Gerald Hiestand - "Becoming a Pastor Theologian"
7:10AM Jun 29, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today we are delighted to be speaking with Pastor Gerald Heistand.
Pastor Gerald Hiestand is a senior associate pastor at Calvary Memorial Chapel in Oak Park, Illinois and co founder and director of the Center for pastor theologians. He is the co author of the pastor theologian resurrecting an ancient vision and also co editor of the texts that we'll be discussing today, Becoming a Pastor Theologian: New Possibilities for Church Leadership. Pastor Heistand, thank you for being with us today.
Thank you for having me. Pleasure.
Pastor, he's standing as we begin, would you be willing to just share a word about the center that you've co founded the pastor for the Center for pastor theologians?
Yeah, sure. The center is co founded with a friend of mine, Todd Wilson, who actually is the senior pastor at the church, where I serve The two of us have been working on it for about a decade. And the vision of the center is to come alongside pastors who want to continue engaging in theological scholarship. And so we network pastors together towards that end resource that's grown into now a number of pastor cohorts that gather each year, Pastor, theologian, cohorts, a print journal, and a conference, our main programming initiatives.
Pastor he's standing as we begin, would you be willing to just share a word about the center that you've co founded the pastor for the Center for pastor theologians.
I've been in pastoral ministry for three and a half years and left pastoral ministry to go back to graduate school. And while I was at graduate school, there were a number of formative things that happened there. I studied at Trinity evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. And it's a great school really appreciated my time there. I did notice though That the sort of questions that I was bringing theologically, to my studies having come out of the pastorate, while having some overlap with the way that theology was being done, there in the seminary didn't quite land in all the ways that I was asking the questions. It's not that it was not practical enough. I wouldn't quite say that that was the problem. I would say. Rather, it didn't ask the questions in the way that I was thinking of asking the question. So I'll talk more about that in a second. But as I was kind of feeling a bit of this disconnect between the sort of theological framework that I had as a pastor in the way that theology was being done somewhat in the academy, I took a class with Dr. Doug Sweeney, who is the resident Edwards scholar there at Trinity. And Doug has been very shaping and a lot of ways from my conception of the past trip, but I took his class on Jonathan Edwards. And one of the things that stuck out to me in that class in particular, Is that Doug pointed out that in Edwards day to be a pastor was to be a theologian. So there were no, there were there were schools. But the schools were pretty fledgling at this point, and normally would be a two year project and then you'd be off to apprentice with the pastor. And so in New England in those days, if someone were to say so and so is a is a theologian that would then mean that so and so was a pastor, the vocation of a theologian was the pastor. And I thought, that's a very interesting change from today. Whereas if, in our current context, if someone were to say, so and so's a theologian, that would almost certainly mean that they're in an academic post of some sort. I went on to point out that in Edwards day, though, the the vast majority of texts that were being written current theology texts that were being written that the students preparing for ministry, were reading were coming from the pastoral community. And so it just it really struck me is peculiar that we are in exactly the reverse What was normative back in the days of a colonial New England, where theologians were pastors who then produce the theology that was then given to the schools that train the up and coming students who were then to go into pastoral ministry. Now we've reversed it entirely where the Academy is the primary vocational home of theologians and theology is not done primarily in a collegial parish context. It's done in an academic classroom context. And while I think there's a great deal of overlap, that can happen particularly in a place like Trinity, which is a Divinity School, I'm particularly sensitive to pastoral ministry. Well, I think there's a fair amount of overlap. The the academic classroom environment is not the same as a parish pastor environment, and to the degree that social location influences and shapes the way that we even begin to think about theology and the questions that we bring the issues that we frame up and that we think are important and how we read texts. I think that that's Social location is at a pretty significant impact and accounts for the different tone that we can feel now in theology. So whereas an Edward today, pastors were doing theology and they were driven by the sort of concerns that they were seeing in their congregations and the preacher ministries and their pulpits today, mostly it's academics doing theology. And while there again, there's some overlap, I don't want to I don't want to overstate that, while there's some overlap. A lot of the questions that are being asked and answered in the academy are not necessarily the questions that are most pertinent to how pastors are asking questions.
I'm very excited about your project and excited that you and others would be doing things to close that gap between the center of the academy and between the church. Thank you. And the introduction to your book, becoming a pastor theologian, you cite the words of Princeton seminary president Craig Barnes, that quote, The hardest thing about being a pastor today is simply the confusion about what it means to be a pastor.
Right, Pastor he, Stan, what does it mean to be a pastor?
Well, you have to read the book. No, the answer, I think is
we've written the book to fill what we believe is a missing component of the whole pastoral identity. But I wouldn't want to be read, I'd say this right off front, I wouldn't want to be read as saying that the only way to conceive of the pastor is pastors who spend all day on their study writing theology, that would be a misread of our book, and I wouldn't want anyone to come away with that impression. I think pastors, their primary job is to is to shepherd the congregation that the Lord has called them to shepherd. And this is going to entail a whole host of skill sets. It's going to require a it's gonna require counseling, it's going to require church discipline, it's going to require administering the sacraments. It's going to require preaching. It's going to require require teaching. So there's a there's a lot of competencies, leadership organizational, that different ministry context will require pastors but the the primary function of the pastor is to shepherd the congregation through I would say primarily the the teaching of God's Word and the administration of the sacraments. But there's a lot that goes into that right. And so some pastors are going to be have stronger competencies and other areas, I think are concerned and writing the book is that when you look at the pastoral community writ large, not individual pastors here but the pastoral community writ large, we have. We live in a day where the pastoral community is no longer viewed as the theological leaders of the church, we have largely outsourced that to the Academy. The difficulty of that with that, of course, is that pastors are the theological leaders of the church, so you can try to outsource that. But it doesn't change the fact that congregations still look to their pastors and are shaped far more by their pastors than by their pastors professors. But because pastors no longer Have a self identity of theologian in the fullest, most robust sense of that the pastoral community as a whole, as a whole doesn't see that as their role. So we're trying to fill up a what we believe to be a missing, missing component of the pastoral identity, not to narrow it down and say this is the only way to conceive of the pastor.
Appreciate responses very helpful. The book
is a collection of papers delivered at a conference hosted by the Center for pastor theologians.
And you explain that the aim of this center is to
to, quote put the calling
of the Theologian back into the identity of the pastor, in your view, where did we go wrong? When did we separate the identities of pastor and theologian and why are these roles continuing to be separate today?
So Todd Wilson, and I wrote a book that in some ways, is a prequel to the one that we're talking about now called the pastor theologian resurrecting an ancient vision and in that book, we spent a couple chapters detailing the historical progression, right to this question. So that would be a place I would send folks for a more detailed answer than what I can give here. I think there are a lot of number there are a lot of very good reasons for this. And I think the the reasons for it look different in Europe than how they look in North America. I think in Europe, one could blame the Enlightenment for a lot of what happens some of the intellectual warfare that takes place in Europe, between the Enlightenment philosophers and the church. And largely I would say, in terms of that cultural battle, the church largely loses and the intellectual center of gravity moves away from the churches over into eventually the schools which originally the the universities were were, were extensions of the church. But over time the universities become alienated from the church and antagonistic towards the church. And the the center of gravity for a what constitutes kind of intellectual prowess moves from an ecclesial context over into an academic context and, and theology, in some ways is is completely lost at that point. But then, to the degree that it makes a recovery, it makes recovery in a very different sort of way. Same thing with the study the Bible, the German universities, in terms of how they approach the study of the Bible looks very different than the way that the church was studying the Bible previously. So Christians then begin to do their scholarship in a context kind of post enlightenment in Europe in an academic context that looks very different than the way that they were doing theology, even in the universities before the enlightenment. And I think this accounts for a lot of the shift that takes place in North America, there's a similar sort of move that happens maybe not quite so much related to the Enlightenment, but perhaps more, even to the To the Revolution and the egalitarian sort of impulses that move through North America with the revolution and kind of a downplaying what would seem to be at that time an elitist sort of clerical profession towards a just sort of a distribution to the common man of theology, which is very involved with in the colonies, just kind of writ large. Nathan hatch has written a book called the democratization of American Christianity, and he covers a lot of this, which is super insightful, but He notes that lawyers, doctors and pastors all take a hit during this time because they're seen as kind of elitist. But he then goes on to point out the doctors and lawyers have made recoveries, in kind of cultural cachet that pastors did not make during that time. I think the urbanization of the colonies impacted this back in Edwards day. Edwards was the sole pastor in his town and the town was legally required to Come to his church, which gave him a tremendous amount of prestige. Not just theologically, but culturally, and socially in his town as the colonies became more and more urban and the cities got larger, of course, they couldn't enforce these types of things and pastors lost some of their cultural currency, which I think then translates into a loss of theological currency. So there's a lot of different reasons why it came about, and I don't pretend to know all the different reasons for how this happened. But, but it's true. However, it happened that both in Europe and also in North America, we live in a day where to be a pastor no longer conjures up images in either Christians minds, pastors minds, or in our culture's mind of someone that is a theologian in in quite the full sense that it meant, say, pre enlightenment or pre revolution in North America.
Thank you for that response. Pastor. He stands as you explained in your paper, it is not that you expect Some pastors to write articles of academic theology. Instead, quote, we envisioned some pastors writing what we call a collegial theology, a distinct cousin of both academic theology and popular theology. What is it that you're speaking of when you speak of ecclesial theology, please?
Yeah, so this has been one of the challenges with our project is trying to define something that's a bit subjective. Just maybe to start by saying what we don't mean, we don't mean by ecclesial theology is what I would call popular theology. And I don't even mean I don't want to be understood as using that term in a pejorative way. I don't, I don't mean that. But popular theology, meaning it's written to conference directly. And so this would be the sort of theology that that kind of takes what would rather complex theological top topics or complex scholarly discussions, and then repackages them in ways that are more comprehensible to the people in the pews. So that's a very important project. pastors should be doing and many of our pastors in our, in our center are do that sort of work. So I don't I don't mean to undermine that in any way. That's popular theology, and it's a necessary theological project. And there's academic theology and academic theology is concerned with all the sort of questions that are coming out of the major research universities around the world. And those are legitimate questions to and very grateful to have believing creedal confessional evangelical scholars that are interacting in those academic contexts, so that's an important thing as well by ecclesiology, though, I mean, theology that is written to other pastor theologians and maybe that's the easiest way to say it. So it's not the ology that is written to the congregant directly, though it certainly has the congregation in view. It's not theology that is primarily written to other academic theologians, though certainly we would hope that academic theologians would listen and benefit from the things that we write, but it's written to other pastor theologians who bear the weight of responsibility for guiding the church theologically, maybe a way to explain how I could see this looking different or how it's different for me, I think it could take different shapes for different folks. But in a lot of the theological work that I do, the way that I conceive of, at my interest tend to be in historical theology. So when I read an Athanasius, or an A Gustin or an Irenaeus, I don't necessarily read them with a view to contribute into the ongoing academic discussions that are related to these church fathers. So if I read a Gustin I don't think to myself How can I make a contribution to new insight, a new reading a new way of thinking about a Gustin or, or enter into one of the debates about whether a Gustin is in reception history and how he's been received? And I don't tend to think of I read that sort of thing to make sure I understand what I got. And is talking about but that isn't primarily the way that I want to use a Gustin I want to read a Gustin grab the the core insights of his thought make sure I understand him well, but then I want to I want to deploy a Gustin towards the sort of concerns that I'm seeing in my church. So we're an academic article that you would find even in evangelical articles would begin by a scholarly debate it would it would the introduction, the article would would begin by introducing a scholarly debate that is taking place surrounding either a text in the Bible, or a historical thinker, and then it would lay out the different the layout the different competing views by scholars on this issue, and then it would go on to provide its own particular take, whereas in the writings that I do, I begin with a dilemma that I face in the church. This is something that I'm seeing taking place in my congregation or in small group or the way that Christians are thinking about certain things and then where can we go to find some resources? To help deal with this particular issue, and then using a Gustin or Athanasius or ins as resources for dealing with the problem that I'm seeing in the church. So the contribution that my scholarship makes doesn't tend to be the sort of thing where in a Gustin scholar would come and say this is a completely fresh new way of reading a Gustin I hadn't thought of before this fantastic. That's not the contribution that my my scholarship tends to make. What it would be is, it would be a pastor that comes and says, I have that problem, too. I see that problem as well. And oh, here, look at a Gustin, I didn't realize that what this way of thinking about it actually speaks to the issue that I have. And so I hopefully my Agustin scholarship is accurate and it's right and it's not misinformed. But my main contribution is not to try to make some fresh contribution about a Gustin or any other church father but rather to deploy them instead. I have issues that I see in the church. I
love this vision, I resonate very strongly with it. How has the reception of this vision and the work of the center have been so far?
I've been I've been really encouraged by it. You know, in the early days, when we began, we were still fumbling our way forward trying to figure out what it meant to be a pastor what it meant to be a pastor theologian, what, what was ecclesial theology? And how did it look different than popular theology and academic theology. And so it was, we didn't hang our shingle out and try to recruit a bunch of folks at that point, because we were still kind of fumbling our way around. But over time, I think, as we've settled into more of a competent, confident vision of what it is that we're to be about, I've been very encouraged by the response not only of the pastoral community in the present, but even probably even more so by many students who are either in undergraduate or graduate work or doctoral Work, who look at what we're doing and say, yeah, that really speaks to me because I, I have a calling for pastoral ministry, I love pastoral ministry I, I feel burdened to, to engage in a parish context. But I have this love for theology. And I have this love for scholarship. And I don't know how to bring these things together. And so I've, I've just felt like I've had to choose between the two. But now that I see what the center is doing, I see your pastors, I see the work that they're doing, it gives me a sense of what I could be. And so I've been really encouraged by by the reception of our project in the student population, and that gives me a lot of hope over the next 510 15 years to see many of these students live into this vocation and ways that I think we will be kind of in a, we're trying to, to, to carve out a path here. That isn't a new path. This is a path that pastors have done before but it's been so long neglected. I'm not sure we're the best at it, but hopefully those who come behind us can do it. You In a better,
marvelous, how do we accomplish this vision? What structures would need to be in place to make a please your theology as you've described in a flourishing reality?
Yeah, this is a great question and it's one of the main challenges because to be an academic theologian it first that's a difficult thing to be nowadays increasingly to actually to, to get into an academic post and a full time way but, but once one acquires that one is resourced in significant ways for that project, so you're an academic theologian, you're working in a context where you have library access, you have other colleagues that are your intellectual peers who are dialogue partners with you, you are rewarded for publication and for new scholarship, vocationally, your tends to be the case that your employer wants you to be doing these sorts of things. None of that is true anymore for those who are trying to to walk through the equation theologian, you are often the the only intellectually or theologically motivated person in your congregation. Perhaps even in your whole town, if you're serving in a smaller community, your library access can be very limited. And you are not rewarded for doing theological scholarship. In fact, in some context, you're actually discouraged from doing theological scholarship. You might be rewarded if you were writing a book for your congregation. But once you begin to write things that aren't directly applicable to the people of your congregation, depending on your congregation, there may be some pushback or some concern about why is our pastor wasting this time doing these sorts of things Shouldn't he be and then you can fill in the blank with whatever the expectations are. So it is definitely swimming upstream in our culture because the expectations have shifted so much and the resources have shifted away from pastors over into the Academy. So so there's the challenges. I think we need more things like the Center for pastor theologians, more organizations and networks that tried to rebuild some of the infrastructure that supports pastors doing this work. I think that seminaries and colleges that are sympathetic to this vision, should think about ways that they can come alongside and provide the institutional support. And I think just over time, pastors have to be good pastors. If you're if you're not a very good pastor, and you spend all day in your study reading and writing, well, then that's not gonna work real well, right. But if you're a good pastor that loves his people and cares for your congregation, and you are there to minister to them, and they feel blessed by your presence, then increasingly I think over time, they begin to trust you to spend the time doing the sorts of things that enrich your soul and your capacity to lead the church both locally and then more broadly. So I think there's patients that have You have to have patience as as a pastor for this vision and you have to have perseverance as well. And you have to have a network. I think all these things come together.
Pastor he stand before we give maybe too far down the road of figuring out the mechanics of what needs to change structurally to allow this vision to flourish. If I can return us quickly to the question of why have the seminaries failed, can we do an autopsy there? The seminaries have their existence. Their mission is to provide pastors robustly theologically trained to serve the church, but something's broken down.
Can you put your finger on what you believe to be the problem?
That's a great question. And
I would want to be careful here.
I feel more comfortable throwing stones at the pastoral community than at the academic community are so I we don't envision the CPT in any way as a as an anti Academy project. So I just wanna be very clear on that. And I would also go on to say that I can't easily see a way forward with the success of our vision without some sort of partnership with the seminaries in the schools. So this is not a will take our will take the project and go it alone. Sort of. So I want to say that at the output at the outset. I think that one of the challenges with trying to do theological education in the university context is twofold. We've already talked about it a little bit, I think that the the pastoral community is the theological leader of the church, it just simply is the case. But we've lost sight of that. And so we have largely both in the pastoral community and I think in the seminaries bought into a misconception that somehow we can move all of our best and brightest theologians into the academy and lead the church from there and I just think that's a mistake. It's simply is not true. So the academy needs to figure out and here I'm maybe focus our comments in on the seminary, but the seminary and the Bible colleges and those Christian organized institutions that care about the church as part of their mission. And that's not every academic environment, but those that do need to re envision the pastoral vocation as the apex of theological scholarship and import. And but that just has that just isn't the case, either in the pastoral community or in the or in the academic context. So I think there needs to be a reimagining of who actually is leading the church theologically. It's not It's not the Academy, it is the pastors. We're just not doing it very well. Because we don't envision ourselves doing so like we're like the bus drivers that don't think we're driving the bus. Right? Well, that's a problem. You know, because if you are driving the bus and you don't think you are then that's going to lead to the ditch. I think that's I think that's a lack of vision there. I think also, there just are simply limits to how much ministry preparation can be done in a classroom context. And I know that, you know, invariably, there will be some sort of internship program or residency program and these sorts of things, but, but I don't think they'd probably get far enough along to actually training pastors. And so it seems to me there needs to be more of an integrated approach between the seminaries and churches, in terms of residency programs that are more robust, and probably longer, frankly, you know, a semester long or even two semester long residency program just doesn't really prepare someone for pastoral ministry in in, in kind of the full way. The other thing that I would say is the way that theology has come to function even in divinity schools that are training men and women for ministry.
Still too captivated and beholding to the guild rules of the large university context. So and this is what I was alluding to when I first came back to graduate school after being in pastoral ministry, I really wanted to read a Gustin and Calvin and Luther for the for my ministry context. But that's not really how most students are trained to read a Gustin and Calvin and Luther or even the Bible, because that's not how the larger university writ large across the globe utilizes those and so to the degree that a seminary professor wants to be in conversation with his academic peers that are beyond the seminary, it's gonna just they're gonna think differently about theology. Again, it's not necessarily bad it's just a different sort of way of thinking about the ology. So I think that to really train pastor theologians, we need to figure out how to do training and ecclesial theology, not simply Academic theology. And I think it's very difficult for leadership and ecclesial theology to come from the Academy. I think that the leadership and ecclesial theology is going to need to come from the pastoral community. It's probably been an unfair burden on our Christian believer in academics to say you need to answer all of the questions that the academy gives you. And then you need to answer all the questions that we have as well that you don't really know about, actually, because you're not in our context. But when you write theology that doesn't speak to our questions, we're going to blame you for not having answered our questions. Right. I think we have outsourced all the all the theology to the academy and then been angry and kind of disillusioned and we'd say things like ivory tower theologians, which I think can be unfair critiques. Because we should never have outsourced it to to the Academy to begin with, they have their own things that they're trying to sort out and
so I don't know that they answer All the questions, but hopefully that gets scratches around at it.
So you stay on. I'm very interested in the vision that you're casting. If I can close, though, with a final question that have been asking all of the interviewees that we've had on this program, and that is this, what would it mean for the church to be united today?
How would we recognize
the unity of the church? And what is it that we can do as individual Christians to pursue the unity of the church?
Yeah, this is a great question. And
I think I'm going to answer it primarily through my lens. As someone that is interested in church history and and the intellectual tradition of the church. It would seem to me that foundational to the question of Christian unity is a recognition of the breadth of what constitutes Christianity. And so I grew up in a context that didn't look much to the past as a as a resource. And consequently didn't look very broadly even in the present to other Christian communities as resources. But as I entered into further study and really became intrigued and fascinated by the by Patristics, most particularly, it became clear to me that the narrow categories that I had for what constituted we could say, quote, real Christianity or authentic Christianity were too narrow. And any sort of doctrinal constraints or ways of framing what it means to be a Christian that doesn't allow for a Gustin to be part of what I belong to in the Christian tradition probably is too narrow. And I think that increasingly as I've learned to read the father's I've learned to see that there are other ways that Christian traditions have come to frame these issues that may not be the way that I would frame them or say them nonetheless are legitimate. expressions of the Christian faith in Christian tradition. So I sort of just put, put that in more concrete terms. Catholics who, who can trace their heritage back to a Gustin or orthodox Greek Orthodox who can trace their heritage back to Athanasius. And who are still largely in continuity with with these church fathers. I'm I want to extend the label of Christian as broadly as I can into these communities while not minimizing or downplaying the, the places of disagreement that that are there, but nonetheless, to see them as brothers and sisters in Christ. So I think if we, if we don't even begin there, then it's hard to move forward into what like concrete unity could actually look like if we can't even recognize that there is a family. There's a family resemblance, a family likeness, we belong to the same to the same fold.
It's been our delight today to be speaking with Pastor Gerald Houston. senior associate pastor at Calvary Memorial Chapel and co author co editor detects we've been discussing today becoming a pastor theologian, new possibilities for church leadership. Pastor us, Dan, thank you so much for being with us today.
Thank you so much. It was great being here.