Blue Collar Theology 10: Ascol on Pastor as Theologian

Tim Brister —  September 17, 2007 — 1 Comment

In the Winter 2001 edition of the Founders Journal, Tom Ascol wrote about the recovery of “The Pastor as Theologian.”  We are living in a day where the best theologians are supposed to be academicians rather than pastors.  Pastors have become disinclined to doctrinal development and instead focus on honing in their leadership skills and techniques for church growth.  Books on church methodologies have supplanted the rich theological tradition on the average minister’s bookshelves such that Barna is quoted more than Baxter, Warren over Watson, Hybels over Henry, and on and on.  Unprincipled pragmatism which has effectively built megachurches has, at the same time, destroyed the foundational understand that the pastor’s predominant function is to teach God’s Word and promulgate the rich truths of Scripture as stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1).

With that said, Ascol does a fine job of presenting the case for the pastor as theologian.  Below is an excerpt and conclusion to his article where he explains the divine directives for the minister in the pastoral epistles.

In the 242 verses which comprise these three letters, which are in effect divinely inspired pastoral manuals, Paul uses the word, “doctrine” at least sixteen times. Theology was to be at the heart of Timothy’s and Titus’ understanding of what a pastor is to be and do. Consider of few of the points Paul makes about a pastor’s doctrinal responsibility.

• He is to charge people that they teach only apostolic doctrine. (1 Timothy 1:3)
• He is to beware that some professing believers will depart from the faith and will be taken in by deceiving spirits and the doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).
• He will be a good minister of Jesus Christ if he teaches his brethren to see through ascetic gnosticism and he himself continues to carefully feed on good doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).
• He is to give careful attention to doctrine (1 Timothy 4:13).
• He is continuously to take heed to himself and to the doctrine, with the assurance that by doing so he will save both himself and his hearers (1 Timothy 4:16).
• He is to aspire to become worthy of double honor by ruling well and laboring in word and doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17).
• He is to regard the Scriptures as being profitable for doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16).
• He is to preach the word because he knows that the time is coming when people will not endure sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:1-4).
• He is be so doctrinally grounded that he can refute false teaching by sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).
• Everything which he teaches is to be consistent with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).
• In doctrinal convictions he is to have integrity, be reverent and incorruptible (Titus 2:7).

How in the world can any man hope to pass the apostle’s admission test to pastoral ministry if he is not committed to being a careful theologian?

Ascol concludes with several practical reasons why it is important that we recover the biblical understanding of the pastor as theologian.  He writes (emphasis mine):

Recovering the pastor-theologian model is not optional for a ministry which is committed to being biblical. God’s Word requires pastors to see themselves in this light. Though this approach to ministry will require going against the stream of modern thinking, the benefits are far reaching.

Church members who are theologically instructed become better equipped to handle the Word of God responsibly. They are able to use Scripture in problem solving and counseling others. They also become better at listening to preaching and teaching. A theologically grounded congregation makes for better preaching. A pastor who trains his hearers to reason biblically will not be able to bluff his way through a sermon. Doctrinal preaching raises doctrinal literacy which in turn encourages careful study and prayer by the preacher.

A pastor-theologian can be useful in the lives of other pastors–especially those with less experience. I have avoided many wrong steps and unnecessary controversies in the church by listening to the experienced, theologically informed counsel of fellow pastors.

Finally, a pastor who sees theology as his life-long work will help lay the foundation for reformation and revival. If churches are going to be strengthened and renewed in our day, it will be accomplished on the foundation of God’s truth and nothing else. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17). The Spirit uses nothing less in that great work. So if a pastor would see himself and his people become increasingly holy, he must restore truth to the pride of place in his ministry. He must continue to aspire to the work of a pastor-theologian. “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:13).

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  • Thomas Twitchell

    Timothy was given a job of appointing Elders and Deacons. These men would need to have been taught by someone. I think it goes without saying that the Pastor (In some churches either called the Senior Pastor or Senior Elder) would be responsible for the theological training of Elders. It follows then that like Timothy, these men would be most strictly required to “study to show themselves approved of God, workmen who need not be ashamed rightly dividing the word of Truth. It is a most powerful position, the helm, guiding the fellowship in its mission. Who best should know what the bozeman’s mate should do. Who best could plot the course? In all ways this position most represents Christ in his office as Teacher, Evangelist, and Shephard. To recover this really is vital to the health of the church.

    Beyond the use of doctrine, and perhaps this was included are terms that mean the same thing, like the faith, the truth, the traditions.

    To add to the above. We have lost the sense of the particular calling. Today everyone has a ministry. There is a particular construction though in Scripture that includes the definite article. Whenever “the ministry” is spoken of, it refers to the particular call of certain men. There is also the watering down of the term evangelist. To Paul this was the specific duty of the Senior Pastor. It was what Jesus lead his disciples out to do while teaching them. To really get back to the Great Commission, the structure of “the ministry” needs to be renewed. Making disciples and teaching them both to keep (that deals with doctrine) and to do (has to do with the practical preaching of the Gospel) is one package, a single action of diverse parts. Martin L. Jones believed the Evangelist to still be an active office. I prefer to look at the three as a singularity. People combine the last two Pastor/teacher, I would rather it be Evangelist/Teacher/Pastor. One might argue the role of prophet, but if it is taken as one who brings forth the Word, then we might call him scholar.

    Oh digression…..