Kevin Vanhoozer Interview

An Interview with Kevin Vanhoozer

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We had the opportunity to do another interview with Kevin J. Vanhoozer on pastoral ministry and theology. Dr. Vanhoozer is a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. We asked him questions about pastoral ministry and his new book, The Pastor as Public Theologian. Once again we hope that you who aspire to be leaders, elders, pastors, and shepherds in Christ' church would benefit from Vanhoozer's perspective on pastoral ministry. It is our prayer that God would raise up trained leaders who are filled with humility, love, knowledge and truth. - Casey and Dan

 1) What was your purpose of writing a book entitled "The Pastor as Public Theologian,?"

I have been involved with the Center for Pastor Theologians, an organization dedicated to bridging the ugly ditch between church pastors and academic theologians. We (Owen Strachan was my co-author) wrote the book to try to heal the wound opened up over the centuries that has torn asunder what God intended to be kept together: pastor theologians. A subsidiary purpose was to encourage our best students not to think that just because they were smart they had to think about pursuing an academic career rather than a vocation in the church. Finally, we wrote the book to help transform people's thinking about what a pastor is (and what theology is).

2) What did you learn while writing about the pastor theologian? Did you have any aha moments?

I was surprised to learn how few people have go-to books that help define the office of pastor. Even though many people today draw their images of church leadership from leadership in business and society, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how many excellent books there are about the pastoral ministry from patristic, Reformation, and Puritan times – not only the obvious ones like Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor but also some lesser known works by Gregory the Great, John Chrysostom, and Martin Bucer.

3) What are you hoping this book will do for those pursing pastoral ministry?

My hope is that this book will help change how congregations and clergy alike view the vocation of the pastor. My concern is that secular images of leadership have invaded the church, so that some congregations think of their senior pastor as the CEO of the church, which is a business rather than a theological model. Pastors are first and foremost ministers of the word of God charged with preaching, teaching, and celebrating what God was doing in Christ to form a holy nation and a new humanity. Our book reminds pastors of their chief raison d'être.

4) What advice would give to those who are feeling called by God while seeking to be pastors in local churches?

You mean, other than "Read my book"?! Those who seek to become pastors must have a heart both for theology and for people. Pastors are public theologians: those for whom people are the medium in which they do theology, which is the project of building a living temple of people. The Great Pastoral Commission is not to entertain, or to counsel, or to achieve numerical success, but rather to make disciples. If pastors cannot do that, they should seek employment elsewhere.

5) We live in an age where people are skeptical about pastors and churches in general, how do we reverse this? Do you think being educated with a pastoral heart might change this?

You're right. We live in an age where people distrust authority figures. Sadly, leaders in the church, like everywhere else, have sometimes abused their authority. But a pastor is a minister: someone who leads by serving. The only thing that will change the public perception is to see pastors who embody both the mind and the heart of Christ. In the book I call pastors to embody a joyful being-towards-resurrection instead of the anxious being-towards-death that characterizes life outside the church.

6) I have to ask, what does a good theologian and pastor look like? can you maybe share someone in your own life who has bridged these chasms?

The Spirit can use people with many different personality types to minister to the people of God – just think about the difference between Peter, Paul, James, and John. The paradigm pastor-theologian is, of course, Jesus Christ: the Good Shepherd who was able to teach by creative words and by self-sacrificial deeds. The good pastor-theologian looks like Christ: the goal, after all, is to embody and enact the mind and heart and hands of Christ to others. We are to love others as Christ loved them, and to conform others to the image of Christ – make them "little Christs," to use C. S. Lewis's phrase.

7) Did Paul model for us a pastor theologian? If so can you briefly give us a example?

Yes, Paul was a paradigmatic pastor-theologian. He ministered the gospel with joy and boldness, despite the risks, including bodily punishments and imprisonment, that went with the apostolic territory (2 Cor. 4:8-10). Paul also had good pastoral judgment: he knew when to encourage and when to reprove, and in what measure (see his epistles to Philippi and Corinth, respectively). Paul was also wise in his exercise of authority: I love the way he tells Philemon to treat his former slave as a brother in Christ. Paul doesn't command him to do so, but it's clear that the fully expects Philemon to do the right thing, the thing that will refresh Paul's heart. This is a very positive way to lead someone into greater Christlikeness!

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