanhoozer. Here he is briefly answering the question, “What’s the harm if pastors are not theologians?” It’s Vintage Vanhoozer and sums up perfectly my own convictions about the overwhelming importance of theologically minded pastoral education and ministry. A pastor who is not a theologian should be a contradiction in terms.

From Center for Pastor Theologians on Vimeo.

Soli Deo Gloria